I am a very
attentive obsessive reader of your posts. Not only do I love the education received, I love the many people you’ve featured that I now follow.
But here’s my problem.
I love your posts like the one you did about deconstructing Mark D. Sikes interior designs. Really beautiful! And, I love your hot sales.
And, I remember this post where you talk about cheap decorating advice when plumb broke.
Well, one man’s “cheap” is another man’s no-can-do. And I guess broke is a relative term? What I mean is–
We need FREE furniture or else super-duper cheap. Like a $50 dollar sofa that looks nice.
Laurel, look. We’re phenomenally house poor. Spare me the lecture. I know. I know!
Not that you would give me a lecture. We’ve had some unexpected expenses. But, I love our new home and believe me, the house is nothing ostentatious. It’s a modest 3-bedroom Cape Cod style home built in the 60s and only 1575 sq feet.
In addition, I’m six months pregnant with twins! The doctor says that I might need to go on bed rest, but I need to take it easy, so I’m not working right now.
To add to the problem. I do have Mark D Sikes tastes and seriously, maybe $3,000 to furnish the entire place.
How does one incorporate pieces that we have and cannot afford to replace or even cover?
We’ve managed to get the house painted. There’s a decent rug that works in the living room, but it is not a long-term piece for me.
One thing I have done is a DIY drop-cloth drape in the living room. I am quite satisfied– for now.
So perhaps a post on ways get dirt cheap or free furniture that’s of good quality and looks great. And also, how to use what you have and make it work for what you want.
For some of us, even custom slipcovers are too expensive.
Thank you again for your hard work and sage advice.
Thanks for that Carolyn.
Okay, let’s jump into today’s topic which is how to decorate beautifully with not just a meager budget, but no money at all.
Is it possible?
Yes, it’s possible.
For some people.
Just so you know, this is based on a real “Dear Laurel” email a while back.
I can relate so well to Carolyn’s difficulty.
And definitely, free furniture was out budget. In fact, we did take this sideboard that I swore I was only going to keep a few years. Nope. It sat in our den for 22 years.
Back in 1991 when we bought our townhouse in Northern Westchester, I guess we didn’t realize how much things were going to cost.
Okay. I dug up one image taken in September 1995. That’s after we had been in our home for 4+ years. I’m holding baby Aaron, 8 months; the wild child, Cale at 5. And me, of course, pushing 40. If you look closely, you can see a tiny sliver of shrimp-pink carpet and an ugly beige electric radiator.
It wasn’t until I began my business in 1996, nearly a year after this image was taken, did we take out an equity source loan, so that we could get rid of the carpet and put in a hardwood floor.
We also added the mouldings and paint. And, yes, we got rid of the fugly radiator.
Oh, what a difference all of that made!
And, then things started to improve for several years. And in that period, I acquired several pieces that we needed and fixed up others. The point being, I understand what it means to be broke.
However, these days there are numerous ways to get FREE FURNITURE or at least super cheap furniture.
BTW, my favorite word in the English language is “free.”
My second favorite word is “scholarship.” :]
So, let’s look at the ways to score great free or almost free furniture.
1. You find it
This usually requires living in a large urban area. New York City, is one of the most free shopping sites if you’re patient. Anyone who’s lived there knows that you can find some terrific furniture on the street.
Over the years when I lived in the city, I couldn’t believe what people would leave on the street. In fact, when my husband moved me out of my UWS apartment, we left a few pieces of crap on the street. It really was. But, within an hour, it was gone!
2. Ask Around
I guess that’s kind of obvious, but maybe you haven’t thought of it. The best place to start is with family and friends; particularly elderly family and friends who have not yet down-sized. They may be thrilled that you want to take some of their furniture off of their hands. Less for them to do.
If there are any dementia issues, however, I would check in with children first if it’s an aunt or uncle because they may have laid claim on something. And, of course, if you have siblings, you’ll need to consider them.
What if the free furniture is in great condition, but not really your taste?
We’ll get to that in a sec.
3. Then, of course, are estate, yard and tag sales. Sometimes you can get some fabulous deals. You already know that.
4. Local thrift shops. You know that one too. :]
I found my wonderful night tables at a thrift shop in Katonah, NY 21 years ago. 50 bucks each. I just wish that they were a little smaller and had a drawer. Otherwise, they are perfect. lol
5. Flea Markets
More of my old bedroom. But I am sharing it again because there’s a great photo of my pretty little white wing chair. I picked this up at a flea market about 8 years ago. It had this horribly ratty-ripped-to-shreads fabric and there was an exposed wood frame on the back and part of the arm.
I took it to my upholsterer and told him that I wanted the wood to go away. No problem. He understood exactly what I wanted, agreed and seemed very excited about this project.
A couple of weeks later, he proudly delivered the chair.
And yes, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t take before pics.
6. But, if you want to be able to see a lot of free and/or super cheap furniture without killing yourself, (meaning online) my favorite internet sources are:
However, if the photo looks a little too slick, it might not be a used piece. So, please be careful!
It’s on sale for $799 which sounds pretty good. However, I found it the Tiarella Ash Sofa for $618.75 on another site.
Whenever you are comparison shopping on the internet, first put the piece or pieces in your cart and everything but your payment info. Take it as far as you can go to see ALL of the charges and surcharges that might not be obvious upfront.
And, there are these lovely Louis XVI style dining side chairs for $150/each. Ten chairs! The owner claims they have been used only one time. However, they are selling them for only $30 less than they paid for them. They say that they will not take $100 for them.
Let’s see if they have a [chair] leg to stand on.
Okay, this might be difficult for some of you to track down.
However, that’s relatively easy for me at this point. I found this chair at Home Depot for only $8.44 more per chair– $158.44. So, why would I pay only $85 less for ten used chairs? Plus, HD will deliver them to you for free in 8 days.
However, I did find this gorgeous dining table for only $300
In addition there’s also:
Craigslist (which also has a free section)
Nextdoor which is a neighborhood social networking site.
Before you go all hog-wild acquiring all of this stuff for free or close to free, you still need to have a plan.
That link above is to one of my favorite posts which lays out a blue-print for HOW to decorate a room. However, if you need a far more comprehensive guide for living rooms, dining rooms and bed rooms, please consider purchasing my 333 Hard To Find Rules & Tips You Need To Know – guide.
Otherwise, you may find yourself needing to dump pieces that don’t work. Of course, it won’t sting as much if it never cost you anything in the first place. But still.
I know that you already realize this, but just a friendly reminder. :]
7. You could also try putting up notices in community bulletin boards, social clubs and houses of worship. Like, “looking for a Louis XVI set of dining chairs, but Gustavian will work too.”
8. Many communities also have a local Pennysaver where people post items for sale. Some of them are free too. They usually have a listing of local estate and moving sales.
What if I find some fabulous free furniture, say a sofa or chair and the fabric sucks? Remember, I can’t afford custom slip-covers.
Hmmm… but Carolyn did say that she reupholstered a chair. If you can sew, there are a zillion tutorials on both upholstery and slipcover making. You can find them on Pinterest or Youtube.
Personally, I think that slipcovers even if you have to clean toilets five days a week to pay for them are the way to go.
And here’s a great source for cheap white (and other colors) cotton duck (canvas). And they also have video tutorials on slipcover making. ( please click the link for that)
One word about used upholstered furniture, in particular. Please make sure that it is free of bed-bugs and other undesirable issues that could cause health problems.
via Miss Mustardseed’s instagram – image via @countrylivingmag
IMO, Miss Mustardseed is the queen of tasteful furniture make-overs. She also has a lot of great tutorials. I really don’t know how these people do it.
But fine. You’re going to stand firm and say no to slip-covers.
9. Well… there is another option which I’ve touched on a few times. And this might be a great option for Carolyn who goofed on the color of her sofa.
Paint. Paint the upholstered furniture.
Yes, that’s right. I said paint the fabric.
Let’s explore this option because there’s paint and there’s paint. And it could be wonderful, or you could make a big bloody mess and that would not be so great.
Many of you may recall, oh my over five years ago, I received these wonderful chairs in some expensive Kravet fabric. I loved the fabric. In fact, I had just done the exact same chair for a client. (you can see it in the link)
And I have a confession to make related to this.
I didn’t make it then. Back then, I wanted people to think I was perfect. Now I don’t care. (as much) lol
I really goofed. I had gotten two chairs that ended up being too big. Here’s what happened. They were supposed to go where the green settee is. I tried to sell it even though I still love it. But it’s really not very comfortable to sit on.
Wait, here’s a photo I took a few years ago where the chairs were supposed to go, originally.
Nobody wanted it; not so much as a nibble. I considered putting it in my bedroom. No can do.
Well, let me try it in front of the radiator.
It looks fantastic there; like that was the plan all along.
Great! Well, then I’ll just put the new chairs across from the sofa; in front of the cabinet. There’s plenty of room. Dodged a bullet there.
The chairs came and at first I thought it was a matter of me getting used to them. That happens sometimes.
I woke up the next day. No change in my perception. After a week of hating them more and more in that location, I decided to cut my losses and I put them on Craig’s List and a nice young man came and picked them up for about half of what I paid at wholesale. Great find for him!
I knew that the CR Laine chair would look great. And the fabric would be wonderful too!
After 10 weeks, the chairs arrived. They did look great. But the fabric seemed too summery to me. I probably said all of that in the original post. And I knew that if I could tone down the white, they would be absolutely perfect!
Let’s look at more painted upholstery and techniques
Excellent tutorial on DIY Network for painted upholstery.
Homemade By Carmona has some excellent tutorials using Annie Sloan Chalk paint.
Here, she uses a dry-brush method, but she used a wet-method with another chair, also with great results which you can find in the link. It seems that chalk paint is the way to go for the best, softest results. However, it works best on fabrics that can be brushed like velvet.
Please check out the after of this chair on Taryn Whiteaker. You won’t believe the transformation!
Kristi from Addicted To Decorating painted an entire sofa. And it looks pretty good in the photos. But she confesses that it’s best for a temporary solution.
And on A Beautiful Mess they transformed this vintage settee into a striking piece.I love the color, but, think it looks a little like plastic.
Very poor review for simply spray fabric upholstery paint on Apartment Therapy.
We’ll stay away from that one!
Here is my over-all view on painting upholstery.
Unless you’re me, ;] if it’s a piece of free or almost free furniture, there isn’t much to lose. If possible, try to test in an inconspicuous spot. An ideal situation would be if you have a sofa or chair and are planning on taking the skirt off. You can use that. But, you have to be patient and go through all of the steps. That’s the hard part.
- Some techniques will take a fair amount of time.
- Over-all, I probably wouldn’t do it unless necessary on a piece that will be used a lot.
- DO make sure that your technique is one that the paint won’t come off on people’s clothing.
- It’s best for small chairs, benches and ottomans.
In fact, if there’s one thing that can breathe new life into some dated furniture, it’s paint.
Remember the fabulous painted vanity in this bathroom?
And the master of paint both in paintings and his dwellings is William McLure.
In addition to the sources listed above, you might be interested in these other internet sites.
Please note that I am not endorsing any of them; just letting you know about them if you don’t already.
Everything But The House – EBTH
While it’s possible to decorate on the cheap with free furniture or nearly free, I think that it does take a lot of patience and time. If you enjoy thrifting, then of course, I think it makes a lot of sense for many people. And some people have no choice, if they want to have something to sit on– AND they want it to look nice.
Well, that’s all for now. I’m working on a special post for Sunday.
please pin to your pinterest boards for reference
In the meantime, please check out the newly updated hot sales.
Free shipping on everything at Serena and Lily
There is a terrific sale ending tonight on One King’s Lane. 20% off plus an additional 10% off with the promo code.
Loved Gail’s comment, “Our Lady of Acquisitions” and that is me too. For years I lived in the shacks by the mansions and when those folks had sales I went. I purchased several Baker pieces too without even knowing for next to nothing.
Oh yes, and as stated above, beware of the bugs. Our daughter and son-in-law have had bed bugs twice, yes twice. This costs thousands and lots of mental anguish too. Fortunately when mom and dad are ready to part with furniture, they are the first to take it off our hands.
May I add a few more sources?
– Floor models / I got a pedestal table from PB for $100 when it was still selling for $700.
– Store liquidation
– Outlet stores: Got from RH outlet a dining table for $170 and a king size bed for $450.
YES! Not to mention it’s earth friendly, leaves a much smaller carbon footprint by not cutting down timber, it keeps landfills from overflowing, and it’s a form of shopping locally. Yes, the bedbugs, fleas, or other undesirables are a concern, but there are ways to check before moving an item. I keep a flashlight, a magnifying glass, a tape measure, and a wad of cash in my bag at all times to be ready to inspect, measure, and haggle over an item I am interested in. Love setting a unique tone in my home by finding old pieces that mix well with current items for a personal reflection of my quirky/classic aesthetic.
A SUPER cheap source for canvas is painter’s tarps. I bought a crap load of them when SW was having a 40% off sale, and used them to make a sofa slip cover. And, no, I don’t sew – I haven’t since Brownies, but desperate times call for desperate measures. After many breaks, and between curses, hair pulling, and in approximately a year (or was it two), using my handy internet-purchased tutorial, it came out GREAT. It even had piping. One word of caution when buying painters tarps to use, pay attention to the dye lots, etc. They are not all manufactured from the same place, or at the same time, and there are significant differences. But, it was dirt cheap for 100% cotton duck. (Also, pre-wash!)
I painted a recliner that is in my living room. I used regular latex paint (because I could choose any color I wanted), mixed it with water and fabric medium, and several coats later, I had a new chair! There are many online tutorials that can help you. It does feel kind of “plasticky” so I wouldn’t do this to a piece that was going to get used a lot, because it’s not as comfortable as regular upholstery. There is no issue with paint rubbing off on your clothing. It looks so much better than it did before, and I’d do it again in a heart beat! Thanks for another great post, Laurel!
Thanks @Katy! :). I *did* think about it…VERY briefly…but the truth is, although it’s really neat to learn how upholstery works, it is back breaking work—and living in an open floor plan loft/condo, it would mean always having my main living area in a state of chaos…which is extremely stressful. (Also, reupholstering is NOT quick. It’s easy—but NOT quick! :))
I would be perfectly happy to never reupholster anything again—but it’s nice to know I CAN, if I need to. :). (And I strongly encourage anyone else who wants pretty furnishings but can’t afford fancy stuff to give it a try. :))
And you’re so right about velvet’s durability…but the thing you don’t get warned about, is that even if you buy the fancy, extra durable stuff, everytime someone sits on it, they leave a nice butt and crotch imprint! 😛
When I have guests, I find ways to quickly block them from viewing whatever they’ve sat on…and quickly brush out the marks with my hand, lest they be embarrassed by it.
In the future, I’ll be looking for less pressure sensitive furniture coverings! ;). (Oh man, but it looks beautiful, though, in its undisturbed state! :))
I believe in the “ask and you shall receive” method. I wanted an ottoman for my living room to use in place of a coffee table and asked my neighbors. I soon had 8 to choose from!!! Now with so many people wanting to downsize, it may be even easier.
Freecycle is another resource if you have a group in your county. And yes, everything is FREE. So when you want to get rid of something and would rather it didn’t end up in a landfill, this is an option. A good resource for both the giver and receiver.
My comment was directed @ Aurora. 🙂
Kudos to you too Laurel for a great post with a lot of information.
Brava! Well done.
My eyes and hands make sewing a no go I’m afraid. I love velvet for how sturdy and durable it can be.
Sounds like you have the skills to create a side business if you have the time and interest. There was a woman I found on FB Marketplace in my previous location that appeared to purchase or find used furniture and then repair them, paint/stain them and often change the hardware before posting them up for sale.
If you have a good eye, and you follow Laurel so you obviously do, then you can spot a great piece when you see it. Sellers often have limited time to get rid of a piece and just need it gone, so you can often get a ridiculously low price. If it’s not right for you, you can temporarily use it or store it. Then you can sell it for a fair price, and take the profit to buy what you really want! Warning: Only do this is you will honestly enjoy it or re-sell it. You don’t want your living room to look like a junk shop!
Hello Laurel, You mention many good sources*, but for free (or virtually so) I would concentrate on house sales and moving sales. Often, the house must be emptied immediately after the sale, so what is left over is frequently discarded or given away. I would go toward the end of the sale and approach whoever is running it. Getting a little sympathy for your plight would not hurt. If physically possible (you mentioned pregnancy and twins) you could volunteer to help pack up, which usually is fun and you get lots of great stuff.
*Downsizings are perhaps the ideal, especially because you know the home the furniture is coming from, but these cannot always be arranged at your convenience.
When stuff is free – you have to make it easy for the GIVER. If you are able to borrow or rent a truck or van, do that, or make friends with someone who has one. Put out feelers before you find your first piece of free furniture, before you contact the giver. There are also cheap furniture delivery types, but ask around to find a good, reliable and non-sketchy one.
I have scored a lot of amazing free or very cheap stuff from CL – and also passed on many things. The best recipients were people who were prepared, brought a strong friend for the big and heavy pieces, and were punctual. The worst were folks who wanted, say, a pair of 8 foot tall (living, not fake)cactuses but expected somehow to fit them into a small car. Or folks who emailed and really, really wanted the thing but never showed up and didn’t email to cancel.
Some givers are flexible about a pick up day and time – others need the thing gone TODAY for whatever reason. Make it easy for people to give you a great thing !
When I had a big crisis clearout/move (ie ex, lawyers, etc.)if a person came to pick up a thing, and were polite and interesting I always asked them if there was anything else they needed or wanted. The guys who took the antique wardrobe also got some mirrors and a bad/good light up Virgin Mary portrait that one dude loved. The guy who took the Victorian settee also got a stack of design oriented coffee table books.
It also never hurts to ask the person who has listed the free stuff if there are other items up for grabs. The worst they can say is no, but some say maybe, or contact you in a couple of months with an amazing free thing.
A post after my own heart! My nickname in our home is “Our Lady of Acquisitions.” Everything is secondhand. From my $600 gorgeous, restaurant-style Five Star range to my lovely rebuilt and reupholstered 1908 sofa and $50 club chairs. If I won a lottery tomorrow, I would still buy secondhand for the thrill of the find and the fact that it makes a home so unique when you fill it with one-of-a-kind pieces.
Buy nothing groups on Facebook can be a source, and are great for the little stuff like candles and organizers.
I have snagged some unbelievable finds for our home and our kids homes by watching craigslist. I am very careful about knowing the area in town where I am buying from and I always take another person with me when picking up an item…for safety reasons.
When my daughter bought her home, I found a king size Pottery Barn headboard, foot board and frame for $150. It was still available at PB for $1200! The couple was moving out of state and didn’t have room in their new house. When we were there, we saw a small black cabinet, again Pottery Barn, that they sold to us for $25.00. These are just 2 of the many many wonderful bargains I have found shopping this way.
I live in a bed bug infested city, so I’d rather sit on the floor than bring used upholstered goods into my home. It can cost thousands of dollars to remove bed bugs once they’re in your walls and furniture. Worse, if you live in a multi-family building and you invite in bed bugs, you’ve just ruined a whole lot of families’ month, since bed bugs can move between apartments like wildfire, often via electrical conduit. I also would think thirty times before buying used case goods that had been in a bedroom. If you find a piece of furniture you absolutely have to have, and you live in a bed bug endemic area, you may be able to find an exterminator who will “cook” it in a 120 degree hot box before you bring it home. That’s the best way to kill bed bugs in furniture — high heat for an extended period. .
A bunch of GREAT resources, Laurel—many of which I’ve used! 🙂
As someone with expensive tastes…but not an expensive budget, DIY and cheap furniture from places like Craigslist or Nextdoor is totally the way to go! 🙂
Years ago, I bought a tiny Victorian loveseat that someone had painted pink washed with white…and upholstered in white—and I LOATHED the colors, but loved the loveseat—so I bought it, intending to reupholster. It looked pretty easy, since the seat cushion was a lovely squishy, unattached, feather cushion—and everything else just looked stapled on, with trim glued around the stapled parts.
I bought a bunch of chenille fabric in moss green…bought a manual staple gun from Home Depot and a plastic drop cloth, to pin on the loveseat and make a pattern…ripped off the trim…and upholstered right over the existing upholstery, and then just glued on new trim.
20 years later, it still holds a place of honor in my home…and even made a brief appearance in a movie (the Last Witch Hunter), when the set decorator spotted it when picking up a Victorian balloon chair I was selling (which I’d gotten for free, btw)—and asked if they could buy or rent it. (I let them rent it for a week. :))
Then several years ago, I bought a bookshelf on Craigslist…and commented on a lovely rosewood barrel shaped chair the seller had—and he promptly told me I could have the chair and the matching sofa for $75. And he’d deliver, for free. I didn’t need the sofa—but who could pass up a deal like that?
I decided to reupholster the sofa from the ground up…bought a book on reupholstering…an air compressor, an upholstery gun, jute webbing, new cotton batting and Dacron—and following the instructions in the book—my mom and I stripped the sofa down to the wood…rewebbed the bottom, 8 way tied the springs, and reupholstered the entire thing in a gorgeous 4 way forest green cotton velvet—purchased with a 60% off coupon at JoAnn’s online. Oh, and I bought cheap gilding sheets and sizing—and gilded the frame, then antiqued it, using a blend of FolkArt paint—the $2 bottles. 🙂
After that…I reupholstered a chair from the 30s, one from the 40s, and a gilded frame I found at an antique store…as well as the seat of a modern Pier One chair—in moss green velvet and emerald cotton velvet…and used the remnants of the forest green cotton velvet to cover one of those cheap headboards you can pick up at stores like At Home—after I’d overstuffed it, of course!
Interestingly…I was an Anthropologie Home recently—and noticed that their very expensive velvet sofas were all made with the exact same velvet I used on all of my furniture…paying a very cheap $23 or so a yard for it. 🙂
If you’re willing to DIY—you can REALLY do some cool things, for very little. It doesn’t require skill, so much as patience…and the willingness to screw up, and then figure out a way out of the screwed up bit. 🙂
I think I said this before, but I remember being pleasantly shocked about a stunning French armoire a blogger got for $75 on Craigs List. It looked like it should have cost thousands and would have on 1st Dibs.