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Thrifting: How to Buy Secondhand Like a Pro & What Signs to Look Out For

Updated: Aug 10, 2019






Hey all! I hope you had a great week and are gearing up for an awesome weekend. If you have read my first post in the 'Thrifting' series then I hope you've had the chance to check out some of my favorite thrift stores in the Durham area. If you haven't checked that blog out yet, what are you waiting for?! I'm spilling the secrets the pros don't want you knowing. But..... if you have been following along and your reading is all caught up then three claps for you! *CLAP!* *CLAP!* *CLAP!* Our second blog post in the series will teach you exactly what to look for when secondhand shopping. By the end of this read, hopefully you'll know how to determine if your find is 'Cameron Approved'. We'll be covering pricing, condition, and other factors to lookout for when shopping.


Pricing

Now that you know where to shop and how to shop like a dealer (for the most part), let's address what is acceptable to spend on your secondhand finds. Keep in mind that this is all what I am comfortable paying. Everyone's budget will be different, but I have found that over the years I can find almost anything under a certain amount: Accessories: $0.50 - $15, Rugs: $20 - $130, Small Tables: $10 - $30, Dining Tables: $20 - $100, Lamps: $5 - $15, Art: $0.50 - $20, Chairs: $5 - $50, Sofas: $100 - $300.


The bottom artwork, originally purchased from Homegoods more or less was priced for $58 at a local thrift store. $58!! Yall. You can buy that at Homegoods, Ross, or TJ Max for less. Don't be fooled. Be your own source. Take note of prices and comparable items when out shopping day to day.

I thrift shop almost every day of the week, so that's how I have been able to judge pricing and set my own comfort of spending. When working with clients I really try to maintain their budget, even when on the higher scale, by shopping secondhand first. I love the shock on their faces when I tell them how much their "new to me" lamps cost compared to the ones that they were inspired by online. If you can save yourself over 50%-75% on comparable items, then you are doing something right! Remember that tip I shared last blog, about Pinterest? If you can't decide if the item is reasonably priced based off of your own comfort of spending and it's condition, research the item! Pull out Pinterest and reverse image search the item to see similar items and sometimes what they sell or have sold for. Sites like Chairish and Etsy will help you price match (or hopefully under-match) your item right then and there. At the end of the day, if you are comfortable with the price on the item that you love.. get it! You're putting your money into a sustainable practice while having fun and finding one of a kind items.


Condition

Flea markets are a great place to source vintage as well.

Obviously when buying something you want to be paying a fair price based on its condition. The better the condition, the more money you should be willing to pay. Most thrift stores will sell items AS-IS. This doesn't necessarily mean that the items in the store have a defect, just means that all sales are final and priced based on the current condition on sales floor. While shopping and hopping from thrift store to thrift store, you will notice that especially upholstery pieces will have stains, rips or tears on them, but still for sale. This is a great place to purchase frames and bones! No.. not bone bones, furniture bones! Good solid, vintage original bones that can be repaired and brought back to life and used again by simply a recovering from a good upholsterer. (Hint Hint to a future blog post in the 'Thrifting' series).


I'm going to break down the condition categories and share what's good to take home.

  • Original Condition - little harder to find items in this condition, because they have been loved previously.

  • Like New Condition - my goal when sourcing for my clients & @shopnouveaucentral

  • Good Condition - the most common state that thrifted items are in

  • Vintage Condition - average wear for something that is 50 years old. Wears, stains, chips. Loved.

  • Restoration Needed Condition - great find, but needs a lot of work. Can be done, but pricey.

  • B*tch You Betta Leave It At The Curb Condition - No! No! No! Stop asking for money on chewed up items! Looking at you Facebook Marketplace. It's okay to throw things away when they really need to be. I promise.


A prime example of finding something with amazing bones, but horrible original fabric. Would be chic in a cabin, I guess. But I want to see it in a caramel color leather! Even though it was only $65, I just don't have the room to store it, time to fix it, money to invest in it or energy to load and unload it 100 times.

I come across many items in the vintage - restoration needed condition and if I had the time, energy or funds to do so I would! So, don't be afraid of those items! I'll be sharing how to clean and care for your finds, as well as my top sources for restoration, upholstery, painters, etc. in the next blog post in the series. So stay tuned!


Textiles & Bed Bugs?!

*Okay. I'm already itching and freaking out writing this segment.*


Everyone's fear is getting bed bugs when shopping secondhand for soft goods. I totally understand! It's a scary world we live in. If you have the slightest feeling the item you want isn't clean, then pass. But only after you've smelled it, flipped it, rubbed it, and fully examined it. Most times people just need to consolidate items for a move or to replace current items with an upgrade, so don't be too afraid. Like I said in my previous post, a lot of the well known, and well rated thrift stores will have rules on what they can take. It already passed one field test.





Did you know that bed bugs can hide in the deepest part of clothing, taxis, buses and pleats of lampshades? Ew. Bubble Boy sounds like a good idea right about now.


If you see small - and I mean tiny - black dots. RUN! Yeah it could be a stain from a sharpie, but I'm not trusting it. A cluster of dots usually means bugs or even worse, mold. A lot of times you'll see poop around the dots as well, generating close to seams, screws, holes, buttons, cording, etc. This is a main reason I don't take upholstered pieces from exposed curb or trash sites, because the chances of spreading is higher. Now. I know you're curious about all of your items in your house now, chances are if you haven't seen signs in the past two weeks you're fine. Just be cautious before you take something home. Hire a professional to source for you if you're still paranoid and in the dark on what to lookout for.


Here are a couple of really helpful websites on what signs to look for:

1) https://garbagefinds.com/resources/how-to-avoiding-bedbugs/

2) http://www.bedbugbully.com/detox-your-home-of-bed-bugs-in-20-steps/ - they'll try to sell you their product, but still great information to check out. (Photo above)

(My next blog post will definitely cover cleaning your textiles, so don't fret.)


Wood & Termites


If you want to avoid the risk of bed bugs as a whole, I totally understand. There are a lot of people who still shop secondhand, but for their own reasons choose to purchase textiles brand new. That's okay to do! But don't think you're in the clear just yet. There are other underlying issues and risks with secondhand, well crafted, solid wood pieces.


Termites could be a serious problem if you bring an infested piece into your home. Look out for little tunnels burrowed in the wood or residue in drawers. If you find an older piece that has some damage, there are ways to fix it and make sure it doesn't get worse. (Again, coming soon.) A lot of antique English and French pieces will show signs of "damage", but I find it sometimes beautiful.






So, here is how you know you got a good piece.

The finish is solid and shows dedication to providing function for 50+ years. Check the drawers for dovetail and other joints that tell you the age and craftsmanship of the work. Steer clear of items that are fabricated by mainstream factories. If the drawer is boring, it's probably new and just holding on by glue and weak nails. Veneers can be both good and bad. The more design the finish has, the better the chance it's a veneer. In this case, that veneer is usually under a solid frame. Good. Now, with newer goods being produced cheaply overseas and in factories, you'll see more modern day pieces, like IKEA, hiding CDF wood underneath their clean veneers or paint. Bad.

You can also tell more about a piece when looking for hardware. Screws and nails have changed over the years. Vintage and antique items most likely have dim, discolored screws, just solidifying the older age of the work.


A test that I do while shopping is to just knock. Yeah, the lady looking at dishes will look over and judge you from across the room, but keep knocking until someone answers that door! Or until you can hear if it's a solid board or not, whichever comes first.


A good website on Termites is: https://homequicks.com/how-to-keep-your-furniture-termite-free (Source for Photo Above)


Accessories

I love me anything flat woven and middle eastern.

I tend to select my smalls based on the look and make of them. I try to find pieces that speak to me and look as if they are one-of-a-kind. I try to avoid any trendy items that may show up in stores like Pottery Barn, Homegoods, etc. I love to select handmade baskets, pottery, vintage brass, original sketches and art, framed or unframed. I gravitate to natural elements and colors a lot more, but that's just because my design is inspired more from that. All rugs that I purchase must be handmade and older. A good way to tell if your rug is handmade is by flipping a corner. If you can see individual knots imperfectly perfect then a good chance that it's handmade. Machine made rugs tend to be more precise in design and patterns.



I believe that your home should be a good representation of yourself, but also filled with things that make people stop and ask "Where'd you get that?'" or "What's the story behind that piece?" Layering vintage and new accessories together helps create a curated lived in space that will have your guest envious and wanting to get to know you better. Hey! Have fun with it. Tell them your great uncle was in a great battle and brought it back from his travels in 1917. Change up the story, see when they catch on, only to realize it was thrifted from the local thrift store a mile down the road.



So, now that we've covered the basics of thrifting you will be able to start shopping like a pro! Thank you all for reading. I hope this information and series helps you while you hunt. See you Monday for a @shopnouveaucentral sale and soon for Part 3 in the series, where we will learn how to care and clean your finds. I'll be sharing a few of my favorite re-finishers, upholsters, painters and more.


Until then,

Cameron

xx