Buying and updating used furniture
Scouring for furniture deals on Used.ca is one of my favourite past times. Whenever we need a new piece of furniture, we always give ourselves one to six weeks to search through our local site every day before considering going to a furniture store, and because of this patience (and daily obsessive searching) we have come out with some pretty incredible deals. But it’s not as easy as finding a piece on the site, picking it up and plunking it in your living room. Often furniture is sold for cheap or given for free because it’s damaged or outdated, so as the buyer, it’s your role to know if
a) the furniture is high enough quality for your needs
b) the damage/flaws can be fixed or, at the very least, hidden
I’m by no means a carpenter or a vintage furniture restoration guru, but we’ve had a lot of success finding great pieces and revamping them to fit our needs. Today, I’m here to share what I’ve learned along the way to help you know what to look for in a used furniture piece and how you can customize it to fit perfectly in your space.
Tip 1: Look for quality
Old furniture might not always look pretty, but most of the time it’s far more solid than what you’ll find today, unless you’re willing to pay a premium.
The first thing I look for is the construction. Is the furniture made of solid wood or particle board? It can be tough to tell sometimes, but particle board is much lighter than solid wood, so that’s your first clue. The second would be to look for a rough edge, usually under or behind the furniture piece or in the drawers. If it looks like compressed saw dust, you’ve got particle board my friend. Now don’t get me wrong, particle board furniture can be just fine, but it depends on what your intent is. If you just need a piece that doesn’t need to stand up to a lot of abuse or doesn’t need to last too long, particle board may be great. But if you want a more sustainable piece, solid wood is the way to go.
Another quality inspection are the joints along the side of the drawers. Modern furniture is often mass produced, which means quickly produced and therefore corners are cut. I always look for dovetail joinery on the drawers. This solid construction is generally synonymous with a high quality piece of furniture.
- Look for solid wood/metal construction
- Dovetail drawer joints are a good sign of quality
- Check for any areas with screws. Make sure that they are still tightly placed, and that the hole or the screw hasn’t been stripped down (you’ll be able to tell if you can easily remove the screw)
Tip 2: Start with the basic design, then make it yours
We searched for several months for a mid-century credenza. All the options were either too expensive (solid teak) or not our style. And then we saw this gem selling for $25. Looking at the before, you might not think there’s anything ‘gem like’ about this piece at all, but the trick is to not see furniture for what it is, but what it could be. Yes friends, your imagination (plus power tools and paint) will come in very handy here.
I loved the bones of this credenza – the lines, the shape, and the layout. But I knew it needed to be brightened up and that sliding door would have to be replaced. Simply sanding down and painting the legs and drawer white made a huge impact. We further changed the piece by cutting out two sliding doors to replace the old one and added a new piece of hardware to polish it off.
Sometimes you have to spend a little extra time and money to get a piece of furniture exactly how you want it, but in the end you still come out spending far less than if you purchased it ready made at the store.
The same was the case for this dresser, only we got it for free. It was in rotten condition, but we could see that underneath all the graffiti and cracks, it was a solid piece of furniture. The first job was to sand it all down (as pictured above). This was a lengthy process as it’s a large piece, and the cracks on the surface made sanding more laborious. But those cracks were an easy fix. Once sanded down to fairly even, we filled the cracks with wood filler, let it dry, then sanded it down again. This process was repeated until the top came out smooth! Once that was done it was time to get to the fun part – painting! With some new paint and hardware, you never would have known this was the same dresser as the original (not shown due to extensive graffiti).
- Use furniture paint and a foam roller for the best coverage – always sand the furniture before applying
- Wood stain markers are great if you like the stain colour already, but need to colour in some nicks and scratches
- Use wood filler and a sander to smooth out any deep cracks
- Paint the caps on your legs to brighten them up. My absolute favourite tool for this is a gold leaf pen
- New hardware is your best friend. Don’t be afraid to spend a little money here. If your furniture was only $20 or even free, and materials to revamp it were $20, then why not spend $10-$20 on a unique pull or knob that’ll finish off the look of the whole piece? You come out on top in the end!
Tip 3: Hide the flaws
We managed to pick up these two barcelona chairs for free on the side of the road once the owner had given up trying to sell them. Why had no one nabbed them before us? Because they were covered in cat hair and outdoor debris from being left outside, and cat scratches completely ruined the bottom cushions. Barcelona chairs are very expensive, and while I have no way of knowing if these are legitimate or not, I could tell from the frame construction that they were solidly built (they’re so heavy!). For me, the frame was the most important part of the chair, so once I knew they were sturdy, I didn’t think twice about the cat hair and scratch marks.
Our original plan was to replace the ruined cushions, and this is still something we’ll look into down the road, but the first order of business was to give these guys a serious, deep clean. Once dried, we noticed that they were in fantastic condition.
The seated part of the chairs were the worst off as far as cat scratches go. So I threw on a couple of our sheepskin rugs and boom! Once we threw on a blanket and a pillow for some added decor (and to hide the missing button), you couldn’t tell the chairs had significant damage. We just never take those sheepskins off, and that’s okay.
- Get creative – what decor items can you strategically place to cover up damage?
- If the damage is in the wood, use wood filler, wood stain markers, or wood crayons to fill in the marks
- Consider replacing damaged items if the frame is solid
That’s all! Best of luck on your furniture hunting adventures, and have fun!