This $35 “Storage” Find Is the Best Thing I’ve Ever Thrifted

published Feb 4, 2024
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A room with white wainscoting, green upper walls, and a built-in bookshelf with books arranged by color

My eclectic home decor style is a reflection of my busy, creative mind, life-long love of collecting, and lack of self control when walking through an antique mall. For the most part, my apartment has a more mid-century modern feel, with a gray couch (that I admittedly completely regret buying), an oval-shaped mahogany kitchen table, and an Anthropologie bookshelf that I spent way too much money on but am utterly obsessed with.  

Over the years, I’ve also sprinkled in some of my best vintage and thrift finds, including a gorgeous late-1800s credenza that I inherited from a family friend, two pairs of dazzling brass curtain tie-backs with floral detailing that I spotted for $10 on a trip to Canada, and several swan planters that I keep finding (and buying). As special as these items are, though, nothing quite compares to my yellow vintage gumball machine, aka the best thing I’ve ever thrifted (yes, really).

Credit: Jessie Quinn

I live in Los Angeles, just short of two hours away from Palm Springs, where my husband and I travel often for golfing, thrifting, and the best tacos at El Jefe Desert Cantina (we stay at The Saguaro just to eat there for breakfast, lunch, and dinner). The hotel also happens to be walking distance from one of my all-time favorite antique stores: the Sunny Dunes Antique Mall. So, while he golfs, I dash over there to explore every nook and cranny. 

During one of those trips, I found my prized gumball machine, sitting atop a shelf in the back next to some old vases and a small brass clock. The bright yellow enamel paint immediately caught my eye, and I stood there frantically thinking about how to make it make sense for my space. In a surprising and unnatural moment of restraint, I decided just to take a picture of it and move on … but I couldn’t. When I got back to our hotel room, I panicked and immediately hurried back to the store. Not only was it right where I left it, but it was also 30% off its $50 price tag — score!

Credit: Jessie Quinn

But when I first brought the gumball machine home, I was at a loss for how to style it. I don’t have a lot of tabletop space — especially for something that doesn’t serve that much of a functional purpose (aside from being one of my most prized home decor possessions, of course). Ultimately, I decided to sit it on my built-in bar and use the glass bowl to display seasonal candies and decor — like a bunch of miniature skulls for Halloween, pinecones for fall, and ornaments for Christmas. I love it so much that it sometimes even sits empty, adding a nice pop of color to the area. 

While I haven’t tried this myself, I think the gumball machine would also look great with a few moss balls inside (but only if they’re fake, as plant moisture could rust the steel mechanism). I’ve also seen people add colorful pom-poms and candy hearts for Valentine’s Day, or transform it into a winter scene (sort of like a snow globe) with fake snow, bottle brush trees, and a small Christmas village cabin for the holidays. You could also put it on a vanity or dresser to store scrunchies and hair bows, cotton balls, or your lipsticks. 

Moral of the story: Don’t overlook gumball machines (or any unconventional secondhand piece, for that matter) the next time you go thrift shopping. These have versatile year-round styling potential, usually come in fun colors (although you can always paint them, too), and double as unique, small-space-friendly storage. If you’re not seeing any in stores, check out Etsy for vintage gumball machines in a range of price points and colors, from hot pink to yellow