What better way to kickoff a blog post than with a quote:
“The currency in which you can design and furnish a room is with money or with time. Or maybe a mix of both.”
I know what you’re thinking. “you philosophizing betch, just quit your day job already”
Let me ‘splain.
Some people can get a beautiful, high-end room with money. Maybe they can afford to hire a designer who can create luxury look with custom furnishings and textiles that were designed for the room, usually costing anywhere from $5,000-$500,000 depending on the project.
And some people can still get a high-end look, but the cost in exchange for a fully furnished room is not money – it’s time. And I don’t mean spending 3 weeks on an Ikea hack (although you can do that, and nothing against Ikea).
What I mean by time is – you can furnish a room with quality secondhand furniture, but that takes time. The time you spend scouring Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, the ReStore, an estate sale, eBay, etc. The time you spend talking to strangers, finding out details, bargaining, and driving to pick up an item.
Those of us who are in the ol’ father time bucket are buying used furniture from the people in the money bucket once they become bored of all their fancy shit. See how the world goes ’round?
Maybe you have a mix of time and money, which means you can splurge on that sofa you’ve been eyeing and thrift a coffee table, rug and set of chairs.
Maybe you have money but don’t want to spend it on designing a room.
Every situation is different, and I encourage you to think about your own situation throughout this post.
One more thing before we dive in. It’s something I’ve come to notice over the last year or so:
Planning/designing a room with thrifted finds is no different than designing a room like a designer would. You still need to know all the details, create a floor plan, find inspiration and have a budget. There are just a few little nuances here and there that make things a bit more challenging (or if you’re an optimist like me)… more fun.
So how exactly do you go about furnishing a room with secondhand finds?
First things first…
YOU NEED A PLAN
In order to successfully design a room, you must have a plan and stick to that plan.
You should definitely take this advice from me, someone who creates a plan and then veers off the beaten path and down the road of impulsivity, wondering why the chairs I just drove 3 hours round-trip for aren’t working like I “envisioned” they would in our living room.
Now, I rationalize these impulsive decisions. They make sense to me. To Angelo, these decisions are an attack on his mental and physical well-being.
It’s not until he’s helping me carry the chairs inside while looking me dead in the eye to ask where is this going? that I start to come down from my high and his very own question quickly becomes a mental and physical attack on my well-being because… I don’t know where they are going.
“I’ll find a place for them” are words I speak so often that they’ll be written on my tombstone.
DRAW A FLOOR PLAN
Figure out the dimensions of your room and create a floor plan. I use Procreate for iPad with an apple pencil, but you can sketch a floor plan with some graph paper and a pencil. This Youtube video is helpful.
Once you have your room sketched, you can start figuring out furniture placement. Think about the size and scale of the furniture for the room.
A lot of modern furniture is LARGE and scaled to the size of a room, while vintage and antique furniture is scaled to the size of the human body.
You should create multiple versions of how the furniture can fit and flow in the room. Here’s one of the floor plans for our living room (drawn in Procreate). For perspective, each square = 1 foot.
One example of how I didn’t consider the size and scale of a room:
We’ve always had long sofas (90″+) in our beloved bitch of a living room and I couldn’t figure out why the room wasn’t working. I always thought you needed a large sofa in your living room. But then I realized that the room needed smaller scale furniture, and replacing the large sofa with a love seat (72″) worked so much better in the space.
I recommend gathering ideas for each piece of furniture you need to thrift and create a mood board. Do you prefer a Chesterfield sofa, or an English roll arm? Or do you care more about the color/texture of the sofa and less about the style?
Note – the pickier you are, the longer it will take to find something.
For my office, I knew I wanted neutral furnishings to go with the wallpaper. Wood tones, black, natural textures, ivory, and brass – these are all simple to find these things on Marketplace, so it only took me a few weeks to furnish this room.
MAKE A DETAILED LIST & KEEP IT WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES
I personally use Evernote because I can access it from my phone/computer. Include the following on this list:
- items you plan to keep in the room along with dimensions of each item. This will help you decide whether an existing item will fit comfortably around an item you are looking to purchase (i.e. is a prospective coffee table going to be too tall for your existing sofa)?
- items you need to be on the lookout for along with dimensions for each item (based on your floor plan)
- your mood board
When I was thrifting things for my office, this list was so helpful. Use it as your bible.
HAVE A “THRIFT” FUND
In a normal design process, this part would be referred to as setting a budget
But…this is one of the little nuances I mentioned above.
When you’re relying on thrifted finds, it’s hard to set a budget because of the spontaneity of thrifting. One week you may find chairs, curtains and a coffee table and then go another 6 months without finding something you like.
I recommend having an “thrift fund” set aside for when those 6 ABSOLUTELY PERFECT chairs show up in your Marketplace feed and you need them immediately (after you measure, of course). Because even though it’s a few hundred $, you also know it’s a good deal and the chairs will go QUICK.
Basically, set some funds aside for when mercury, the moon, the earth and stars align.
You have to be able to make quick decisions with thrifting a room, unfortunately. I’ve made those *quick* decisions many times (without following a plan and acting impulsively) and it’s a shitty feeling when you end up regretting it.
But, you can always re-sell. At least that’s what I tell myself when I am filled with regret and shame.
PATIENCE IS VIRTUE
The chances of you finding an item that fits your dimensions, that’s within your price range and THAT YOU LOVE every time you refresh marketplace is low. You will not be able to furnish a room overnight.
Think about how long you’re willing to wait for specific items. If you have a little bit of time and money, consider splurging on one item you love and thrift the rest.
I waited three years to find the chippendale dining chairs I have now. Even though I almost spent a pretty penny on a similar set that would have been shipped from Florida, I waited. And waited. And one day, they appeared just an hour away. They were a little out of my price range, but I had that emergency thrift fund set aside.
YOU SHOULD PURCHASE SOMETHING IF…
- the dimensions work for your room
- it’s within your price range
- You LOVE it so much that you would pay FULL PRICE for it if you had the money
Which leads me to my last thought.
What I’m about to say completely contradicts most of the steps I’ve outlined above. But I have to say this last thing, because I mean it from deep within my SOUL…
Buy only what you absolutely LOVE and the room will come together.
If there is such thing as magic, this is magic in its purest form. I talk more about finding true love in this post.
As usual, I soaked up every single word. You not only share helpful insight, but you are so clever with your writing approach! Thank you for writing another great post.
Thank you, Amy! I am glad to hear you enjoyed it.
Hi Alisa. Thank you for this and all of your ideas, insights, and shares. You keep me energized to make my home exactly what I want it to be. Just wondering, what do you feel is a successful rate of purchase? We are on our third living room couch in 22 years (which doesn’t sound like a lot unless you’re my husband, and, yes, I shuddered when I read your comments about Angelo because, well, marriage), but it’s still not perfect. How many swings at bat do you give yourself before you begin the question your entire plan?
Thank you Meredith! That’s a good question. I personally think that with secondhand goods, you can never have too many swings. Don’t tell your husband I said that haha! My rationale is that as long as you’re getting a good deal, there’s no reason why you can swap out that item once your tired of it. But I think the key is to find something you love SO much that you can’t ever see yourself wanting to get rid of it. If that makes sense 🤷♀️
That makes perfect sense! Thank you.
Thanks for this, it really helps! We are furnishing an empty house – only buying a couch, kitchen barstools & bedroom furniture bc we needed to have that up front. The rest will hopefully come from all those resources you listed. The good thing is we are in no rush!
Hi! I love your posts and I have been buying secondhand for years recognizing that the value of quality vintage furniture is much better than newly mass-produced and I tried to minimize waste. I only recently discovered FbM (where have I been!?) And I try to evangelize whenever possible but the common question is.. how do we get it home? It’s impossible to fit in my SUV and I just don’t have a tried and true service — do you Task Rabbit or Phlatbed or Hunks for Junk or what? I find quotes (in CT) can be so variable and can add considerably onto the cost of purchases – although it’s still a better deal at the end of the day. What is your advice?
So glad I found this blog! I have a traditional (yet stuck in the 70’s) colonial that I’m tying to redecorate and renovate. I follow a ton of interior design blogs and this one is one of my favs, bc it hits that sweet spot- beautiful and sophisticated interiors with a consideration for cost but not skimping on the high-end design elements. You know when to spend and when to pull back and offer great advice on how to do it to get that layered and cohesive look. Thanks for making using “the time currency” approach a whole lot less time consuming for us by offering your insights and tips. It’s so much more attainable for those of us who aspire to have a high style and sophisticated home but for whom it would be unreasonable to splurge on every single design element.
Wow! Thank you so much for the kind words Dina, I really appreciate that! Good luck with redocrating your home! It sounds lovely 🙂 and thank you for reading!