You likely know by now that when shopping an estate sale, you’ll always want to follow your heart and grab the items that immediately speak to you. “Never walk away from something you instantly love or that makes you feel something positive,” says designer Laura Solensky, the founder of Laura Solensky Design. “Those first gut reactions are likely how you will always feel about it, and those are the types of pieces you want in your home!” That said, estate sales are full of plenty of diamonds in the rough, too. These items may not capture your immediate attention if they’ve seen better days, but they can oftentimes be refurbished and given a brand new lease on life if they’re well made and designed to last. Below, designers and estate sale pros chime in with the best pieces to buy at an estate sale to then repurpose.
Vintage sofas with great bones are worth buying and reupholstering, says designer Amy McCoy, the founder of McCoy Design Studio. She always looks for 8-way hand tied springs first. “If you push on the seat you should be able to feel the individual spring,” she explains. Certain brands of furniture that are known for being extremely well made—such as Baker Furniture and Tahyer Coggin—are always a no-brainer for McCoy, too.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Claire
Designer Marianne Jones, the founder of Marianne Jones, LLC, enjoys purchasing chairs at estate sales and reupholstering them as needed. Of course, upholstery projects are an investment, so you will want to weigh a few considerations before purchasing just any chair. “I think the most important thing to understand is the cost and value of the item in the marketplace, the expense to reupholster, the potential cost of fabric and the structural integrity of the piece,” Jones says. “ Some of the older furniture pieces have incredibly hardy woodframes and artisan mastery that is hard to replicate.”
Photo courtesy of Amy McCoy
Take estate sales as an opportunity to source amazing linens that can transform your existing furniture pieces at home at minimal cost, says designer Shannon Claire Smith, the founder of Shannon Claire Interiors. “These things are often not the big ticket items that bring people out, so you can often find them on the second or third day of a sale at a discount,” she notes. Smith’s all-time favorite estate sale linen score? A fringed Lee Jofa table skirt for $25, which she’s since draped over a round table in her living room. “It will go down in infamy as my best estate sale find to date!”
Pictured: Fringed Lee Jofa table skirt. Photo courtesy of Shannon Claire
Off the Beaten Path Furnishings
“When shopping secondhand or at estate sales, I look for furniture pieces that have unique details or silhouettes that aren’t found in today’s new furniture marketplace,” shares Jacqueline Burrows, the founder of The Sleepy Flea. Details that she particularly loves include cane weaving, claw feet, casters, brass inlay, reeding, fluting, and faux bamboo. Burrows purchased a vintage Henry Link Bali Hai lingerie chest that had been poorly coated in red and yellow that she then customized to her liking with a fresh, light blue lacquer.
Of course, wood furniture can oftentimes be refinished sans paint for an entirely new look, Burrows notes. “If the piece had not already been painted over, I would have first tried to restore the original finish before resorting to lacquering,” she comments. “There are lots of wood products that you can easily try at home first before calling a professional.”
Many vessels can be turned into light fixtures with a little bit of creativity, says Burrows, who has seen vintage ginger jars and even champagne buckets rewired and turned into lamps.
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