Thrifty & DIY Shopping Tips

From John Loecke & Jason Oliver Nixon

If you're a regular Apartment Therapy reader, you probably already know Jason and John from their "Hyper-Saturated Home" in Brooklyn (see photos here and here). As interior designers, they have built-in furniture radar. They can walk into a thrift store and immediately zero in on the gems. Plus, they have a lot of great DIY ideas, so when they visited Chicago last month, we jumped at the chance to go shopping with them and learn some of their tricks.

On our shopping trip, we went north to the Chicago neighborhood of Andersonville, where we visited a mix of boutiques and thrift stores. The stops on our tour included Scout, the White Attic, Brimfield, Brownstone Antiques, and the Brown Elephant. While we browsed, they gave me loads of great advice. Here it is, in their words:

  • Upholstery: "There are three things everyone needs. A good tailor, a good shoe store, and a good upholsterer. It's about bringing 'dressmaker details' to an old piece and giving it new life. You can try unusual fabrics. We just redid an armchair in tea towels and welted it in a great scalloped pattern. We do a lot of upholstery with contrasting fabrics."
  • Fabric Shopping: "We find fabrics all over. We're obsessed with IKEA fabric. We also buy a lot from eBay and flea markets. We went to Egypt, and while we were there we bought a bunch of tent cotton that we used to make awnings. We love Calico Corners as a source for Josef Frank-ish fabric on the cheap. They're everywhere, and they offer bespoke services, even in small towns."
  • Lacquering: "Lacquering vintage finds is a great way to update them. We once had a car shop makeover a piece with auto body paint. You can also use high-gloss oil paint for a DIY version."
  • Lamps and Shades: "Lamps are an easy way of adding another layer of personality to a room. You can buy a lighting kit and make a lamp out of almost anything by wiring it yourself. We have two old potato chip tins that we made into lamps in our house. It cost a total of $30 for the tins and kits. Customizing lampshades is another way to change the look of a room. Just Mod-Podge it. Finials are a nice touch. You can buy a lamp at Target, then change the finial to give it some oomph and funk it up a little."
  • Rug Shopping: "World Market is great for rugs. Their inventory changes all the time, they're accessible, approachable, not overpriced, and you can buy a bunch of smaller woven mats and have them sewn together to create a huge rug."
  • Painting Furniture: "Commit to a pop of color. It's a great idea to paint the inside of a piece in a shocking color, or you could do each drawer on a dresser in a different color. Go crazy, have fun. The same goes for clothing. If you have a blue suit, use a shocking green lining. It's a simple way to change the vibe of a piece. The Stencil Library is an online resource that we use a lot for DIY painting projects."
  • Antiquing: "Antique stores are great. It's green, you're recycling, and you can find one-of-a-kind pieces. Just spraypaint or change out the lampshades on an antique lamp to update it. Chair frames are everywhere. If you have a good upholsterer, they can cut a seat deck out of wood and have a new seat cushion made."
  • Always Check the Label: "A lot of vintage furniture lines were designed by people in the know, like Florence Knoll. Always look for the label. Bassett, for instance. Back in the day it was a more expensive option. Now it's a lower-end line, but vintage Bassett pieces, which show up a lot in thrift stores, date back to a time when their furniture was on the higher end."


To see more of Jason and John, check out their interior design portfolio. You can also see them putting their good ideas into action in this recent NY Times piece, A Pesky Bedroom, Tamed by Pattern.

Thanks, Jason and John!


Photos: Sarah Coffey

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