January 22, 2013

Grown-up Shoes Guide: Secondhand Furniture

How to Style Vintage Furniture | Grown-up Shoes

I’m excited to put together a little series on something I am pretty passionate about: finding and styling secondhand furniture and housewares. One reason I love thrift and antique shopping so much is for the uniqueness that it brings to a space or closet. Secondhand pieces oftentimes have loads more character than their new sparkly counterparts and can be bought for a fraction of the price. For me, an ideal space pairs the two seamlessly for a look that’s comfortable, personal and welcoming.

To start out this series I thought I’d bring in a real life example. Above is my bedside table, which I found at Saver’s this past weekend for $14.99. Want to see how it looked in the store? It ain’t pretty:

How to Style Vintage Furniture | Grown-up Shoes

Know Where To Go
Your two options are a vintage/antique shop and a thrift store. A good vintage shop has already done the work for you, which is why you pay more for what you’re getting—they’ve made the selection and you like and trust their judgement. When you see a piece in a thrift store like Saver’s, there’s not going to be any styling done beforehand (exhibit A, above), which is why everything is at such a great price: you’re the curator here. If you see something that makes you stop for a minute, go with your gut. Of course the line of talking yourself into something that’s ridiculous versus actually finding a great deal is relatively thin and it takes practice, but with a little patience and vision, you’ll get the hang of it.

Identify the Treasure
When I first saw this table I thought “Ha! That’s silly.” But for some reason I liked it. I was drawn in by the gold legs and it’s unique shape. It’s hard to initially imagine this thing outside of some weird office decorated in the seventies, but take a second look. In the right context it becomes just the right side of late sixties glam. I was really hesitant with this piece and showed a few of friends the first picture in this post to see what their reaction would be. When my friend Candice assured me “It’s so Jonathan Adler!” I knew I had nailed the vibe I was hoping for. Sometimes it takes two sets of eyes to pick out the good stuff, and that is A-OK. I encourage second opinions on something you’re still not 100% sure of.

Inspect and Clean
Always take really good stock of the item before you buy. Is it stained, chipped or bent? Some average ware is to be expected and adds character, but inspect it really well before bringing it home to make sure it’s functional and sturdy enough to do what you want it to do. When you get home, give it a good cleaning whether that means spraying it down with 409 or taking it to the dry cleaner (for textiles). You want it in good condition before it goes into it’s new place.

This table is a good example of something that is kind of meh on it’s own, but made more stylish by it’s accessories: a glass bottle of rosewater and a knit hot bottle warmer lend it old world charm while metallic touches and a sleek ipod dock make it clear that this is for a young, modern-day lady. The shoes underneath distract from any dangling cords while echoing the femininity and glamor of the look. For some reason, I think the ban.do flower really makes the whole thing pop. It’s the right hit of frivolity and fun for fun’s sake.

The bottom line is: use what you have. The things on my bedside table might not be traditional (who needs shoes or a giant hair flower by their bed?) but I love them and they suit the table so it works. Your surroundings should reflect you first and foremost. Use things that you have: a matchbook collection? A pretty vase? Give special, favorite items a central place so you can see them everyday.  I love this photo because it breaks all the rules— a door as art, a crate as a table and a plain blanket draped over a (I assume) beat up chair and yet the whole thing is completely lovely.  Or this photo of a chair as a bedside table—who says you need an actual table?

Before I brought this table home, Adam and I both had matching tables we bought from a superstore when we first moved in that have been just fine, but there wasn’t any personality to them. Inspired by this new one, I moved a cool old trunk that we have and that Adam loves beside his bed and it looks so great. Boy-ish, unique and the perfect juxtaposition to it’s shiny feminine counterpart.

Don’t be afraid to take a risk on something odd or unique if you like it—that’s what makes our spaces personal and special. Remember that there aren’t really any rules you absolutely have to follow. Just use what you got, do what you like and do it in your budget. More to come from this series…happy secondhand shopping!



  • Katie Meyers / Meyers Styles  / 

    Fantastic post, Ana- I love your new table. And, your tips for cleaning/styling have inspired me to get myself back to Brooklyn Flea where there are so many treasures! Thanks.


  • ashley bailey  / 

    love this! i never went to savers-where is that and what????


  • Ana Perkins  / 

    Thanks Katie! And soooo jealous that you get to go to the Brooklyn Flea! I never went during my time in NY :-/ what is wrong with me?? Find some good treasure out there!

    Ash—hahahaaa—it’s basically a GIANT goodwill, except even cheaper. For every time I go and find something cool, I probably go twice and find nothing. But since there is zero curating or styling it’s all dirt cheap. Like things start at 99 cents and go up to maybe $20 max? We’ll go digging next time you’re here : ) miss you!!


  • Rachel  / 

    I love the gold, and agree that its always okay to get a second opinion when you aren’t sure! Who would have thought our Savers shopping days would carry us beyond old baseball tees?!


  • Grown-up Shoes :: Blog, Vintage Shop, and Styling :: Austin, Texas  / 

    […] week I talked a little bit about finding and styling secondhand furniture, but I recognize that one of the main challenges […]

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