20 Designers Share Their Best Secondhand Finds of All Time

published Mar 7, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Rozit Arditi, Erika Snayd, Rebecca Gibbs; Design: Apartment Therapy

Whether browsing high-end antiques websites or simply scouring their local vintage shops in search of old treasures, designers definitely know how to find home decor diamonds in the rough. I love getting a glimpse at others’ secondhand scores, so I asked 20 different home experts to share their personal favorite thrifted items and the story of how they found them.

Get ready to be inspired by — and maybe just a tiny bit jealous of! — the items you’ll see here, many in their owners’ homes for some fresh

1. A burl wood nightstand

“We had traveled about two hours to go to a fancy antiques fair that was a total bust. Determined that I would find something beautiful for my office, I made my husband drive me to the nearest Goodwill, where I found this burl American of Martinsville nightstand for $25. I love it every time I see it, and the drawers are so useful for storing craft supplies and paper, since I use it in my living room.” —Design and lifestyle blogger Monica Benavidez of Monica Wants It

2. A TV cabinet with a story

“My favorite piece is the unique antique cabinet I use in my living room to conceal the TV. I was at a loss trying to find a piece of furniture locally to use as a media cabinet, so I decided to look in my parents’ Delaware zip code on Facebook Marketplace.  My dad had a great conversation with the seller when he picked it up, but the seller knew very little about the piece; he knew they inherited it from his wife’s aunt years ago and that aunt may have owned a candy store back in the day. When the piece finally arrived to me, it was in need of a deep cleaning, and as I was cleaning the bottom shelves I found an old piece of peppermint candy stuck to the shelf, confirming the theory that it was a candy shop fixture. It’s now the perfect example of form and function: It conceals our TV and all of the unsightly components on top, and the bottom section houses our extensive board game collection. The diamond pane doors are made up of individual pieces of glass that reflect the light so beautifully throughout the day.” —Instagrammer Dana Dore of Adored House

3. A stylish mannequin

“My favorite vintage find is a 1969 Wolf Form Company dress form. My first job was in corporate fashion in the Meatpacking District of New York City. Right before I left my job and a career in fashion behind to pursue interior design, I stumbled on a flea market and fell in love with this quirky, scuffed up (but still beautiful) mannequin. It felt like a link between fashion and interiors, especially since I’ve kept it on display in each apartment I’ve lived in.” —Designer Molly Torres of DATE Interiors

4. A vintage laundry basket

“I totally missed this vintage laundry basket the first time I passed it! It was holding a hundred stuffed animals, and I walked right by it. Fortunately, I made a second loop around the garage sale [I was at] before checking out, and this time I saw it! I asked the seller if it was for sale… without the stuffed animals! He said I could have it for $20, much less than the ones I’d seen for up to $500 online. It was a fabulous find!” —Instagrammer Alieta Casey of Alieta Treasure Hunting

5. A free credenza

“I have a beautiful credenza that I got for free from Nextdoor! It’s from the 1920s, and the couple that was giving it away said that it was given to them 25 years earlier for free. They felt it was important to pass along the piece for free as well — good karma and all. The couple stays in touch from time to time, and I will forever be grateful to them for their kindness and generosity. They could easily have sold the credenza and made a profit!” —Instagrammer Marie Taylor of This Dear Casa

6. A gorgeous armchair

“I’m constantly hunting local estate sales, antique, thrift, and consignment shops, in addition to browsing online auctions, for clients as well as my new home.  At least 90 percent of our home is furnished with these secondhand treasures, so it is hard to pick a favorite! Just when I thought I had maxed out on my thrifting luck, I stumbled upon a beautiful antique arm chair at one of our local thrift shops. It had great lines and made me do a quick double take — it was covered in Colefax and Fowler’s Malabar! This fabric retails for almost $500 per yard, and the chair cost me less than $100. It now lives in my four-year-old daughter’s bedroom, where it’s a perfect match with her Schumacher Salisbury Chintz Rose drapery panels.” —Designer Ashley Hanley

7. Seating with wooden frames

“I usually look for vintage chairs. Oftentimes, someone only sees the ugly — the worn fabric, the dated wood stain color, the thickly folded skirt — and discards it as unusable. I look at the shape, the curves, the lines to see the potential. If there’s wood on the chair, a good sanding and painting will dramatically change the look. Does it have a skirt? Check the legs underneath it; often, they’re solid wood, so the skirt can be removed. Once the wood frame is painted, the chair heads to the upholsterer. I usually select an unexpected pattern for these chairs. Mixing vintage and modern brings a new vibe to the chair and totally changes the story it tells. These chairs can be used in a corner of a foyer, by a fireplace, or as an accent in a living room.” —Designer Suzan Wemlinger of Suzan J Designs

8. A primitive bench

“Everyone has the story of buying something for a different purpose and ending up falling in love with it. For us, it’s a primitive vintage wood bench we found antiquing in Savannah. The intent, of course, was to sell it to a client or place it in our shop, but I could never bear to let it go every time there was an opportunity. For now, it’s a beautiful standalone on an art wall, a functional workhorse in our foyer for coats and bags, and a place for our son to plop down to tie his shoes before heading out the door. We just haven’t found a spot where it doesn’t lend its beauty, and we’re starting to believe that such a place doesn’t exist.” —Designer Erika Snayd, co-owner of Rethink Studio Interior Design

9. Another burl beauty

“As a designer, I’m a big believer in a mix of old and new when it comes making your rooms feel cozy and unique. I have my go to thrift and antique shops for unique finds that I check on a weekly basis, but my absolute favorite finds come from trash day! I always go with my husband, driving around to see what’s being left on the curb for garbage pick up. I found this piece with burl wood during one of those outings! It worked perfectly in our last home, and it stored a ton of my boys’ puzzles and arts and crafts supplies.” —Designer Camila Pavone of Effortless Style Interiors

10. Milk glass objects

“About three to four years ago, I was antiquing with a friend and came across a beautiful piece of milk glass. I had seen many through the years, but this one had my attention. I picked it up, and that piece became the start of a vintage milk glass collection! The next two years were all about milk glass hunting. I read all about vintage milk glass, looked into the difference between the opaque, translucent, and milk white finishes, visited many antique shops, and bought several unique pieces. The collection grew and grew. I display a part of it in my sitting room. I had the back of the built-ins painted in Sherwin-Williams’ Naval (SW-6244) so the milk glass would pop beautifully. Years later, I still love it!” —Designer Maria Loveless, owner of the L&L Design Team

11. A wooden wardrobe

“I purchased a vintage Art Nouveau burl wood three-door wardrobe at a Swiss junk store. I adore the craftsmanship, the beautiful wood, and the lives it’s lived before it became mine 20 years ago. ” —Designer Ashleigh Underwood of Ashleigh Underwood Home & Interior Design

12. Sleek Lucite barstools

“One of my favorite thrift scores is our collection of Lucite bar stools, because they show off the pretty burl on the front side of our island.” —Designer Jewel Marlowe of Jeweled Interiors

13. A pretty plate rack

“I love this vintage dish rack that I bought a few years ago for $20 off of Facebook Marketplace. I just pulled it out of my decor closet again because it’s such a great functional piece that truly gives my ‘newish’ home a little more vintage vibes in the kitchen.” —Instagrammer Deb Foglia of Seeking Lavender Lane

14. An Eames replica

“I believe my best personal find was from an antique fair in Newark, England, 10 years ago. I found an inexpensive Eames knock-off chair. It was covered in faux leather and was pretty dirty. Once we got back to Texas, I got it reinforced and reupholstered in lavender mohair. It now it sits proudly in my sitting room and still is my favorite find.” —Designer Amy Atkins of Amy’s Interiors

15. A handy ceramic dish

“This little striped blue dish with a lid is from a stoop sale in my neighborhood. I use it to store project keys for clients.” —Designer Rozit Arditi of Arditi Design

16. A large scale oil painting

“It’s tough to narrow it down, but my most recent thrifted piece is a new favorite! I love vintage artwork, and this large scale oil painting by American artist Henry Harvey is such a special piece for my home office. It’s from the early 1900s and has the most gorgeous color palette and brush work. I paired it with a gallery light to really emphasize this unique find.” — Instagrammer Sarah Gibson of Room for Tuesday

17. A sentimental stool

“The reason that I love this stool is because of the story behind it.  It belonged to an older lady that had just moved. She decided that with the move she should change her style, and this no longer fit that style. When I went to go pick it up, the lady gave it a little hug and said that this was her favorite piece she owned. I almost felt bad buying it! Along with the stool, she gave me some picture frames she was no longer using. Her daughter had been handling the selling via Facebook. I reached back out to her to send her a photo of the stool in its new home. She then showed it to her mother who, according to her daughter, was thrilled to see that her favorite stool was loved all over again. Since I do some drawing and painting on the side, I decided to paint the mother her favorite floral in her favorite color. Thanks to her daughter, I learned it was peach roses. The mother lives super-close to me, so I dropped off the painting as a little thank you. That one little stool led to much more than just a stool. I was able to make up for the loss that the mother felt giving away such a special piece by showing her how much I love it. Now every time I look at that stool, I’m reminded of that sweet old lady. I hope that every time she looks at my painting she is reminded of me. That’s what I love about antiques. I love the story behind them. ” —Instagrammer Michelle Lanzilatti of Little Latti House

18. A family-friendly farmhouse table

“The dining room of our house in coastal Beaufort, North Carolina, which was built in 1903, was a bit of a tricky space because, while I wanted it to feel older in keeping with the home’s age, I also wanted a table that felt more casual — like it could handle big meals with family and friends after long days of sun and sand. When we came across this farmhouse table from Halo Styles in High Point [North Carolina] built from reclaimed wood, we instantly knew it was the perfect piece. It had a feeling of age but was also unfussy. Paired with an antique buffet and new bamboo chairs from Kenan Imports, it made the room feel complete and has hosted everything from Christmas dinner and book club to pizza night and second birthday parties!” —Author and blogger Kristy Woodsen Harvey of Design Chic

19. This entire vignette

“Vintage finds are the best! The vintage wicker lamp and thrifted chairs were both great finds. I particularly love this wood chest because of the warmth and character it brings to our new-build house. I am always on the lookout for unique thrifted items that will add a touch of whimsy for my home and for my clients.” —Designer Rebecca Gibbs, co-founder of Gibbs Design + Build

20. A steal of a sofa

“My all time favorite, even after many years, is this vintage Danish Modern sofa that sits in my Connecticut living room. Before owning a home, I was driving through the Litchfield hills of Connecticut and quickly diverted off the road to a personal storage unit’s liquidation sale of unclaimed items. I immediately spotted this Danish modern sofa which was priced at $35!  I instantly tagged it sold — to the disappointment of other shoppers. After that, it sat in my parents garage for two years before I had it reupholstered to what it is today. It’s shown here in a vicuna mohair seat and damask silk body. This is a timeless piece that I’ll keep forever and is the perfect cocktail sofa, with its long low, shape allowing comfortable conversation for four people.”— Designer Susan Bednar Long, founder of S.B. Long Interiors

This post is part of our Thrifting Package, a celebration of all things secondhand. Head over here to read more about everything from how to restore a thrifted item to the best thrift shops in the U.S.