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Consignment & Second Hand Shopping

by | Jul 14, 2009 | Decorating Inspiration, Details | 45 comments

Consignment & Second Hand Shopping

T his is going to be fun! We have our very own consignment shop expert here to help us make the most of our hard earned decorating money! We’ll be learning some tips on buying second hand. Sarah is from Gallery St. Elmo in Bethesda, Maryland. 

Following Sarah’s guest post, we will hold a mini-discussion and Q&A on the topic of buying secondhand right in the comments. Sarah will be able to answer your questions on Wednesday July 14 directly below your comment and if any of you have experiences or tips to share, feel free to chime in too! Be sure to check back to see the discussion and answers as the day goes on.

Consignment & Second Hand Shopping

Why Buying Secondhand is My First Love
Guest Post by Sarah of Gallery St. Elmo,
A consignment shop in Bethesda, MD

With tightening budgets and mindfulness of saving resources secondhand shopping is more and more popular. My mom was a bit ahead of the times taking us on frequent trips to yard sales, stopping for curb finds and one memorable visit to the Woodie’s dumpster after Christmas where Santa’s abandoned chair came home to live with us.

She knew then what so many people are finding out now – that decorating secondhand is a wonderful way to add character to a home whether you’re ready to splurge on a unique treasure or decorating on a strict budget.

Because thrift stores and consignment shops stock many different styles at once they provide the perfect environment for achieving an eclectic look and avoiding a cookie cutter home.

Consignment & Second Hand Shopping

Tips for shopping and decorating secondhand:

  • Be adaptable. Make a list but don’t be blinded by it. When you see something you love you will find a place for it. Even if it’s not on your list, think of an unusual use for an object you fall in love with.
  • Start a collection. A collection not only feeds your love of the object and reflects your personal taste but can be used to create a pleasing vignette. I like Heather Bullard’s grouping of white objects (pictured)- the overall effect is restful because of the color unity but she avoids monotony by incorporating varying heights and shapes.
  • Be prepared. Bring measurements and swatches with you so you can make an on the spot decision. It only takes our customers losing a great find once to learn not to hesitate when buying secondhand.
  • Have a vision. Start an inspiration notebook or bookmark online links to gather ideas before you go. Look for items that are easy to redo yourself and imagine how putting a fresh coat of paint or covering a seat in a new fabric might transform a piece that looks tired into your dream piece.
  • Smile as you head home with a great piece at a fraction of the cost your neighbor paid.

Consignment & Second Hand Shopping

Consignment & Second Hand Shopping

    Now it is time for our Q&A and discussion! If you have questions for Sarah about second hand shopping or would like to share your own experiences and suggestions, let’s chat in the comments!

all photos Heather Bullard, used by permission.
this post shared for Works for Me Wednesday


  1. edie3

    How do you find a good thrift shop? The ones around me and even the Goodwill have nothing that catches my eye. Is it me or the stores I choose to go to?

    • Sarah Demas

      Next time you visit a secondhand shop in your area ask them when they put new merchandise out. Dealers and regulars may be scooping things up before you get to them.

  2. Kathy

    What should I consider if I see an interesting chair or other piece of upholstered furniture before purchasing? Thank you!

    • Sarah Demas

      Give the pieces a thorough look over. It may look good at first glance but check the springs, they’re very costly to redo, the legs to make sure they haven’t been re-glued and of course sit in it to make sure it’s comfortable for you. If the piece has good bones consider whether reupholstering is in your budget, perhaps you can live with it as is for a while and get it redone down the road. I tend to buy only fully upholstered pieces that I can use as is or partially upholstered ones that only need a new piece of fabric over the seat so I can do it myself with a staple gun.

  3. Julie Sprouse Verleger

    I love shopping second hand! It’s the thrill of the hunt and the story you have to tell friends who come to your home.

  4. Cathleen

    Thanks for sharing. How can you determine if a piece is silver or not (I’ve heard a magnet will stick to real silver) and how do you look for quality silver?

    • Sarah Demas

      Sterling silver will be marked sterling or 925 (which means it contains 92.5% by weight of silver). If you are looking for silver bring a jeweler’s loop (available on Amazon), sometimes the marks are hard to read. I use this website for determining makers marks –

  5. V and Co

    okay love this post absolutely love it because my whole house is decorated in second hand stuff and the thrill of finding the perfect piece is so much more exillerating then just going and buying something at a store. thank you for this post! it’s def the way to go in decorating in my opinion!!!

    V and Cos inspiring blog post..GIVE-A-WAAAAAY!

  6. Sarah

    Great info! Does anyone know a great consignment in MA? I find them for clothes, but not for housewares. Am I not looking with the right eye?


    Sarahs inspiring blog post..Legacy Place – Boston

  7. Chris

    What a timely post. I’ve been consignment shopping for some time now, but I’m sure there has to be some days that are better than others, right? Would you recommend a certain day to go? Thank you!

    Chriss inspiring blog post..I Can Paint?

  8. Meg

    I would love to know your strategy or routine.. do you shoo once a week? Say, Friday is your yard sale/thrift shop day? Do you have a set budget for your treasures…

    I have just discovered my local thrift shops and it is very hit or miss… with more misses, I am afraid!

    Megs inspiring blog post..Lemon Love

    • Sarah Demas

      I like to hit yard sales early sat morning as they’re getting set up and estate sales on Sundays when the merchandise is often 1/2 off.

  9. Mary

    A friend asked me if I had ever bought a piece of brand new furniture. I told her no than had to renig a bit later as I remembered that right after I was married we bought a china cabinet new (but at a great discounted price and then inlaws had an employee discount). I love shopping second hand and people cannot believe how little money I can decorate a room for.

    I think one of the things about successful 2nd hand shopping is consistency in going back on a regular basis. There are weeks when I don’t find a thing then- BAM- jackpot days! Friends are always telling me they never find anything when they go thrifting or 2nd hand shopping but they only have gone a time or 2. If you are one who needs instant gratification this might not be for you, but if you are in love with the hunt- you’ll soon fall in love with this kind of shopping!


    Marys inspiring blog post..Family Tree Masterpiece Quilt! What a treasure –

  10. ML in Chicagoland

    I know the trend right now is to buy something used and then paint it. Is there anything – wood, silver, bronze, etc. – that should not be painted because it would ruin its value? My MIL had a beautiful mahogany china cabinet that she “distressed” in the 70s. How I wish it was still in original condition.

  11. lylah ledner

    When we lived in Portland I’d make a weekly trip down to the Goodwill and head on up to the second floor – were all the “old” stuff was shelved. I still have and use little yellow coffee cups from one of those visits.

    I LOVE this subject and it’s fun reading what others are saying.

    lylah ledners inspiring blog post..Flowers and Friends

  12. Debbie

    I’d like tips on two things:
    1. I find myself buying a lot of knick knacks and chotchkies because they are sooo cute. How do you achieve decorating with fun knick knacks and avoid it looking cluttered?
    2. I never find large pieces at 2nd hand stores {i.e. tables, dressers, mirrors} fun things that can really make a statement when refinished. Any tips on finding large furniture scores?
    Thanks! Love the post!

    Debbies inspiring blog post..Pool Party- Part 1

    • Sarah Demas

      1.I tend to buy objects that can be grouped together and used decoratively. Keep to a particular style, era, material, color or type of object. An old wooden ladder leaned against my living room wall displays a collection of ceramic birds and other objects. I like to change things a lot so I rotate my display every so often and don’t display everything at once.
      2.If the consignment or thrift shops in your area don’t carry much in the way of furniture craig’s list is or yard sales/ estate sales are great option too. I recently found out about another resource in the Washington DC area that sells furniture cast off’s from local hotels.

  13. Karla

    I always carry a tape measure in my purse, and I take pictures with my phone if I’m not sure how something will work.
    My best finds for rummage sales were Wednesday NIGHTS as people were setting up for a Thursday sale, and I had cash on hand. I bought a button-tufted leather chair and ottoman for $20 at a presale as the sun went down. I have a theory that Mondays are good for thrift stores because everyone decluttered over the weekend, but that could be my little superstition. I agree, check back often. It’s hit or miss.
    I also make sure to know a store’s return policy as they do differ and some are buyer beware or store credit if I make a mistake. I go in looking for certain items, but my favorite saying is “you’ll always find what you weren’t looking for,” so for example, if I see an All-Clad pan for $1, I’m buying.
    I think my head is going to explode I love this topic so much.

    Karla @ Mom’s Potlucks inspiring blog post..The hippie chick’s guide to Pottery Barn

  14. Sarah

    I have 3 questions

    1. How do go about cleaning upholstered furniture bought second-hand?

    2. How do you determine whether a piece of furniture, example an arm chair, is an old quality piece vs. a recent cheaper quality?

    3. After purchasing not so perfect furniture and fixing it up, how does one determine its resale value.

    Thanks for your time and advice :)

  15. Kendall

    One of my FAV subjects, thrift stores! I frequent them often and here are my tips:
    1. Go at least once a week. I think Wednesday is the best day to go. I have not seen the fresh merchandise on Tuesdays. Maybe they are just slow to get out after the weekend cleanup?
    2. Furniture – look at with an open mind. As long as it is sturdy, you can refinish any undesirable color, change out ugly handles and cover stained fabric.
    3. Dress in your grubbies! Most of these places are dusty! *now why didn’t someone tell me that before I wore white linen pants and carted a dusty coffee table out of Goodwill?*
    4. Find out when your thrift store has discount days and when they take new markdowns. I’ve hit great sales at an extra 50% off!

    Thanks for the post Sarah and thank you Melissa! I love your blog. I’ve been following it for months now and just recently got my own up and running, although yours is a Mercedes where mine is errrr….a Kia? (:

    Kendall@finesseyournests inspiring blog post..I found the greatest new decorating magazine!

  16. Jocelyn Stott

    Great post and I kid you not, the photos you posted actually had a calming affect on me. I was just staring at them. I feel much better now – thank you.

    Jocelyn Stotts inspiring blog post..Coldplay

  17. The Blushing Hostess

    Wonderful tips, it will help me to be a little less frustrated in figuring out whether I can find a home for something or make it work… thank you!

    The Blushing Hostesss inspiring blog post..What would you do?

  18. Christi

    I am a recent convert to shopping second hand. My mother-in-law is an old pro, and has been shopping thrift stores, garage sales & trash piles for as long as I (or my husband) can remember. She has a beautiful home, and hardly anything was bought retail.

  19. Astrid

    I try to visit our Goodwill stores and sometimes I get lucky….I haven’t been to the junk shops/”antique” stores in some time. We don’t live in a prime area for shopping the second-hand stores- most of the stuff is really junk! However, I have found a few neat treasures. I wish the “antique” stores weren’t so overpriced…

    Astrids inspiring blog post..Mmmm…Mmmmm..Zucchini & Bacon Quiche with Sweet Cherry Pie

  20. Chele

    I think everyone above has asked the questions I was going to ask. I will be watching the discussion! Awesome idea Melissa! It will help people like me! :)

    Cheles inspiring blog post..Mid-Week Shout Outs

  21. teresa

    Love consignment stores- but one thing I’ve noticed in my area- it seems once the word gets out about the store- their prices go up. Looking forward to the discussion- great post!
    Happy Day

    teresas inspiring blog post..Love Makes a Home Beautiful-

  22. Amy Lynne

    I am a second hand junky! We get an idea in our head of a piece we would like to find and within a couple of weeks we find it for a mere fraction of retail. I got my hubby hooked, he can’t shop retail any more! What a great post, thanks for sharing!

    Amy Lynnes inspiring blog post..Taking a Mom Day

  23. wanda

    Thrift shops, consignment shops, Goodwill and yardsales….ROCK!

    I am the cheapest person I know….and I am not ashamed of a good find. I think it shows character in your home… buy used or old.
    Beautiful advice!

    wandas inspiring blog post..You might be interested to know

  24. Jenny

    I think the only thrift shop we have around here is our local goodwill store. And it’s in a parking lot surrounded by all kinds of OOB stores so…I don’t shop there.

    Jennys inspiring blog post..A Whole New Start

  25. Leila

    Loving this post!

    I just love old things!

    Maybe manufacturers will get the picture that people actually long for durable, interesting goods at a fair price — and then we’ll really be in business!

    Leilas inspiring blog post..The entry and the endless hall — the after pictures!

  26. Richella

    These are some really good ideas! I’m going to make myself a collection of paint chips and fabrics, because she’s right–it’s a huge disappointment when you can’t make a decision on the spot and then lose the opportunity to purchase a good item.

    Secondhand shopping is one of the best kinds of recycling, I think. Thank you for featuring it!

    Richellas inspiring blog post..Defining Moment

  27. Emily-Sarah

    Great advice! I’m utilizing pre-loved items more this year, and it’s a wonderful feeling. I do double duty by taking things we no longer use or truly cherish … I unclutter, give items a chance to be treasured as they deserve, get some cash, and come home with some new-to-me deals. (And the goal is to take away more than I bring back! I almost always adhere to that guideline.)

  28. niki

    Those photos were fab! I started a milk glass collection a few months ago and have been adding little vignettes here and there in my home. But it still looks drabber than I would like. After seeing these pics I realize I need to add more white (shelving etc.) and some clear glass too. Not to mention ditch my darker curtains.

    What does my house lack? Light, light, light!


    Thanks for this post. I am so inspired!

    nikis inspiring blog post..WFMW…Frugal or Free Pet Toys

  29. Amy at The Red Chair Blog

    A few other advantages to purchasing home items secondhand (eg: yard sales & Craig’s List):
    1. No bulky packaging to throw into the landfill.
    2. Generally no sales tax to pay.
    3. If an item is still in good condition after its first owner(s) have enjoyed it, it will probably hold up well for you…unlike many brand new items that are designed to fall apart (and need replacing) in the near future.

    Amy at The Red Chair Blogs inspiring blog post..Blue-Themed Bargains

  30. Pearl Maple

    Great post.
    There are lots of opportunities to be creative with our saving and recycling while making a nice home for yourself.

    Funny enough once I started a little note book of things we have been dreaming of and carrying it with me every where we go, that lots of things have started popping up at the right price and right time.

    Pearl Maples inspiring blog post..Celebrating Sky Watch Friday


    great blog… will keep checking in! have a great week… pam

  32. Carey

    While shopping for second hand goods may be cost effective at first, one has to be prepared for more compulsive buys!

    Identify why you are shopping and for what. Otherwise it is easy to say “this is sooo chaep honey, lets buy it!”.

    Budget for your shopping (I know its second hand goods but believe me you don’t want to spend too much on them, either) and research the price of the items at the mall or shops beforehand.

    Great article. Keep it up.

    Careys inspiring blog post..MAKE THE INTERNET YOUR BITCH is Live!

  33. Lisa

    What a great post. I’m always amazed at the the beautiful items that people are able to find during thrifting jaunts. I’ve never been so lucky but now with tips like this in hand-that may soon change-lol.

    Heather B’s photos are lovely as usual too.

    Enjoy your day Melissa and thanks for another fun read.

    Lisa @celebrate CREATIVITYs inspiring blog post..Pretty in Pink

  34. cynthia

    great post! i really like the idea of bringing measurements for that perfect space…

    cynthias inspiring blog post..burlap at its’ best…

  35. Jean

    Fun post! I love a bargain and have scouted out the consignment stores in my area and enjoy going there even if I don’t buy (that is not often) I usually have to pair my wants down so I don’t buy the whole store! If you wait long enough, you’ll be able to buy what you are looking for at a fraction of the cost. I always ask if the item will be going on sale soon too.

    Jeans inspiring blog post..Friend Makin’ Monday

  36. Audrey

    I love the ideas. I’ve always shopped 2nd hand stores and even garage sales. It’s amazing why some people don’t want any longer. The tips are great, thanks for sharing them.

    Audreys inspiring blog post..Slow Cooking Thursday

  37. janet

    Just found your blog. What a beautiful site! I think I’m gonna be here for a few hours!

  38. Ness

    I am moving into a new apartment in August, and all summer I have been scouring garage sales, St. Vinny’s, and Goodwill for furniture and decorations. So far I have collected a rocking chair, three lovely mismatched dining room chairs, a wooden table with a tiled batik style top, a gorgeous cherry table, and a vintage cherry tube radio/ record player. Chairs averaged at $15, Side Tables at $3 and the radio was $15.

    Not to mention the $20 leather jacket!! Bomber style, lovely sorrel color, with an antique map design on the silk lining, and in great condition.

    If you thrift often you can surely live like a king on a paupers budget.

    The biggest tip I will give is: Avoid “antique stores”, “vintage boutiques”, and the like, as they overprice items. Stick with garage sales, estate sales, and goodwill.

  39. Jeanne

    Great ideas and I always love seeing Heather’s photos!


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