7 Tips to Furnish Your Place on a Shoestring

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There’s beauty to be found in those thrift store, hand-me-down, and dented or scratched furnishings. Here’s how to find the best deals.

Whether you’re moving into a new apartment or buying your first house, furnishing your home doesn’t have to break the bank. Great design is all around us, and with a little vision, luck and elbow grease you can give new life to old castoffs without sacrificing an ounce of style.

Here’s my tried-and-true list of seven ideas for furnishing a home on a shoestring budget:

1. Hit yard sales and thrift stores

Yard sales and secondhand stores can be treasure troves for industrious decorators on a budget. One of my favorite sites for inspiration is Mr. Goodwill Hunting. Rashon Carraway, the site’s creator and its creative powerhouse, is a diehard thrifter who works magic with old furniture and accent pieces. Carraway focuses less on how an item looks now and instead visualizes how it could be with a custom paint job, new cushions or a thorough polish. Gravitate toward items with classic lines, good bones, timeless design or unusual detail.

2. Get in on the action at auctions

Auctions and tag sales are two other venues where it’s easy to find quality furniture just waiting to be put in a new context or given some love. Explore each with an open mind; don’t be afraid to haggle at tag sales and fight to win your item at an auction. Often, the vintage furnishings you discover will be better constructed than most new pieces and they’ll become instant classics in your home.

3. Upcycle those hand-me-downs

They make us think of bell-bottom jeans and snow boots that don’t fit, but not every hand-me-down is a downer. Vintage furniture, mid-century lamps and wonderful old wedding china can be great additions to our homes.

Again, look for details that are rare by today’s standards — solid wood or rich veneers, tongue-and-groove construction, and simple designs that can be reinterpreted to fit with any style. Give rough pieces a little TLC with a light sanding and scratch cover or wood polish. Update old lamps with modern shades or reinvigorate an antique china set by mixing it with new linens or modern accent pieces.

4. Refurbish and refinish

People tend to get intimated at the idea of refurbishing and refinishing furniture themselves. But all it takes is a few supplies, a plan, some basic skills that you can learn online, and patience. In a single afternoon you can refinish an end table, repaint a nightstand, add new hardware to a vintage cabinet, or add new fabric to a desk chair. Try your hand at a few different projects and see what suits you best.

5. Frame it

Frame unusual fabric samples, vintage post cards or album covers for inexpensive custom art pieces. Create bold collages using family photographs, memorabilia, childhood drawings and old letters. Or, for free inspiration, look out the window. Press leaves, arrange them in an interesting composition, then frame.

Even the simplest subject takes on an artistic quality when combined with a classic frame and all-white matting.

6. Bolster with upholstery

Reupholstering furniture properly takes a lot of skill and time, so pace yourself and do a little experimenting first. Start with a simple project like a wooden chair with a single cushioned seat (preferably square).

Reupholstering a square is relatively simple — it’s a lot like wrapping a gift. Otherwise, explore the Web for tutorials on more complex projects like reupholstering a large plush chair or loveseat. Scout around for slipcovers in a classic pattern and customize the fit with ties, pins or hand sewing for a quick update.

7. Bring on the dents and dings

Most large furniture stores have an area devoted to floor models or dented and dinged items — often marked at a deep discount. True bargain hunters make a beeline to this section of the store first to see what deals they can score. Floor models are typically as good as new and, depending on where those dents and dings are, a little creative coverup can make most flaws undetectable.

What all these ideas and methods show us is that a piece of furniture doesn’t have to be newly minted in order to be beautiful. Likewise, a used item doesn’t have to be a high-end antique in order to have value. This topic brings to mind the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. In it, we’re taught that there’s beauty in imperfection, and sometimes what makes an object truly stunning is its inherent flaw.

If you’re ready to furnish your new home or redecorate your current place, consider incorporating a bit of wabi-sabi aesthetic. There’s beauty (and value) all around you. Do you have any frugal decorating tips to share? Please do so on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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