Dropping by a friend’s house, you spot the most fabulous new piece of furniture. When asked where it was purchased, the response is a casual, “Oh, I picked it up at a thrift store.” If such a statement makes you green with envy, wishing you had the same eye for sifting through trash to turn into treasures, read on. We have the advantage of living in a neighborhood full of thrift and resale stores. One-of-a-kind finds abound — it’s just a matter of figuring out which ones could use a little TLC to create the perfect new entryway piece or living room accent.For some perspective, we asked a couple of interior designers and a frequent resale buyer to spend an afternoon shopping at a handful of neighborhood stores. They picked out a few of the pieces most worth salvaging, and they gave us their advice about how to breathe new life into a dated relic.
Salvation Army Thrift Store
The store is stocked with castoffs of all kinds, and receives shipments every day. After five days of sitting on the floor, furniture goes on sale — so you have to decide if you’re willing to let someone else snatch it up in order to save a few bucks.
Jefferson & Polk
Rattan swivel rocker, $59.99
“Can you imagine that sucker lacquered with red and reupholstered with leather?” asks Barker, who traveled almost directly to the piece after walking into the store. Ostrich, alligator or snakeskin are other options for upholstery, he says. Barker and Black also believe it could be updated with a modern-day version of Ikat, a colorful, tightly-woven Indian fabric. “It would be great in a sunroom or beach house,” Willmott says.
Barrel chairs, $79.99
“These would be great in a wine-tasting room,” Black says, pointing out that they are low-scale and swivel around. “And if you put them in a wine-tasting room, they need to be low to the ground when people fall out,” Willmott laughs. Black would upholster them in leather or suede with “some kind of fun trim,” she says.
The Place Veva
It’s wall-to-wall furniture and accessories, mostly purchased at garage sales, so show up ready to dig. Most items don’t have price tags, but in this case, it just means the prices are typically good.
Jefferson & Lancaster
Cupped hand ceramics, $1 each
These bronzed and glazed ceramic pieces are “fun” for an accent table or bookshelf, Black says. Willmott says they need to be placed somewhere well-lit. “If you put them on a dark shelf, they’ll fade away and you won’t see them,” he says. Barker wound up purchasing one and Black the other; she plans to build a small wood platform and use it as an accent piece on a coffee table, or situate it on a stack of books.
Contemporary chair, $25
Black would strip and refinish the wood in black lacquer, and reupholster it in a red or turquoise bright gloss leather — “not patent,” she says, adding that she also would “tuft” the back, or pleat and fasten it with covered buttons. It would make a great accent chair in a living room or next to a fireplace, she says.
Chippendale-style end table, $25
Brighten it up with a red or green lacquer, Willmott says — “something that would give it a little bit of pow.” He says that the lacquering technique so popular right now is “not old ’70s lacquer, and not too much.” A single lacquered focal piece in a space will give contrast to all of the other furniture, he says, and is “like a little piece of jewelry in the room.” He suggests mixing it with English antiques and beautifully upholstered pieces in a high-end living room.
Quality Used Furniture
The store finds its pieces at auctions and has an ample selection of couches. It’s a smaller storefront, so it’s less overwhelming than some of the other resale shops, and it offers a higher walkability quotient in terms of aisle space.
Jefferson & Marsalis
“This is not a bad little settee,” Black says upon spotting the piece. “It’s crying for Donghia fabric,” she says, referring to a high-end line from Italy available in the Design District’s same-named store. Another fabric option would be “something more Laura Ashley — homey and ‘Leave It to Beaver’.” Either way, Willmott says, it’s the right height and size to be in a breakfast area paired with a table.
Hollywood glam sofa, $100
“Mecox has this for $4,500,” Barker says, referring to the high-end Knox-Henderson furniture store. He would reupholster it in simple linen. “Keep the fabric of the sofa really sleek, elegant and clean, and let the pillows pop — that’s where your color would come in.” Black thinks the sofa would look great in a bedroom with an alcove or bay window. “It doesn’t have a lot of depth, so it wouldn’t project into the room as much,” she says. “It has a lay-down-and-read-a-book thing going for it — almost like a chaise, but chaises can be awkward. This is like a finished chaise.”
Everything in this two-story shop (a former JCPenney) is donated, and all proceeds benefit a shelter for abused women and children.
Jefferson & Marsalis
Antique art deco chair, $3
The small chair would be a perfect fit for a woman’s make-up station or a secretary’s desk, Willmott says. “If we were doing a glam bathroom, it could be lacquered and upholstered with a really cool fabric,” he says.
Faux bamboo dressers, $150 for the set
Painted and glazed, these would look good in a child’s room or guest room, Black says: “It’s very Hamptons home.”
Owner Bandele Tyehimba regularly travels throughout Africa searching for treasures, and dealers of African art often approach him with their finds. It’s not a thrift store, but the offbeat shop has plenty of pieces to add pizzazz to a home’s décor.
Jefferson & Lancaster
West African woven baskets, $10 each
They could be accent pieces for bookcases or hung on the wall in an arrangement. Black bought two to hang in her study. Barker recalls seeing a fairly-large kitchen with an array of similar baskets covering the wall behind the breakfast table — “big ones, little ones, all different designs.”
Stools, $150 to $300 each
One or more of these could be a great addition to a garden, Black says. It also could be used as a small table and topped with a piece of circular glass, she says.
Wooden armchair, $450
If Willmott had eight of these, he would situate them around a dining table in a contemporary home. A loose arm would need to be tightened, and the chair possibly could be waxed, but that’s as far as Willmott would go. “I love the age on it,” he says. “The patina is part of the whole effect.”
The rooms of this former home are now not only wall-to-wall but floor-to-ceiling collectibles acquired by owner Gary Watts. The aisles, if you can call them that, are wide enough for only one person to fit through, and it’s crucial to watch your elbows.
Yarmouth & Jefferson
English tiles, $28.99 to $40
Black found this tile and four others in various designs amid the piles of antiques. Any one of them would make a great accent piece, even as a trivet, she says. Another idea would be to take four similarly sized and designed tiles and place them together in a square to create an interesting kitchen backsplash over a stovetop.
Antique blocks, $60
An old-fashioned touch for a newborn’s nursery, these blocks can be used to spell a child’s name, Barker says, or simply be arranged in a whimsical jumble.
Winnetka Heights resident Greg Barker admits he’s a resale junkie. He pops into neighborhood thrift shops three or four days a week, addressing the owners by name and making deals for his next projects. After updating his finds, he displays them in Patina Bleu, his storefront on Seventh and Tyler.
Interior designers Nancy Black and Brent Willmott were backyard neighbors in Kessler Park when they decided to join forces eight years ago and form Total 360 Interiors.