I love second-hand furniture and homeware (actually second-hand most things). Our house is a hodge-podge of hand-me-downs, things I’ve found in charity shops, on the side of the road (!), Facebook marketplace and gumtree. It gives homes character and I love having things with stories and history. Typically, I find vintage and second-hand furniture is often better quality. It’s invariably cheaper than a brand-new alternative and not to mention better for the environment.

I often get questions about how to find the best stuff? How I always seem to get lucky shopping second-hand? While luck does have a part to play, I also think that persistence and a good strategy will pay off, so I thought I’d share my approach.

Generally speaking, I usually have better luck finding furniture online, Facebook Market Place and Gumtree. Personally, I favour Facebook Marketplace over Gumtree, things tend to be priced more realistically in my experience. Then I tend to find smaller home décor items, lamps, mirrors, dishes etc in charity / vintage shops.

Featuring my collection of vintage vases
Dining Room
Second-hand items; table, chairs, vase, lamp, dresser, candle stick holder.

Be Patient & Persistent

This is the most important point. 9 times out of 10, I leave a second-hand shop empty handed. You’d be very lucky to find the exact item you were looking for in the first shop you walk into. It might seem like other people have all the luck, but I’d be prepared to bet they were just the most persistent in looking. For example, when I was looking for our sideboard, I spent around 4 months checking gumtree and Facebook marketplace every other day until I found one I liked which fit the space. Then, I watched it for a week because it was more money than I was prepared to pay for it. They dropped the price, then I got in touch and offered even less, which they accepted. Our generation has become so used to our instant gratification economy; I think we’ve forgotten how to wait for things.

Be Flexible

Odds are, you’re not going to find the exact chair you’ve seen on made.com second-hand. Decide what it is you like about it and look within those parameters. Is it the shape? The fabric? Does it have storage? etc. You shouldn’t see second-hand shopping as a way to find the furniture you’ve seen in a shop at a discount. It’s likely won’t even find anything similar, but you might find something better.

Have a Cash Reserve

You never know when you’re going to happen upon ‘the one’. It might be at a car boot. Or you might see something in a shop window as you’re driving past, or even outside someone’s house with an honesty box. Leaving behind your dream blanket box because you don’t have the available funds is heart-breaking. I always have a small pot of money reserved for second-hand treasure. I’ve been known to double back to buy a mirror I saw in a vintage shop window while I was driving past.

Vintage chair and cushion.
One of 6 vintage chairs I bought for £12, they need a bit of love but can’t complain for £2 each!

Don’t be put off by a Little Dirt

Remember you’re not buying something straight out of a warehouse and you might need to put in a bit of elbow grease to restore your item to it’s former glory. It may have been stashed in a garage or shed or forgotten about in the corner of someone’s house before it’s been sold. Just this week, I bought a candle stick caked in wax, which look less than 5 minutes to clean up. Then a large dusty salad bowl which I made good as new with some light elbow grease. I’ve seen a coat of bees wax absolutely transform a scuffed coffee table. Unless you’re confident fixing them, I’d avoid too much outright damage (tears / chips / cracks), but buried treasure can be found under a layer of dust.

Keep a list

You can often find beautiful things second-hand, and there can be a temptation to take these items home, even if you have nowhere to put them. (My penchant for vintage chairs has a lot to answer for.) I keep a running list in my phone notes of items I’m currently after. (At the moment it’s, a mirror for the dining room, a large lamp for the living room, etc). I also note down measurements where necessary. Know what you’re looking for and what can be left behind for someone else to discover. Just because it’s beautiful, doesn’t mean to have to own it.

Pull the trigger

When you see a gem, which fits your budget and space. It won’t hang around for long. If you’re buying online, communicate well, respond promptly and be flexible with pick up times. If you’re in a shop, people will usually be happy to hold it for you while you arrange to pick it up or have it delivered.

A quick side note about buying drawers; all the drawers we have ever bought second hand, have seemed really stiff to open and close initially. Often, when a chest-of-drawers gets moved before it’s sold, the individual drawers get placed back in the wrong gaps, making some of them very stiff. I would encourage you to rearrange them and see if they all work better.

How about you? I’d love to know if you buy second-hand and any additional tips you can add to the above list.

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