Friday, October 25, 2013

Useful Or Beautiful

I've realized something about the kind of thrift/consignment/antique shops I love most for finding interesting, inexpensive, one-of-a-kind pieces for my home. I've been to so many over the last few years--in New York, here in Alabama, in Washington, D.C.--and it can be easy to be swept into the shops that look the prettiest. The ones that have cute window displays and look more like a boutique than a secondhand store. And these places can certainly be terrific. In fact, for clothes and shoes and bags, these kinds of thrift stores are preferable. (If you ever need recommendations on places to find secondhand clothes in New York, ask me!)

But when it comes to thrift shopping for the home, the places I love the most--the ones that I've found hold the most buried treasure for the greatest value--are the ones that aren't so cute. The ones that are a little dusty and not so organized, the ones where you really have to look to find something worth buying. The kind where you come away with only one or two things but also the knowledge that you got the best that shop had to offer on that day. After sifting through the junk for an hour, it feels pretty great to be rewarded with a little gem.

I've found that this kind of thrift-shopping takes some patience and practice, however, so I thought I'd share a few little tips that I've picked up over time. I'm going to use this little silver-plated footed tray--which I recently got for less than five dollars in a highly disorganized and quite dusty shop--as my example.

First, you have to be able to picture it another context (in other words, imagine how it would look outside of the disorganized shop) and envision how you'll use it at home. I knew this footed tray would look perfect on my nightstand. It's the right size to hold a few little things, the feminine, glamorous style works well with my cut-glass antique lamp, and it has a unique shape that you don't often see. I also love the scalloped edging and the hammered metal look. It's just different and it's my taste and I knew it would be both beautiful and functional in our home.

Very often, you have to also use your imagination. This tray didn't need anything other than a good scrubbing, but more frequently my thrift finds need a paint job or some other big transformation to bring them to life. You should have a sense of how you'll be changing the piece to fit your style before you leave the store.

And finally, can the piece work in multiple settings? For now, I'm loving my little silver tray on my nightstand and think it's ideal for holding my wedding rings and my watch and some lip balm. But I may not always want it there and before buying something, I make sure it could work in a few different ways. I could easily use this in a bathroom to hold bobby pins or lipstick, on a dresser for my jewelry, or even on the edge of a sink for some fancy soaps.

One of the best aspects of thrift shopping, I think, is the imperfectness of it all. I love the patina on this tray, and I love that it's not exactly symmetrical (one corner is slightly bent). I love that you're so much more likely to find old things, handmade things, things that no one else in the world has but you.

Are you a thrift shopper? Do you think these tips are helpful? I'd love to know.


  1. That is a neat find and goes nicely on your night stand. I love thrift store shopping! I have found some of the best clothing garments for my little girl that either I wouldn't have been able to afford at full price (or unwilling to pay) or items from past seasons with colors/styles that look good on her. I also have found a few neat old dishes. Love the element of surprise that comes with this kind of shopping!

  2. Kristyn @ Milk + CrownOctober 25, 2013 at 4:15 PM

    I don't thrift that often, but I definitely think these tips are helpful! I think about these things even when I'm shopping for clothes :) Being intentional with your purchases can save so much money in the long run. Happy weekend!

  3. Thanks Sarah! That's so neat that you thrift shop for your little girl. I will definitely be doing the same--kids grow so quickly so it seems silly to spend a lot of money on their clothing!

  4. I hadn't thought of it but you're so right, these tips would certainly apply to any kind of shopping! Although at least with most regular stores, you can return something if it ends up not working out, which you can't do with thrifting. Happy weekend to you too, Kristyn :)

  5. Sometimes I don't. You just have to be in the right mood, I think. I like to go thrift shopping on afternoons when I know I don't need anything but want to go shopping. If I go to a normal store under those circumstances I will surely spend more money than I should, but with thrift shops I can often find a really inexpensive little thing that satisfies the shopping bug and adds character to our home. I hope that makes sense? :)

  6. What a nice little find that silver tray was. It looks great on your night stand and I'm sure you'll find many uses for it over the years. I love thrifting. I never have any luck when I am looking for something specific at a thrift store. I have the most luck when I just relax and enjoy looking around and don't really care if I find anything or not. I've had some amazing antique & handmade finds over the years--these things are some of the most beautiful & treasured items in our house. And, it's extra-satisfying when you remember how little you paid for it!


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