Buying secondhand has come a long way since the days I scoured thrift and consignment stores and flea markets to furnish my first apartment, and even since I bought my current home 12 years ago. Gone is the stigma of buying used home furnishings, and the many blogs, magazines and television shows touting its benefits have done wonders for the industry. Now, people proudly show off their finds. For some, it has become an entire way of life.
Whether looking for furniture that’s ready to take its place in your home as is, or for pieces to paint or re-purpose, we are fortunate to live in an area where a wide variety of secondhand treasures abound. If you don’t find thrift stores appealing, try visiting local consignment shops or auctions.
Consignment stores and auction houses take in goods from people who are downsizing, moving, or simply changing their décor. Both the store and the consignor make money. At the shops I visited, the consignor takes home between 50 and 60 percent of the selling price, which isn’t bad for simply dropping off clean, unwanted items.
An added advantage of shopping consignment versus thrift stores is that shop owners are generally careful about what they accept, so the likelihood of having to wade through damaged or poor quality items searching for a gem is almost eliminated. Before being placed on the sales floor, everything is inspected, cleaned and repaired if necessary—not only to ensure the best price, but to keep customers coming back.
A recent outing took me to three consignment shops and one auction. Grab a friend and go!
Number of consignors: 1,000+
Pelican Cottage is a great first stop if you’re looking for beachy, tropical, colorful décor. They sell new and consigned items as well as closeouts, model home furniture and locally created art. I had just walked through the doors and was immediately smitten with a new rattan chair ($449.99) and couch ($729.99) with bright floral cushions by Stanley. But “new” was not my mission, and a few steps later I discovered a gorgeous blonde mid-century modern sideboard with glass topper for $395. The shabby chic style was well represented by a pedestal table and four upholstered-seat chairs that had been reduced from $324.99 to $275, and a five-drawer dresser with pretty pulls for $295. On the darker side, a JG Hook/Bassett Shaker-style three-drawer end table with inlay detail was offered for $150, and an ornate gold crackle hall table with mirror was priced at $474.99. I found a bit of late 1960s/early ’70s in a pair of lime green upholstered occasional chairs with silver nailhead tack trim for $175 each. There were also some artistically painted pieces of furniture, including a vintage buffet done in pastel green with pink accents.
House of Lords
Number of consignors: 10,000+
If you’re seeking conversation pieces, House of Lords prides itself on its selection of unique furniture and huge array of artwork. It’s easy to get lost in the art-covered hallways which run between the large showrooms, one of which contains a newly-created gallery of really special pieces including an ornate 1910 baby grand piano custom-made for royalty and sporting a price tag of $30,000. Another piece not often seen: a set of four huge, cushy red suede theater chairs ($1,750) that look as though they could have been in Steven Spielberg’s personal home theater. Up front, an Art Deco-style light beige leather sofa and two chairs with mahogany trim were featured for $2,700. A sleek oval glass dining table on a chrome pedestal base with six chrome-accented black leather chairs ($2,500) sat in a back corner. In between, I found gorgeous Victorian needlepoint accent chairs on casters ($600 each), a pair of seafoam-upholstered barrel back chairs with lovely carved swan arms ($180 each), and an antique mahogany three-tray accent table on claw feet ($105). In addition to giving the consignor a larger percentage of the sale price than other stores, House of Lords has one other point of difference: a regular markdown system on most items. The initial price is good for 20 days, at which time a markdown of 20% is taken. At 40 days, the price is lowered another 20%. So, over time, that $2,700 living room set would drop to $2,160 and finally $1,620.
King Solomon’s Treasures
Number of consignors: 500+
With a building this big, Mr. Grolman has to do what is necessary to cover his expenses. In order to get to the consignment area of King Solomon’s Treasures, you must first walk through a flea market-style section up front . . . so unless you’re looking for rugs, vintage glassware or meats, keep walking toward the back. I was told by one of his helpers that a corner of this warehouse-style structure was being carved out for wrestling events. I didn’t ask for details. Instead, I began wandering through the sea of dining sets. A glass-top wrought iron table with four cushioned chairs was offered for $449, while a country-style four-legged wood table, with a leaf and four Windsor-style chairs, was waiting to be snapped up for $175. For $1,699, you could get a massive rectangular glass-top table with two carved white bases and six cushioned sea grass chairs. There was a clean, modern two-cushion tufted ivory leather love seat for $999. The best bargain I saw was an antique Eastlake-style chair on casters for $149.99.
Venice Auction Company, Inc.
This is not the place to hem and haw as auctioneer of 34 years Joe La Raviere keeps things moving at a pace of about four items per minute. From antique and newer furniture and décor to cars, boats and motorcycles, he sells it all. It is not uncommon to see moving trucks unloading entire estates, and many area resellers get their shop inventory from these auctions. A stunning antique tiger oak ball and claw table sold for $400, and a Thomasville sleigh bed, dresser with mirror and nightstand garnered $600. A hard-to-find Hitchcock cupboard went for a mere $85, and I got in on the excitement by bidding on an overstuffed floral Robb & Stucky armchair and ottoman, winning it with a $200 bid. A night at the auction is quite a fun-filled event, and there is even a food truck on premises to feed your hunger. Bidders pay a $5 registration fee, which is deducted from your total if you buy something over $5. A buyer’s premium of 16 percent, which is reduced to 10 percent if you pay with cash or check, is added to your total. With no set minimum bids, who knows what kinds of deals you could drive away with.
Being prepared is key to successful shopping. Have your dimensions and a tape measure with you when you shop. Take paint or fabric swatches if you’re trying to complement existing pieces. Keeping an open mind and thinking creatively are important as well. I could easily see the mid-century modern sideboard storing supplies in an office. The antique three-tray table would make a nice accent in a bathroom, displaying apothecary jars or a vintage bowl full of soap. A single swan arm chair would be cute in a romantic bedroom or a little girl’s room.
The possibilities of what you might find are endless and change every day, so if you don’t find that perfect piece on your first trip, don’t give up. The saying “if you don’t succeed at first, try, try again” certainly applies when shopping secondhand.