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7 Simple Tips for Buying Furniture Second-Hand

Last weekend we were in Louisville visiting my parents. It was a fun weekend from a DIY standpoint. On Saturday, I helped my mom prime and paint some furniture for her house. One of the pieces was an old desk but the other two were recent thrift purchases. While the primer was drying, Mike and I drove over to a wholesale granite place and finally chose our vanity top. This has been a long process! Once it’s installed, I plan to post about the whole countertop buying experience from a first-time point of view.

During the weekend, Mom and I also took a short trip to a local consignment shop where I spotted this TV Stand.

It got me thinking about how and why I choose to buy used, vintage or antique furniture. Some of my favorite pieces of furniture in our home were bought second-hand. I know it was a bit intimidating to me the first time I bought something from a thrift store… that wasn’t just a picture frame, dish or tray. So, assuming some of you might feel the same way, today I’m sharing a few tips.

1. Be Prepared

Shopping consignment is hit-or-miss. Some days you will find great items and other days come home with nothing. Also, some shops will have tons of furniture and other shops will have very little. You just don’t really know until you start shopping! So, unlike a furniture store where you walk in with the intent to buy a dining table, look at 30 different tables and then chose one to buy; you have to be more patient. I’ve found the best way to do this is to keep a list.

notes // stored on my iphone so that they are always on hand

Make sure you include measurements and any other important details so that you have it on hand when you come across a piece that you’re interested in purchasing.

2. Don’t Leave the House without a Tape Measure

Often, I’ll still measure the furniture in the store and go home to double-check that everything fits. Obviously, these items don’t typically come with a return policy! A small tape measure like this fits easily in your purse. I’ve used them as a stocking stuffer too.

3. Have a Style in Mind

For  Mike and I, we love clean lines. Sometimes that might translate to shaker-style, other times to mid-century style, and other times to farmhouse-style… but we always choose clean lines. We looked for our hutch for well over 6 months before we found this one at an estate auction.

4. Have a Price in Mind

True, Antique Malls can be very expensive. Typically I shop consignment because the prices are more affordable, even if you have to search longer. However, just because something is second-hand doesn’t mean it will be cheap.

Check the prices in stores, if you were to buy new. Hutches similar to the one we chose cost well over $1500. So, when we found our hutch — which was in great condition, solid wood and marked at $200 — I was completely comfortable with the price.

5. Be Picky… but not too Picky

Be picky when it comes to purchasing something. Often times this means you have to be really patient. Like I mentioned, we searched for our hutch for over 6 months. However, we found one that fit our style, had the right dimensions and was the right price.

It wasn’t perfect though.

I really wanted glass doors. So, we knew when we purchased this cabinet we might have to make some changes down the road… either fabricate new doors or modify the existing doors. In the meantime, I just took them off altogether.

We actually have a friend who does glasswork and he is in the process of modifying the doors. I can’t wait to see them! If we’d been too picky, we would never have ended up with this great piece in the first place, just because it didn’t have glass doors.

6. Know How Much Work will be Involved to make it “Like New”

When you are buying an item secondhand it might have flaws. This dresser {dressers can be used in so many ways… if you don’t believe me, go here} caught my eye at a local peddler’s mall. It’s a true antique, but still has the simple lines that Mike and I  appreciate. And the hardware is just amazing.

But it’s old, which means it’s not perfect. I knew I’d have to add some wood glue to tighten up some joints. It needed some contact paper to protect fabrics from catching on the rough surfaces inside the drawers.

However, the wood was just soooo perfectly worn in my opinion. It wouldn’t need paint or to be refinished and stained. It has that gently aged look and it’s beautiful. You might feel differently though. If you hated the wood and it was going to need a complete refinishing, it probably wouldn’t have been worth what we spent on it {also $200}. The amount of work you’ll have to do needs to be a big consideration when purchasing second-hand furniture.

7. Have a Vision

This might be the toughest part. When you look at old, worn furniture sometimes it seems lifeless or ugly. How on earth would that work in my home? Wouldn’t it just look old? How do you see potential in a piece like that?

Let’s go back to the piece I bought his weekend:

Mike told me “it looks like something from the ’70s” and honestly, he’s exactly right. However, it is also solid wood, great quality with only a couple small damaged spots to fix, the right size and fits our clean-line style.

This is where your vision for a piece of furniture is so important. Pay attention to the details in your existing Pinterest boards and search for more inspiration. Here is my vision for this TV Stand.

Maybe two-toned?

Definitely surrounded by a gallery wall so that the big TV blends in to the background.

Can you see the vision?

So, what do you think? Have you ever bought second-hand furniture? What was your experience? I’d love for you to share any other great tips in the comment section.

If you are a newbie to second-hand purchasing, I hope you feel more confident armed with these simple tips! Happy almost-Friday 🙂

Craftivity Designs

Friday 11th of July 2014

Thanks for stopping by Peter.


Friday 11th of July 2014

Very useful Tips..Thanks for share best idea for buying Second Hand Furniture.

Craftivity Designs

Friday 2nd of May 2014

Thanks, Gretchen! My parents are toting it down here for me and I can't wait to get it in the house :) I gave my mom a tape measure to keep in her purse, and I hold her accountable for keeping it there -- in case I forget mine, lol.


Friday 2nd of May 2014

oh, I love the new tv stand! and great list of tips....I finally started keeping a running list of things to keep an eye out for on my phone, but I still haven't gotten around to sticking a tape measure in my bag!