Thrifting involves some good fortune. Did you spot a brand new Le Creuset Dutch oven shining among stacks of skillets or a whimsical Jonathan Adler tray in the housewares section? Lucky you! Those coveted pieces likely just hit the shelves right before you walked through the door.
Beyond the serendipity factor, the real skill of thrifting—the one that’s probably responsible for the dopamine hit—is being able to spot the proverbial diamonds in the rough. You know those items that others are overlooking, but that you suspect are worth lots of money or could make a big design impact in your home.
So, what pieces are commonly found in thrift stores and offer great value? Ahead, designers and a merchandiser share the 10 thrift store finds that you should snatch up as soon as you see them.
Studio pottery is produced by individuals—not mass-produced. These one-of-a-kind items can bring a space to life. You can use a distinctive vessel as a sculptural piece on a bookshelf, a planter, or a pitcher, says Allison Garrison, principal designer with San Diego, California–based Allito Spaces. “While a lot of studio pottery is valuable mostly for its unique character, you could get lucky and land a vase that could fetch up to $10,000,” she says. To find out if you’ve stumbled across a treasure, look for artists’ signatures, and then plug their names into The Marks Project to learn more about the makers.
When you’re shopping for sterling silver look for intricate etchings or ornate details on handmade pieces, says interior designer Elisa Baran Trean of Elisa Baran, LLC. Her most recent thrifting haul included lots of sterling silver—a basket handmade in France, salad tongs with handmade wave handles, and Italian coasters with etchings.
“One of the beautiful things about sterling silver is that it can be refined, retaining that existing shining beauty with a little polish if desired,” Baran says.
To find high-dollar pieces, scout for designer brand names such as Buccellati, Whiting, Christofle, Sciarrotta and of course Tiffany & Co, Baran suggests. One more thing: Check for an etching that says “925,” “92.5,” or “SS” to confirm the piece is indeed sterling silver.
Interesting fabric is a thrift shop staple, and you’ll often find extra yards of it folded up or still on a bolt, says Cape Cod, Massachusetts, interior designer Molly McGinness, the owner of Molly McGinness Interior Design. People tend to save leftover fabrics because they are expensive, but then end up eventually parting with them when they move or clean out their house, she says. Sometimes you’ll find a few yards, other times some pricey little scraps and these pieces can be perfect for a special pillow or ottoman.
Often, you’ll spot identifiable fabrics from fabric houses like Scalamandré, Colefax and Fowler, Clarence House, Brunschwig & Fils, and Schumacher. Before you buy, unroll the fabric and give it a good look over to make sure the piece is in good condition (and that moths haven’t gotten to it), McGinness says.
“Books are a big big part of many of our designs and can really eat up a budget, so we are constantly on the lookout for great coffee table books at thrift stores,” says Mark Cutler of cutlerschulze, an interior design firm based in Los Angeles. He tries to stick to a few themes, like photography, interior design, travel, and sports. “Sometimes we will just buy them because the color of the spine is just right,” he says.
Vintage sporting goods like tennis rackets, hockey sticks, and cricket bats can be fun design additions, Culter says. You can display them as a group or prop a vintage sled against a wall in the corner of a room.
“Even vintage bathing suits fall into this category,” he says. “When framed they are fun, quirky pieces that will bring any pool house to life.”
When Culter is shopping thrift stores for sporting goods, he’s usually looking for equipment from the 1920s to 1980s.
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This highly collectible, brightly colored dinnerware livens up any party, and looks amazing when it’s styled on floating shelves, says Ashley Macuga of Collected Interiors. “I love their serveware, especially their pitchers and mixing bowls,” she says. “And if the more common bright colors make you want to put on sunglasses, their ironstone series has all of the early tones perfect for the modern organic aesthetic.”
Fiestaware can sell for $15-$100 and up for baking and serveware, but if you snag a coveted piece in a retired color, it can resale for thousands, she says. To make sure that you are buying vintage, look for the ink stamp on the back, Macuga says. It will state that it is genuine, and include a three digit code that is a dating code and correlates to the year it was made.
Keep your eyes peeled for marble or lacquered pedestals, which were popular in the latter half of the 20th century, says Bethany Adams of Bethany Adams Interiors. “These once ubiquitous items of home decor are starting to pop up again as plant stands, side tables, or a fun way to highlight a particular item like an abstract basket or sculpture,” she says. “Thrift stores are overflowing with them and they have so many possible uses.”
Brass or marble bookends are great thrift shop finds, says interior designer Anastasia Casey, founder of IDCO Studio. Look for more modern or simple shapes like solid cubes or spheres, she suggests. These pieces can usually be thrifted for under $50 but can earn a price tag upwards of $250.
Most 19th- and 20th-century spongeware (or spatterware) can be found in a classic dark blue, but you may also stumble upon some more modern iterations in light blues, reds, and greens, says Marie Joh, who is a merchandiser at The Six Bells, a country store of homewares in Brooklyn. “We never pass up sturdy mixing bowls, pitchers, crocks, and—the holy grail—a complete set of matching dinner plates,” she says.
Roseville Pottery Company was one of the most prolific makers of spongeware in the United States prior to closing in the 1950s, and remains the most desirable brands to find today, Joh says. She’s had the most luck finding pieces in Ohio, where the company was based. “Spongeware pieces can fetch up to thousands of dollars, especially if you’re lucky enough to nab full sets, or score something from the 19th or early 20th centuries,” she says.
If you’re lucky enough to find some in good condition, look for hand-stitching, which has the greatest value, Joh says. Some classic Americana motifs to snag include school house, nine patch, hunter’s star, and baskets. If the quilt looks too tattered for daily use, you can get it professionally mounted and framed to better showcase the maker’s handiwork.2023-04-21T19:48:38Z dg43tfdfdgfd