8 Things Even Designers Pick Up at Thrift Stores for Their Clients

published Oct 3, 2023
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Thrift shops are like treasure troves full of secondhand home decor items that can add personality and flair to your space. Whether you’re looking to create a stunning dinner party tablescape or want to find unique decorative pieces that elevate your bookshelf in a way that feels like an extension of your personal style, you can find some of the best home decor items at these stores. 

But with so many different items to choose from, knowing where to start and what to look for is essential in the hunt. That’s why we tapped designers to share some of their personal favorite thrift store secrets.

What to Buy in Thrift Shops

Vases 

When browsing the aisles of your local thrift store, Mimi Meacham, the founder and principal designer at Marian Louise Designs, says to look for vases. “Vases can be used to display flowers or alone and the unique finds [at a thrift store] are the best,” she explains. Thrift stores are usually stocked with old vases in a variety of designs, making finding options that match your style and home decor easy. 

Real Silverware 

Brand-new sets of silverware can get expensive, which is why Meacham says to look out for authentic silverware at thrift stores, which not only looks nice on a tablescape, but also creates conversation during dinner parties. “I love to collect a mixed-and-matched set, and guests usually love to compare the silverware they received with the ones other guests received,” she notes. 

Antique utensils made of real silver are often tarnished and don’t look as impressive when all bagged up together. But once you bring them home and give them a nice polish (learn how to polish silver here), they’ll sparkle and shine again. 

Picture Frames 

Meacham also likes to look for frames when shopping at thrift stores. “New frames can be expensive, so finding a gold or other intricate antique frame can save you money and add glamor to your walls,” she explains. If you come across a frame you love that looks a bit drab, simply remove the glass and give it a good cleanse, then, depending on the material, polish the frame or apply a little bit of wood cleaner to rid the ridges of dust and debris. 

Heavy-Weighted Clear Glass 

Glass is another thing worth considering at a thrift store, especially high-quality clear glass. “Heavy-weighted clear glass both feels expensive and tonally works with almost all color schemes when on display,” says Brooke Spreckman, the founder and principal designer of Design Hutch. You can find heavy-weighted clear glass in various styles and designs, including glass bowls, glass compotes, glass figurines, and even glass fairy lamps, which can be upcycled into tissue boxes

Handmade Ceramic Pottery 

Local thrift stores usually have an assortment of ceramic pottery to choose from. When shopping, Spreckman says to look for unique designs with a handmade feel to elevate your space. “Unique pottery that one person clearly made that you won’t find anywhere else is always something I’m on the lookout for,” she explains. To find these pieces, reach for the styles that capture your eye, but also be sure to flip the pottery upside down and look for a maker’s mark carved into the bottom, which usually indicates that a ceramic piece was handmade.

Artwork 

In addition to frames, Evelina Juzėnaitė, principal interior designer and head of the design council at the home improvement platform Planner 5D, says to also flip through the artwork. “Works of art like paintings and photos bring a personal touch to your decor,” she explains.

Vintage Accessories 

Juzėnaitė also says to always keep your eyes peeled for high-quality vintage accessories, which can completely transform your home decor style. “You can discover vintage accessories like mirrors, lamps, and plates that add a distinctive character to your interior,” she explains. Mixing these vintage finds with newer and more modern pieces is a fun way to blend and balance different styles while curating a space that aligns with your personal style and interests. 

Old Books 

If you have empty bookshelf space in your home, Juzėnaitė also says to shop for old books at thrift stores. These often have a lot more character to them and can create a nice styled effect on a bookshelf nook, too. Just be sure to remove the book jackets before placing them on a shelf, as doing so can give them a more antique or decorative feel. 

How to Find Good Pieces at Thrift Stores

Shopping at thrift stores for home decor can be a hit or miss. Some days, you might get lucky with some truly unique finds, and other days, you might strike out. To ensure you find the most high-quality pieces at a thrift store, there are a few things worth considering. 

Weight: According to Meacham, you can tell a lot about how a piece is made by its weight. “The heavier it is, the more quality the materials are,” she explains. This is definitely the case when it comes to glass, but it can also matter when shopping for furniture, picture frames, serving trays, and vintage accessories. 

Appearance: When assessing thrifted home decor items for quality, Juzėnaitė says analyzing what you see is crucial to finding good pieces at thrift stores. “Check for any severe scuffs, broken handles, missing wheels, or other issues that might affect usability or restoration,” she explains. 

Materials: The materials also matter, especially when shopping for vintage or antique items at thrift stores. According to Juzėnaitė, look for items made of ceramic, wood, or glass, which tend to last longer compared to other materials.