- Insider asked interior designers for some of their best thrift-store tips for furniture shopping.
- Remembering to bring a tape measure and physical color swatches will make thrifting even easier.
- Don’t underestimate the effort it may take to repair a broken item or get an odor out of fabric.
Thrift stores can be great places to find the perfect piece of furniture or decor, but it’s easy to waste money on low-quality items if you don’t know how to shop smart.
Insider asked professional interior designers to share mistakes people make when shopping at secondhand stores, as well as their tips for thrifting like a pro.
Don’t skip great frames just because of ugly art
Cara Newhart, an interior designer and the host of the “Make Space” podcast, told Insider that you should never skip buying a high-quality frame just because the art isn’t your style.
“Even if you don’t like the art, you can save the frame and swap it out for a print that’s a perfect fit for your space,” Newhart said.
Thrift stores are great places to score cheap frames, which can make it easy to put together a gallery wall on a budget.
Never forget to measure furniture before you buy
The interior designer Veronica Sanders told Insider that it’s crucial to measure your space before heading to the thrift shop.
“Not measuring the dimensions of your space is such a common mistake,” Sanders said. “Write them down so you can compare the size of the furniture with the space you have available.”
Remember to bring a tape measure so you can assess the dimensions of any prospective purchases.
Don’t underestimate the cost of repairs
Underestimating the cash or time needed to make seemingly simple repairs can be a costly thrifting mistake.
“I’d avoid buying pieces that need to be fully reupholstered, totally refinished, or otherwise made over unless you have the money or serious DIY skills required,” Newhart said.
On the other hand, minor repairs such as tightening a loose screw, refreshing chipped paint, or swapping hardware are usually easy.
Don’t visit only one thrift shop
Every thrift store has different stock, so don’t limit your shopping to just one.
“Never make the mistake of thinking that one thrift shop has everything you need,” Sanders said. “You could be missing out on the perfect piece at another store.”
If you’re intent on hunting down the very best buys, try hitting multiple consignment shops in different parts of town or visiting a local flea market.
Skip anything that has a smell
The interior designer Kimberley Seldon of Kimberley Seldon Design Group told Insider she recommended skipping pieces with a noticeable smell.
“Leave pieces with vintage fabrics that stink of mothballs or any other scent,” Seldon said. “You’ll never get rid of the smell.”
While it’s possible to completely reupholster some pieces in new fabric, the cost can outweigh any savings gained by buying secondhand.
Don’t try to match art too perfectly
Trying to match thrifted art with your existing decor can decrease the visual effect of the secondhand piece.
“Although it’s tempting, never match a piece of thrifted art to your furniture or wall color,” Seldon said. “It’ll make your purchase seem to disappear.”
Instead, Seldon recommended thrifting a new frame that perfectly matches the style of your art.
Never try to haggle using negativity
If negotiating is welcomed, show your enthusiasm for a shop owner’s goods before venturing to make a deal.
“Negative comments like, ‘You can’t be serious,’ or, ‘It isn’t worth that much,’ are unlikely to result in a bargain,” Seldon said.
Secondhand-item and consignment dealers may spend a great deal of time and energy acquiring pieces, so avoid insulting their wares.
Don’t try to recall colors from memory
Designers know that it’s almost impossible to accurately remember colors, so make sure you have a physical sample of any hues you’re trying to match.
“Always shop with fabric or paint swatches to make your decisions easier,” Seldon said. “And, of course, bring a tape measure.”
If you forget your tape measure, you can get creative with what you have on hand — a dollar bill is about 6 inches long.
Embrace big, bold pieces of furniture
If you’re stuck between two pieces of furniture, choosing the larger one may create a bolder look.
“When in doubt, go big,” Seldon said. “If you’re deciding between two sizes, and both fit your space, choose the larger one.”
In particular, Seldon recommended choosing larger area carpets — which can create the illusion of a bigger room — as well as decorative pillows, art pieces, and lamps.
Don’t pass over quality wooden pieces
Thrift stores are often filled with particleboard or faux-wood furniture, but they’re also a great place to find deals on high-quality pieces.
“A good, sturdy piece of wood furniture can be hard to find, so when you stumble upon a gem, it may be worth the splurge,” Sanders said.
According to Sanders, old wooden dressers, coffee tables, and stools can be given new life with a fresh coat of paint or stain and a do-it-yourself cushion.
Avoid shopping by yourself if you don’t live alone
Going thrift shopping for furniture or decor can lead to household tension if you share your space with roommates or a partner.
“You may love that bright-red sofa, but it may be a total eyesore for your partner,” Sanders said. “It’s good to get second opinions and input from those you live with.”
Bringing your housemates along is even more important when shopping for big-ticket items or bulky pieces that may be difficult to get rid of or resell.