Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thifty Home. . .

Looking into the second bedroom from the living room in evening light.
(As always, click if you want to see photos better.)

When I left my old home, I sold, donated, dumped, or gave away many of my things. My daughter, Aimee, now has my old couch (she and her husband needed it when I didn’t). Melissa has the chair we all raced to and fought for by the wood stove in our high desert home (same situation as with the couch—Melissa needed it, I didn’t, and she loves it). Most tables and lamps were bid adieu because I had no idea where I would end up living (and when!), and I just didn’t want to deal with lugging a bunch of stuff around with me.

So, when I began looking for an apartment several months ago, I realized that I wasn’t going to have some of the furniture and items in it that make life comfortable and pleasant (like a place to sit!). I certainly didn’t have the money, or the desire, to shop for new things. I, for the most part, want to buy everything used. It’s become sort of cliché and silly to say this, but buying used makes a smaller footprint on the earth. And I don’t want to create any more garbage than I have to, including packaging and bags for new furniture and necessary items. Plus, new stuff is often chemical-laden and not nearly as well-constructed as old stuff.

If you read my old blog, you know I used to have a lot of fun with my daughter, Michelle, shopping at thrift stores. So, I found the best thrift stores in this town and began to swing by now and then for a quick walk-through. But this time I haven't gone looking for whatever might strike my fancy; I made a list of what I needed or wanted, and I’ve mostly stuck to that. If I see something, though, that I really like at an outstanding bargain, and if I can imagine using it routinely, I might buy it. (I buy all of my notebook paper, notebooks, and office supplies at thrift stores.) I also looked at Craigslist often to see what I might find there.

I must admit that not buying whatever strikes my fancy has required some self-restraint. While thrift stores (and Craigstlist sellers, too, for the most part) have slowly raised their prices so that they are often comparable to an inexpensive antique store, you can still find some pretty stellar deals if you keep your eyes open. And I have seen some beautiful pieces of furniture or pottery with great price tags that I just didn’t need. I considered for awhile, buying some of this stuff to resell it at a higher price, but I knew that I’d never get around to it, so I learned how to look at a crazy-good deal and walk away from it.

Okay, before I go on, I should say that I am not obsessed with this. I am not looking to make my house look like a magazine photo spread. While the atmosphere and feeling of home is important, and it does matter to me, I really don’t want to put a great deal of thought into what my house looks like or getting just the right things to create the perfect look. I don’t want to be running to thrift stores all the time (I go only very occasionally) or obsessively scanning Craigslist or buying things right and left. No, my goal is to find things that are inexpensive, very well made (which usually means vintage), truly useful, practical, and aesthetically appealing-enough.

Not everything even needs to be in the same style or from the same period to make me happy. Who else do you know who mixes English scrubbed-pine antiques with some “mid-century modest” pieces of furniture?

So, while I’m determined not to give too much time or thought to décor or house-style, it’s been fun to find a few things I like in the thrift stores. And the fact that I don’t want to dedicate my life to this means that I might have to settle for things that are not ideal, and that’s just fine with me.

This photo collage is about the lamps--thrift store finds.

For example, I’ve wanted a simple floor lamp. I’ve seen some pretty cool, well-designed floor lamps in various places that I would love to have in my home, but there’s no way I can afford them (plus I really do want to buy used if I can). So, just recently, I found a good, solid floor lamp at Goodwill for a tenth or a thirtieth or even a hundredth of what some of those new floor lamps I like cost. It’s got a bit of granny-chic going with that groovy gold glass, but it’s a simple, small-scale floor lamp, and I like it. The shade is a silk “vintage” shade, also from a thrift store.

What I love about old lamps is that they have really long cords (way longer than new lamps), and now I think I know why. I live in a 70-year-old house, and the outlets are few and far between. The cords of new lamps can’t reach the outlets, but the cords of the old lamps do. The white lamp on the living room table, for example, is a great vintage lamp that cost me less than $10. The scale of the lamp seems large for the chair next to it (but not for the window), but, oh well! I like the lamp, and I don’t like the shade, but for $3.99, the shade will do just fine until I run across one with a style I like better. (The table under the white lamp—in the above photo--was purchased at a thrift store in Portland for $5. I might paint it.)

You can only see the end of it here, but I got this long, low-slung nine-drawer dresser for $40 on Craigslist, and if you know this style of furniture, you will know that this is a steal! In fact, the lady who advertised it said, “I don’t know what it is about that funky old dresser, but I got an enormous number of phone calls about it. People really wanted it and were offering me more money for it but I insisted that it was already sold to the first caller.” (That was me.)

See the edge of the Persian carpet in the very top photo on this page? I got that and a runner for a song from a little thrift-antique shop that was going out of business. (The rugs are wool and were both hand-knotted in Iran.) Same story with the couch and chair in my living room—sold for half of the clearance price in the last week the store was open. The old, woven lamp shade in the very top photo is also a thrift store find (as was the—absolutely, like new, perfect—typewriter and the end table).

I got this super-duper cool fan at a thrift store. It looks charming, I think, and it works amazingly well. We all exclaim and extol its praises when it blows on us. And you know why it works well? First, because it’s old, well-made, and high-powered, and, second, because it is not covered with a finger-saving protective grid like modern fans (the air can really move through this thing!). This fan was made in that scary era before car seats and seat belts and bike helmets were required and before there were socket covers for outlets. I’m sure in those days, children everywhere had fingers flying off because they couldn’t keep them out of the fan!

(Okay, photo rerun, but I don’t have a picture of the mirror, and I’m too lazy to take one now. Plus, in this rainy weather, the light is bad.) I wanted a mirror by the front door, and I found this great, old, well-constructed round thing for $5 at Goodwill. I love the bleeding edges of it!

Oh, I’ve got lots of thrifty things around the house, but I don’t need to show them all! You get my point, right? There are still some items on my shopping list, but I’m living just fine without them for now, so I’m in no hurry to acquire them. I have to say, though, that it is satisfying to walk around the house and realize that I paid next to nothing for most of what is in it, and I had fun doing it.

My home is turning out to be sort of a quirky-looking place. No one is going to come through my front door and be awestruck by my decorating flair, that’s for sure, but I just hope they’ll feel welcome, relaxed, and comfortable here.

At the same time, I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t care what my home looks like. Of course, I do, but it’s me who decides what I want it to look like and not some magazine or design-tyrant. I like what Doris Longacre wrote in her great little book, Living More With Less:

“An attractive home buoys my spirits. Everywhere in the world, people arrange for some beauty, some expression of their ability to invent interesting objects for their eyes and fingertips. Cooks across Africa encourage their charcoal fires with attractively woven fans. People in Belgium spend 2 percent of their national income on fresh flowers. But starting with, ‘What will make this place pretty?’ puts you at the mercy of the latest magazine spreads. . . It actually quenches your spirit.”

Not having the money to buy the latest thing is kind of freeing! I’m required to largely ignore trends and fashions and simply get creative with what I can find at true bargain prices, and I have to say that it’s also kind of fun!


  1. You're doing a wonderful job, your home is lovely. I especially like the floor lamp and the fan. Modern fans are so ugly!--That one is utterly charming.

    Also, modern lamps don't last, even when you spend a lot of money on them. Trust me, I know. grr.... You'll probably never see a modern lamp last long enough to make it into a thrift store.

    I also agree with what you said about it being 'you' deciding what you like. A lot of that probably comes from not watching much TV. HGTV is homogenizing home decor to the point that everyone's homes are becoming clones of each other. I actually heard one designer say that if your home decor hasn't changed in 5 years then it's out of date. Of course that mode of thought keeps them in business, doesn't it. (o;

  2. Love the fan!! I love homes that are filled with thrifted goods...the patina, the ties to the past, the economics of it...just a win win!! So, so happy you are blogging again!!

  3. I'm with you ~ I love thrift store buying!! I think my favorite of the pieces you shared is the fan.
    I recently discovered decorating blogs while researching how to paint furniture and while some of them have some nice photos ~ everything is white, and all the wood furniture is distressed...you can hardly tell one blog from the next and I just wonder, why can't people decide for themselves what they like? Why does everyone have to have a sunburst mirror (apparently they are all the rage right now and if you go to your local hardware store, you can steal a ton 'free' paint sticks and make your own - DIY) sorry; little rant there ;-)
    anyways ~ all that to say, I find the glimpses into your home charming, warm, and welcoming.

  4. in another post i mentioned loving your mid-century sofa. hm. it would appear you also have a matching chair! thud... very swoonable. :o) there's a store in sacramento that is (for the most part) devoted to mid-century furnishings. haven't visited yet - but will hopefully soon. a cursory glance on etsy (.com) and the prices for mid-century are out of this world high. sigh.

    thrift shops. such a wonderful experience finding a treasure - something to be embraced, used and appreciated. a friend and i scoped out 2 thrifty places yesterday and came away with excellent finds that are *very* usable. a rule of thumb i believe to be wise :: how every many items you bring *in* to the home? remove (give away, sell, etc) the same number of items .. so that your home doesn't begin to look like one of those *hoarder* reality shows. :o) it has worked thus far. wink.

  5. I loved the pictures of your home. Piecing together your furniture is so much more interesting than buying the generic set. I am very spoiled. My parents own an antique shop, so I often try out a piece to see if I like it and it fits our home before making a commitment. I love looking through their shop and trying out things little by little.

  6. You obviously have a flair, Susan. I'm looking forward to doing this when we get where we're going. It's more fun in places where you have some hope of finding a bargain if you keep your eyes open. (Thinking of those happy Lily Pulitzer children's dresses I used to find for $5 in Georgia.)

    And those fans obviously required a the owner to take a certain amount of personal responsibility, didn't they? That one really is beautiful!

  7. Okay, well, it looks like the fan has won the Thrift Pageant! I do like it, too! I loved reading all of your really good thoughts on this.

    Laura, I can't wait to read about you setting up your new home in Italy! How really fun! And, yes, re: things like that fan, the old days required *watching* (and maybe some training!). :-)

  8. My dear Susan...i was so happy to check my old link to HDH and find you here. I love your words and images of your new nest. May God continue to bless you in all ways. Would love to see you next time you are up our way...and do the thrift store shop thing! love and good tea to you, Linda F.

  9. Linda! So good to see you here. I have just thinking about you and meaning to ask Aimee for your address. There's something I want to send you. I'm really glad you stopped by here, Linda. :-)