House Beautiful

Goodwill Hunting

I have a deep, deep love of thrift joints, flea markets, estate sales and garage sales…  a penchant that is surely the result of me & my cousin, Jill, being dragged kicking and screaming through antique stores as kids (“but ehhhhhhh, we wanna go to the beeeeeaacchh-uh!”) on family vacations to Florida.  Jill & I were also along for the ride on “junkin’” trips with the she-elders in our family.  We’d zip around in my Nanny’s two-toned Buick to every thrift store within a 20-mile radius of her Florida retirement compound, while she and our aunts smoked, cackled and told jokes in the front seat.  Our great-grandmother, “GG”, a sweet-looking 4’9” woman who weighed 75 pounds soaking wet, would often come along too, and take an occasional break from giggling and spitting in her snuff cup to yell, “SLUT!” at anyone who cut us off in traffic.  In any case, when we couldn’t beat ’em, we joined ’em, and junkin’ became a beloved family tradition.  Jill and I learned to love trips to these dusty, occasionally stinky places brimming with treasures.           


To this day, I will veer off the road for any good antique store or junk store.  It’s something about the thrill of the hunt… of finding something unique buried in a heap, patiently waiting to be dusted off and brought back to life.   I realize there’s a certain aversion to these establishments…  the mothballs, the dirty floors, etc.  And no, I don’t actually think people pee on the floor in there.  I promise, there are diamonds in the rough – you just gotta start sifting.  For example: I found this light at the Old 67 Antique Mall in Muncie, IN, for a whopping $8.  I showed it to my dad, who made an awful face generally reserved for congealed food and my dog’s gas:            

Granted; the before pic is crusty, but check out the after (!!!)  I took the light apart, wiped it down with Windex, painted the metal parts with a coral paint sample I had lying around, and sewed a little sleeve out of a linen remnant to hide the ugly cord.  The ceiling medallion was under $10 at Home Depot.  Voila!  A new bathroom chandelier for less than $20.  BANG.           

Alright, recessionistas.  Below are some ideas on what to be on the lookout for when you venture out into the junkin’ universe…  armed with hand sanitizer.            


                         (via House Beautiful)           

In college, I decided to do a huge collection of framed black & white family photos.  I rifled through family photo albums, then scanned and printed 30 of my favorite pictures in various sizes.  Spending $20 per frame at Pottery Barn on my food stamp college budget wouldn’t work, so I trekked to my local Goodwill and scooped up a ton of mismatched frames for about $0.50 cents each (hint: look for irregular sizes to throw in the mix – square, oblong, etc, so you’re not stuck with a snore of 5×7’s and 8×10’s).  Lay out some newspaper on the garage floor, take the glass outta the frames, and spray paint those bad boys the color of your choice.  Scoop up mats from Wal-Mart or Michael’s.  Put ’em together, hang ’em up, and your work is done!  Instant focal point.  And the best thing is, you can build on the collection forever.  And ever.           

My current bedroom, with my now expanded collection.  Please exsqueeze the crooked ones…           


My college bestie Mary’s living room in St. Louis.  We recently christened it with a wall of Goodwill frames while I was visiting:   


Hey, nobody said you had to do all black and white.  Use all mismatched frames if you like:           

(via Domino)           


Getting a new place?  Need to punch up a boring table?  Grab a couple of mismatched chairs like this one I ran across for $5 bucks:           


When you’re dealing with mismatched items like this, unify them by painting them the same color, or upholstering all the seats in the same fabric.  This way, they look like a set…  but with some character.  SJP even gave it a whirl in her house in the Hamptons!           


Or, for a really good time, I’d bang ’em out in THIS fun coral color, with crisp white upholstered seats:            

Rules of thumb when choosing chairs:            

1.  Don’t spend more than $10 or $15 on each one.   The chair above was $5.           

2.  Make sure chairs are sturdy and comfortable.  Sit it in, lean back, wiggle around.  If the seat is upholstered, make sure the upholstery isn’t shot or totally deflated.  Furthermore, if you’re re-upholstering, flip the chair over and see if the seat is screwed into the frame of the chair.  If it is, this means it can be easily unscrewed…  then you can just wrap the new fabric around the existing seat, secure with a staple gun, and screw back on.  BAM.  If the seat is NOT screwed into the frame and looks like this…  …consider that this will be a bit more work, as you’ll have to sew the new guy on.           

3.  Try to make sure chairs are relatively the same size / scale.  You don’t want a Smurfy chair perched next to King Kong’s chair.  Or, maybe you do.  It’s your party.           


For anyone who hasn’t seen “It’s Complicated” yet, do yourself a favor and see it.  The decor inspiration alone is well-worth your $4 rental bucks.  I’ll gush on Nancy Meyers’ flicks in a later post, but in this movie in particular, Meryl Streep’s kitchen is to DIE for, in a warm, cozy, utilitarian, So Cal farmhouse kind of way.  If you look closely at the open shelving on the left, she’s got oodles and oodles of piles of mismatched white dishes.  Ah, the unpretentious simplicity.           



At an average of $0.25 cents a pop, you can throw together a pretty swell collection of mismatched white dishes for a song.  There are GOBS of them everywhere you look at every junk store.  And since you’re operating in a monochromatic palette, look for pieces with texture to add visual interest and keep the collection from looking bland, like these:      


Or, if you feel like mixing and matching in another color, or colors (think Anthropologie), that works too.  Country blue is not really my thang (nor is that skanky pink nail polish I’m wearing), but it runs rampant in rural Indiana:        

That’s enough for y’all to chew on for now, right?  “Goodwill Hunting” will appear as a recurring post, because I have COPIOUS amounts of other tricks to share and fun things to scout for.  But the moral of the story is, if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and use a little imagination and elbow grease, I bet you’ll be surprised at the goodies that lie beneath the heap.  Bonus (!)  You’ll have a piece in your house that has a story behind it, and that means something to you because you had a hand in creating it.  Double Bonus (!)  You’ll have some extra play money for a rainy day. 


9 Responses to “Goodwill Hunting”

  • Love it! My dinnerwear definitely needs revamped and i love this idea. I have a slightly different take on your photowall, but it’s still recessionista inspired!

  • Love, love, love the bathroom fixture. The light/beads look like they have an orange tint as well. Are they just picking up color from the painted metal? Or, did you do something to the light/beads?

    • Rach: They’re not beads inside – it’s actually like a metal (grated) cylinder inside the big light, and then the light bulb is inside the cylinder. So it reflects little dots everywhere (!)

  • Tip for keeping all those mismatched pictures hanging straight:

    Use two nails about 2- 4″ apart. Make sure they’re on the same horizontal (use a level)… but then the pictures won’t wobble all the time and go crooked.

  • Nice story, hey I found this story while searching the web for random downloads. Thanks for sharing I’ll share this on facebook about this too.

  • I was just about to donate some old frames to Goodwill. Instead I’ll buy some spray paint and make them new-to-me. Thanks!

  • Whoa, whoa, whoa. . . you can’t be talented, funny, pretty AND a good writer. 🙂 Srsly, dude. . . I LOL’d with this one. Your wit with words is something else. Loved reading!!

  • You are a girl after my own heart, I do all the same things you have done. Hy heart starts to pound with great joy when I find a great bargin, I once bought an old Queen
    Ann style chair for 25.00 and fixed it up and sold it for 350.00, loved it. You go girl!

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