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.