How My Favorite Secondhand Finds Make My Home Decor Unique

Secondhand Finds

All my life, I’ve incorporated secondhand finds into my personal style. I first fell in love with thrifting back in my college days when I discovered Chicago’s Village Thrift (now called Village Discount Outlet). That place provided most of my wardrobe during my student days. Every apartment since my 20s has featured thrifted home decor, and the house I now own carries on that tradition.

But my love of vintage was born earlier, in my hometown of Urbana, Illinois. When I had barely started high school, I rode along with my older friends on Saturdays as we explored shops like Second Hand Rose Antiques. By age 17, I had a collection of pointy-toed 1950s pumps and a bedroom full of vintage home decor. This included a set of antique kid leather baby shoes and a silver hand mirror and brush set—not exactly what you’d expect to find in a teenager’s room in the late 1980s.

However, it was my mother, a devotee of both beauty and frugality, who first introduced me to the joy of buying used. As a kid, I accompanied her to countless garage sales, where she excelled at sniffing out the most delightful treasures. Some were practical: sturdy furniture, her favorite cable-knit sweater, the vintage Samsonite suitcase. Some were more frivolous, like the Danish mid-century fondue pot. To show off its rich, dark orange enamel and sleek teakwood handle, my mom kept the fondue pot on permanent display. But I think we only used it once.

The best secondhand finds create joy and memories

My mom’s most amazing secondhand find, however, was both practical and frivolous. A 1920s, wrought iron, ice cream table with two chairs, covered in dirt and rust. Mom cleaned them up and painted them white. She placed the table under the kitchen window, opposite the old porcelain sink, with the chairs facing off across the glass tabletop, each flanked by a blue eyelet curtain. I loved sitting at that table while Mom served me cookies on her pretty yellow china. As my hot chocolate cooled in my delicate teacup, I’d trace the snowy paths of leafy, metal vines beneath the tempered glass, committing them to memory.

I also loved sitting there for the PBJs, the Cheerios, the Mac n’ Cheese, and all the other ordinary meals. Mom’s secondhand style made the ordinary better and the extraordinary almost dreamlike. Sadly, life did its thing and prevented me from keeping many of my mother’s treasures. The ice cream table is long gone, but thankfully, I still have almost all of her china set.

Clearly, I believe in the value of previously owned decor. So it surprises me that, while 31% of US adults bought secondhand clothing in the last year, only 15% purchased used furniture or home goods. As far as I’m concerned, this is a travesty. So, let’s talk a bit about secondhand decor and how buying used gives your home a beautiful, unique style. And then, I’ll share some of my all-time favorite secondhand finds.

How can I decorate my home with secondhand finds?

Whether you’re starting from scratch or you’d like to add some eclectic decor to your home, used items are a great way to go. Secondhand goods are economical, good for the environment, and, in many cases, as easy to purchase as buying new. You can find great stuff at thrift stores, vintage shops, garage sales, reselling sites like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, and even for free in local Buy Nothing groups.

Things to keep in mind about secondhand decor:

  • It can take time to find what you want, especially if you have something very specific in mind
  • The more frequently you shop, the higher the chance of finding the right piece
  • Inspect items carefully before you buy (some thrift stores accept returns, but many won’t, and sellers on Facebook or Craigslist certainly don’t)

Of course, sites like Ebay and Etsy are full of high-quality secondhand products. I use these sites when I’m looking for something very specific (see #3 below). Just be aware that shipping such items can drive up the final price and increase environmental impact due to transportation and packaging.

What is the difference between thrifting and vintage?

Thrifted home decor refers to used items purchased at a thriftstore. These items may be of any age and condition. It’s absolutely possible to find vintage home decor in a thrift shop—heck, one woman found a 2000-year old marble head from ancient Rome at a Goodwill. But vintage thriftstore finds often show considerable wear and tear. This may not matter if you like refurbishing old things (see #5, my best thriftstore find to date). A vintage shop, however, specializes in older items that are in good or excellent condition.

Five of my all-time favorite secondhand finds

I have many, many, MANY vintage, thrifted, and generally secondhand items in my home. These range from very boring (the plastic footstool under my workspace) to quite grand (the antique writing table in my bedroom). I’ve decided not to include furniture in this list because if I did, it would probably only be furniture.

So, without further ado, I present my five most fabulous secondhand finds of all time!

1. Vintage 1970’s standing mirror

Found on Facebook Marketplace

I adore the classic look of this vintage mirror, and enjoy seeing myself in its frame every day.

2. Art Deco Wall art

Found at Goodwill

Finding this print of Louis Icart’s 1929 etching, “Elegant Lady With Greyhound Dogs” was a dream come true. My kid, who I often drag to thriftstores, was very impressed with this find, and she helped me find the perfect spot for it.

3. Vintage 1950s picnic basket

Found on Etsy

I wanted a vintage picnic basket to hold my fabric selections for my current projects, and Etsy did not disappoint. There’s plenty of room, and the pretty green adds a color pop to my sewing room, which is primarily sepia tones. Not fancy, just fabulous!

4. Cast iron floor lamp

Found on Craigslist

I wasn’t sure if this was actually vintage from the photos in the listing, but when I saw it in person, it was obvious. This lamp is heavy cast metal, the cord is old, and so is the lightbulb socket. I doubt it’s more recent than the 1940s, and it could even be from the 20s or 30s. It was painted white when I bought it. Rather than go through the hassle of stripping it, I painted it black and then used gilding wax to give it an aged bronze look. Such a sweet reading light!

5. Antique chairs

Found at my local thrift shop

This list concludes with my best thriftstore find ever: these five antique chairs that I got for just $5 each!!!!!

Now, how do I know those chairs are antique? Well, I don’t know for sure. However, I inspected the joints, peeled back more than one upholstery layer, and did a reverse Google image search. After all that, I’m confident these chairs are quite old. Personally, I think they were made around the turn of the last century. We see this furniture style into the 1920s, but even if they’re from the early 1930s, they’re less than a decade away from being antiques.

Honestly, just finding these chairs was an experience to remember. But I do intend to refurbish them in the coming months and plan to share the process here. For now, you can read my Harnessing the Past post to learn more about my passion for old things.