5 Thrift Store Shopping Tips for Furniture & Home Decor

Thrift stores are a budget decorator's best friend. Pinterest makes it all look so easy-- from thrift store furniture makeovers to buying valuable vintage pieces at a steal. In reality, second-hand shopping savvy is a skill that takes some practice! If you're frustrated about repeatedly coming home empty handed from your thrifting attempts, this post is for you! 

If you're new to the blog, let me start by saying that  I'm all about creating a beautiful home without blowing your budget. Click here to read one of my most popular posts, How-To Furnish Your First Home Without Going Into Debt. I'm often asked by friends and family members how I manage to score such awesome thrift store finds when all they see is junk. 

Well, I'm here to tell you it's not some special gift I was born with. My second-hand shopping success can be boiled down to these 5 tips I'm about to share with you. Read on to learn how to better shop a thrift store and find the best used furniture deals. 

Vintage Table & Thrifted Art | From our Anniversary Shoot with Savannah Smith Photography

1. Do Your Research

Call ahead to see what day new items arrive, so you can be the first to pick through the options. Also, it's important to know the store's policies ahead of time. While you may be able to negotiate prices at a smaller vintage or salvage store, don't haggle at a consignment shop! Consignment stores are different than the average thrift store because their pricing schedule is actually a contract with the person who consigned the goods. Consignment store price tags will usually reference a monthly mark down schedule, so there will be 4 different prices on each tag. 

Thrifted Chest of Drawers, Mirror and Chairs | From our Christmas House Tour

2. Shop the Store Twice

Even though you've come prepared with a shopping list of items you need for you home, it's impossible to see everything in one pass. I make two loops when I shop at my favorite thrift stores, the first one focusing on big items like upholstery and wood furniture and the second focusing on "smalls" like lamps, accessories and artwork. I make a mental note of items I like, but I don't make any decisions until after the second loop. By that time, I've seen hundreds of pieces, so if I am still thinking about one or two in particular then I take that as a good sign I should buy them. 

3. Look for Good Bones

I basically ignore all fabrics and finishes and just look at the size and shape of each piece. A coat of paint can do wonders to transform a chair, a dresser or even a lamp. Dining chair fabric is just about the easiest DIY reupholstery job. And if you can get a really good deal on a chair or sofa, having it redone with new fabric will still put you ahead of box store prices plus, chances are the piece will be better quality than what you could afford new. Which leads me to...

Thrifted Art with DIY Gold Leaf Frame &  Vintage Cake Stand | From Our Temporary Bedroom

4. Know Signs of Quality

There are a few hallmarks of quality construction when shopping for wood furniture. If you are a real antiques aficionado, it would probably be worth your while to familiarize yourself with classic wood joinery techniques to be able to tell a real from a fake. But if you are like me and looking for stylish pieces that will actually get used, here are the main 3 things I look for:

  • If the piece you are looking at has drawers, check for dovetail joints. They are usually the most visible joinery in a wood piece and are a sign of quality in construction.
  • "The Jiggle Test". Test out the joinery of the piece by giving it a light jiggle. This works for wood and upholstered pieces (which have wood frames underneath the layers of fabric and cushioning). If a little movement makes the piece feel unstable, or if you can hear a lot of creaking and loose joints (called "racking"), I would probably pass on the item. 
  • Check for shop marks in common places, like inside drawers or on the bottom of a piece. If you find a name, do a quick Google Search on your phone to learn more. Some big names in vintage are Thomasville, Lane, Drexel Heritage, Ethan Allen, Century and Broyhill. 

5. Come Back Often!

The number one reason I have success with second hand shopping is that I do it frequently! Sometimes I'll find nothing, and other times I'll have a whole carload. That's just how thrifting works. When I am specifically in the market to buy something, I shop the same couple of stores up to 3-4 times per month. Even when I'm not, I go about once a month just to see what new. And that's just brick and mortar thrift stores! I'll be writing another post soon about my top tips for Craigslist. 

What tips do you have for thrift store shopping? Did you score something awesome recently? 

I like to hang out on Instagram, so connect with me there to see my latest finds and tell me about yours! @steviestorck