tips and tricks for second hand shopping


I’ve said it before; you’re either into refurbing furniture or you find the concept of taking someone else’s castoffs and making them your own downright creepy. I happen to be in the former category and I’m in good company; stylists everywhere are getting into the notion of upcycling pieces for interior design purposes. Personally, I find it’s all about knowing what to look for and what to bear in mind when you’re scouting the second-hand stores. On with my tips…


1 | Hunt down easy to recover chairs. The one above is a perfect example of how you can take a chair with simple lines and a basic seat and cover it with some new foam and fabric. I’ve done a simple stool refurb before and it’s incredibly easy to give an old piece like this new life (and when I was at Vinnies, they had chairs like this selling for $2 – I am not even kidding!)

2 | Look for pieces with good bones. What I mean is, look past the finish or embellishments on a piece and focus on its structure. The rocking chair below is a prime example of how you can take something traditional like this and respray it. Granted, a high-gloss finish might not hold paint well but many finishes will take well to spray paint – so keep it in mind.


3 | Look for both the art and the frame it comes in. Sure, some of the art you’ll come across will have clearly been done by a six year old, while other pieces can be downright creepy and reminiscent of The Ring. But often the frame the piece comes in can be the hero of the set. So keep an eye out for both of these and always think about how you can take apart a piece and put it back together as something new. I have an old mirror frame at home that is my most treasured find and it only cost me $50 (more info on that here).


4 | Crockery is your friend. Salvage stores are phenomenal places to find old crockery – not only to use in the literal sense but also as more abstract pieces. Think of plates on walls, old teacups as candle holders and even aged jugs used as vases. I have found drinks trays and other pieces in these places and use them with modern homewares for an awesome contrast!


5 | Records can work as art. Second hand stores are brimming with crates and crates of old records. I have found some so-bad-they’re-good covers and other covers which actually are good. The best part is that stores like IKEA now stock frames that fit record covers perfectly, so it’s an old-meets-new match made in heaven!

6 | Learn to deconstruct pieces. The photo at the top of this blog depicts what is possibly an unsalvageable set of drawers, but the handles are pretty damn cute if you ask me. Keep things like this in mind when you go shopping. Handles like this are one-of-a-kind and it might be worth paying the $20 for the drawers just so you can have some unique handles.


7 | The finish on a piece is crucial. Some high-gloss pieces are going to be cheap, but the amount you’ll need to spend on sanding, primer and paint might not be worth the drama. On the other hand, I have spotted many raw shelves and bedside tables that need no more than a clean and some fresh paint. Always think about the work and cost that’ll have to go into a piece because of the finish.

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5 thoughts on “tips and tricks for second hand shopping

  1. Good tips…I bought an old suit stand for my husband from the salvos about two years with the idea of doing it up — never happened. I’m scared of it…especially sanding the rusty bits off the metal frame and recovering the cushion. Maybe you should hire out your refurb services.

  2. I have too many pieces to do-up! Im addicted to the buying (or taking friends hard rubbish!!) and find it really hard making the time to sand back and make pretty again… :o( One day Ill get around to my carport full of treasures :o)

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