I’m often asked where I get so many furniture pieces to refinish. As my business grows and changes, so too has my answer to this question; but let me provide you with some tips for finding furniture to refinish. Whether you plan to stain or paint, these search tips can help you find the right furniture pieces for your project.
My painting furniture began as somewhat of an accident. The very first dresser I painted when my husband and I purchased our first home was a complete disaster. Not knowing any better I painted every square inch of it – inside and out! I quickly learned that you never paint the inside of a dresser or the outside of the drawer boxes. If you do, then every time you slide the drawers the paint scrapes and… Ta Da… you have a shower of paint chips in your clothes.
The very first table I stained was equally a disaster. I never wiped off the excess stain and was left with a spotted mess.
Those first projects were almost 18 years ago. Over the years, I’ve painted furniture for myself or to quickly flip at yard sales. Nothing special really.
About three years ago I was working at a desk job in an accounting firm. My activity level decreased while stressed increased. It was time for a hobby.
At the time, I had been following Miss Mustard Seed’s website for about two years and seeing the beautiful antique dressers she painted. The style of dressers she found on CraigsList in her area of Pennsylvania aren’t ones you typically find here in New England. Carvings, casters, and beautiful legs. Painting them is like painting on a solid wood canvas to an artist.
Then one day I was driving past an old home and saw an almost identical style dresser to those Miss Mustard Seed finds in Pennsylvania. It was a dresser made by Gettysburg Furniture Company in Pennsylvania. The homeowners put it out on the curb in the hopes that someone could use it. That someone was ME!
That was my real fist curb-side furniture find. Because it was free, I didn’t mind experimenting on it. If I found that same dresser today, I would go about painting it completely different, but that just means that I’ve learned and developed my skill over the past few years.
Today, I still embarrass my kids when I stop to load a dresser in the back of my SUV, but I’m much more selective. The drawer boxes have to be in good condition. I’ve tried to repair too many cracked drawer boxes and while it can be done, it’s time consuming and not really the quality of work I want to sell these days.
So yes, curbside finds are just one of the many places I find furniture. Here’s a complete list and a few tips on finding furniture to paint…
You know the saying… One man’s trash is a another man’s treasure. That couldn’t be more true for furniture. Most people don’t know how to refinish furniture, don’t have the space, the time, or just can’t be bothered to bring an old or scratch piece of furniture back to new again. So they place it on the curb. Once they place it on the curb, it becomes public property and anyone can pick it up.
The best days to find curbside treasures are on trash day or the day before. People will often place furniture on the curb the day before trash pick-up in the hope that someone will take it; but if no one does, then they know the trash truck (in most towns) will dispose of it. You can find the trash pick-up schedule on each town’s website so you know which streets to drive down on which day.
Before you place any piece of furniture in your truck, be sure it’s operational or at least know you can repair it, give it the sniff test (some smells cannot be removed from wood), and I always open the drawers and cabinets to make sure there are not any critters.
If you see a curbside find, use caution. Be sure you’re not interfering with traffic or putting yourself in danger.
Second-hand stores come in all different ranges. There are high-end antique stores that sell antique furniture that’s in nearly perfect condition and the price tag reflects it. These are probably not the stores you want to shop if you plan to refinish a piece.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are your donation centers like Salvation Army. This has become one of my favorite places to shop because people donate the furniture pieces which means the thrift store can keep the prices very low. The store’s main concern is to sell quickly and turn their inventory over often, so they’re usually willing to negotiate on price too.
The furniture you find at donation centers may be old and scratch, but in most cases the drawers all function well and there aren’t usually any major repairs to be made.
Donation centers also have people that can help you load large furniture pieces into your truck. I’ve picked up some pretty large dressers and armoires off the curb, but it’s so much easier when someone can put it in your car for you.
Also, remember to sign up on the store’s website. They often email out info on sales where you can get furniture at 60% off. It’s their way of turning their inventory over often.
Consignment stores also have a large range from high-end to those that will basically take anything functional, so you can find some old furniture pieces that need refinishing. Unlike a donation center thrift store, a consignment store acts as a selling location for the original owner, then the owner splits the profits with the store (usually a 50/50 split). If my purchasing budget were a bit larger, I would shop at consignment stores more.
I actually shop yard sales for fun. I love driving around, seeing different neighborhoods, and talking with the homeowners. Yes, I often find fantastic pieces of furniture to sell by shopping yard sales. The best ones are those with a For Sale sign in the front yard. A For Sale sign usually means the homeowner is under time constraints to liquidate and just wants it gone.
Also, often the reason for a couple selling a home is to downsize. They just can’t take most of their furniture with them, so they sell great pieces of furniture.
Estate sales are similar to yard sales, but the homeowner or family of the original homeowner is looking to sell everything left in the house before they sell it. Often times the homeowners will hire companies who specialize in estate sales. The company comes into the home, sorts, organizes, and prices every item. If you’re a seller in this situation and the thought of a sale is overwhelming to you, then hiring an estate sale company is a great option.
As a buyer, I prefer sales operated by the homeowners because the prices are usually lower; but either way estate sales can be a great place to find furniture to refinish.
The best tip I have to shopping estate sales is to go to the sale at the very end of the day on the last day of the sale. You’ll get the best price on any furniture that’s left. I once got a complete antique bedroom set for just a few hundred dollars. It was the most I’ve ever spent purchasing furniture, but knew I could flip it for almost ten times the price I paid.
ONLINE YARD SALE SITES
You can find an online yard sale on Facebook for just about every town in the country. God bless the volunteer administrators who set these up and run them. It’s a lot of work! So if you shop here, please be courteous and follow the rules they’ve outlined. Each site is run independently, so the guidelines may vary by site.
To find an online yard sale site on Facebook, simply type your city/town name into the Facebook search bar along with the words “yard sale”. Be sure you’ve reached the site for the correct town and state.
These groups are usually private so you have to ask to join. Once accepted, you can set up the site to send you notifications every time someone posts; but since there are hundreds of items posted every week, I would suggest you just visit the site directly and scan it. You can also enter keywords in the site’s search box to find what you’re looking for. For instance, “ISO dresser” or “in search of table”.
I haven’t had time lately to attend large flea markets and antique fairs, but I have in the past and these can be a great place to find furniture to refinish. The only problem is I can only fit one large piece in my truck at a time so traveling a long distance doesn’t make much sense for me.
CraigsList is great tool for both buyers and sellers. It’s a classified ad site for the average person looking to sell anything – furniture, books, lawn equipment, lamps – you name it and you can most likely find it for sale on CraigsList. Of course businesses are also allowed to post here too, but if you’re looking for furniture pieces you can refinish, it’s the ‘for sale by owner’ listings you’ll want to search first.
CraigsList allows you to set up alerts to receive an email if someone posts an items that includes your search terms. I have alerts set up with the name of my town and a few nearby towns so I’m quickly notified if someone in my town is selling a dresser.
If you buy/sell on CraigsList please be nice and be courteous. Most everyone is a regular person that values their time and should be treated with respect. If you are truly interested in an item on CraigsList, click the “Reply” button on the listing and send the seller a kind email. Include your name. Include your cell phone. Use caution but understand that CraigsList takes trust on the parts of both parties.
CraigsList sellers understand that this operates like a yard sale and there may be some negotiating of price so they typically work a little bit into their postedprice; but please don’t insult the seller by asking them to take 50% or more off the price.
If you do make arrangements to purchase an item off CraigsList, use caution. I won’t go into those here. These days you can usually find a list on any town’s police department site.
If you set up a time to pick up the furniture, please stick to that time. If you cannot make it or if you changed your mind, let the seller know. Their time is valuable too.
FAMILY & FRIENDS
Friends and family have been a huge resource for me. The more people have found out that I refinish furniture, the more pieces I’ve received from family and friends. I’ve been so lucky to be the first person they think of when they’re getting rid of a piece of furniture.
These are the places I find furniture to refinish. I keep an open mind and open eyes everywhere I go. Some pieces I get for free and some I purchase, but I’m always grateful for the finds and to the people giving them away.
Thank you & Enjoy!