A Design Deal Hunter’s Secrets to Finding Good “Junk”

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Christa doesn’t head out on a hunt with a particular purpose. What would the thrill in that be? In her apartment in Boston, she’s assembled a beautiful array of furniture, art and accessories — and thanks to her deal-hunting skills, she’s barely spent a thing. I asked her to share secrets to finding good “junk” and how to get the price down when you do.

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(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Where do you do most of your “junk” shopping? Thrift stores? Garage sales? Flea markets? Side of the road?

I am constantly looking. I rarely set out on a specific search. Unfortunately there are not many options for thrift or junk shopping in Boston. Our antique stores are a bit high end, and the thrift shops in the metro area tend to carry mostly clothing. If you travel just a little distance out of town there are many more options. If you’re near the Boston area:

Ramble Market in Waltham is 10,000 square feet of junky goodness. And the town of Essex has a row of shops that are chock full of treasure, especially The White Elephant.

Another best kept secret in the area is the Salvation Army on Route 1 in Saugus, which has a large furniture annex out back. My friend Greg scored a set of twelve Denby dinner plates for $10!

Lastly, if you ever see a sign for a church bazaar, pull over! These tend to be filled with donations from parishioners so the mark up is low and the money you spend is hopefully going to a good cause in the community.

“You have to get over the “embarrassment” of picking through someone else’s garbage.”

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

When’s the best time to hunt?

In Boston, the very best time to keep your eyes peeled is the end of August. This is moving season for this city and not just for students, I have found some of my favorite items on the sidewalks of Boston, specifically in the South End, Back Bay and Beacon Hill.

“If it catches my eye, even in a quick glance, it is worth investigating.”

How do you know when someone else’s trash is going to be your treasure?

If it catches my eye, even in a quick glance, it is worth investigating. You have to get over the “embarrassment” of picking through someone else’s garbage. And of course, you have to make sure that it is indeed garbage!

The only time I have ever passed on a piece that I really wanted was if it was soiled with something unidentifiable.

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Depending on the size and weight and whether or not I’m on foot (which I usually am), I do whatever it takes to get it back home. Including calling a friend with an SUV or flagging down a taxi. (I’m yet to beckon an Uber for a found object, but I absolutely will if I have to!)

My criteria is based purely on aesthetics. I prefer a palette of classic colors (neutral tones tend to be timeless) and materials (wood, concrete, natural metals). My style is a bit of a mix, so it may be an ornate gold leafed mirror or a mid-century lamp. And yes, I have found both in trash piles.

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Do you have any pro advice for getting the price down?

This depends on the asking price. It can be difficult to put an exact value on items like these, unless of course they are branded with a logo or maker that adds worth. Or if I buy several items at once, I’ll offer a lower flat rate which tends to be accepted in most situations.

How exactly do you cut through the clutter of second-hand shops to zero in on the good stuff?

I definitely have a system all my own. It’s visual but quick paced. I often compare it to the way I shop for clothes at my two favorites, Marshalls and DSW. I cruise through the aisles somehow looking both ways at the same time, again, looking first for color and materials, then swooping in to investigate anything that strikes me.

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Thanks Christa! See more of her home in her house tour → A “Junk Chic” Home in Boston’s South End