How to Thrift Shop Like an Interior Designer
In a time when you can decorate your home with a few swipes or clicks, thrift shopping can seem like an antiquated endeavor. (The amount of time and research is at odds with today's emphasis on instant gratification.) But if you're looking for beautiful, budget-friendly items that speak to your unique sense of style, slow and steady wins the race. "You're on a treasure hunt, but one that requires more of a keen eye, in my opinion," says Enrique Crespo, CEO and founder of Crespo Design Group.
Unlike antiquing—which is similar in theory, but different in practice—thrift shopping celebrates the art of buying secondhand. "When you go thrift shopping, you may come across an amazing French antique that's 100 years old, a vintage piece from the '80s, or a recently manufactured item from West Elm at a major discount," explains Paige Kontrafouris, an interior designer and stylist. "It's an open book of what you can find, whereas you know that an antique store has very old pieces and collectibles from the start."
Anyone can go thrift shopping, but separating your new treasure from one person's trash can be easier said than done. To help, Crespo and Kontrafouris share their top tips for thrift shopping like savants.
With so little time and so many items, walking into a thrift store can feel understandably overwhelming. If you're new to this endeavor, you might want to start with some smaller pieces and gather a shopping tool kit. "While out shopping, make sure your running list of things you need is readily accessible and includes dimensions of the particular sizes you're looking for," Kontrafouris says. The designer adds that her favorite thrift finds include frames, linens, books, and storage baskets. While Crespo does shop for furniture at thrift stores, he also looks out for smaller pieces like glassware and home accents. "There are usually a few hidden gems within these categories," he shares.
Though the Internet is packed with wonderful ways to thrift shop from the comfort of your couch, Kontrafouris and Crespo agree that the hunt is best done in person. In fact, many of the best vendors are hiding in plain sight. "Some of the best places to thrift are sometimes the most inconspicuous," Crespo adds. "Markets and bazaars—while they do not always contain antique or designer pieces—have some of the most gorgeous items to browse and pick up."
Make your first stop at your local flea market. Not only is it a treasure trove for amazing finds, but you'll also be able to peruse multiple vendors, making it possible to find something that'll fit your budget or price point.
Do Your Research
The best—and, well, sometimes worst—part of thrift shopping is that you truly never know what you're going to find. So, how do you know if a piece is valuable or high quality? You might need to do your homework beforehand. "Take some time to bounce around to different hot spots and study which ones carry which types of items," Crespo recommends. "If you're looking for a chic, valuable piece, you have to understand which materials are of genuine quality and are undeniably authentic when you see it."
But what are burgeoning thrift shoppers to do if they fall in love with a piece and haven't done their research ahead of time? Keep your eyes peeled for the signs such as unique markings, countries of origin, and confirmation that you're dealing with high-quality materials like wood or porcelain. And if you're really stumped, head online. "I love using the Google Lens app to quickly scan the internet for an item if it's not something I have a ton of knowledge on," Kontrafouris adds. "It also helps to research items you like in your free time, so you can learn the unique details about them and know what to keep an eye out for."
Unlike shopping online or at a typical brick-and-mortar storefront, thrift shopping has its mysteries. While it is important to keep an open mind, Crespo encourages you to make a plan for your shopping excursion. "While impulse buying can be a total thrill in the moment, remember that those price tags could haunt you later," he explains. "Take some time to bounce around to different hot spots and study which ones carry which types of items."
Looking for another way to stay organized? Kontrafouris keeps an ongoing list of pieces. "When I'm out shopping, I'll constantly reference it," she says. "One day I might really be looking for a side table and not find it, but later in the week, I might be out again looking for something else and see the perfect table I was searching for a week ago."
No matter what you're looking for, remember that this endeavor requires some trial and error. As Kontrafouris puts it, "A store may have a horrible selection five times in a row, but on that sixth time you can hit it big." With a little bit of persistence, you can end up walking away with your dream décor.