Tips for secondhand home design

Interested in redesigning your home without breaking the bank?

Put down the furniture catalog, close the Pinterest browser and head to your local thrift store, where D.C. interior designer Michele Evans says, “there are all kinds of possibilities.” Possibilities that amount to a fraction of the cost.

Habitat for Humanity recently opened its Herndon, Virginia, “restore” last month, which sells donated furniture, appliances and home accessories to benefit local Habitat programs and services. Evans met us there, and in between a little shopping, she shared tips on how to turn thrift finds into high-end design.

New handles come in handy

One way to make an older piece more contemporary is to swap out the hardware. A sleek, streamline pull in place of outdated brass knobs gives a dining room hutch or bedroom armoire a completely new look. Evans said Push Pull in Bethesda, Maryland, is a good resource for decorative hardware.

Wallpaper isn’t just for walls

Wallpaper is back. “It’s back with a lot of power,” Evans said.

And it’s not just for walls. Evans uses paper to cover the back walls of bookcases, china cabinets and hutches to add a little color and personality between the shelves. She said these days, wallpapering is easier than ever since many modern brands sell their patterns on “peel and stick” paper.

One way to make an older piece more contemporary is to swap out the hardware. Wallpapering the back or adding in mirrors gives the piece more personality. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Think beyond the item’s original purpose

One of the best things to pack when you head to a secondhand store is your imagination. It comes in handy for finding new ways to repurpose old items. For example, Evans picked up an old flag basket and instantly saw a Americana chandelier.

“Unscrew the handles; turn it upside down; create a hole in the back and use it as a light fixture. And you’ve got a chandelier hanging over your table,” she said.

She also picked up a set of outdated brass chandeliers and pitched the idea of turning them into patio decorations: Replace the electrical wires in the center with some candles, remove the glass and hang them from your deck for a coastal vibe.

“It can always have a second life as something else,” Evans said.

Basket or chandelier? A little imagine goes a long way when thrift-store shopping. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
A bar for a bargain

Need a bar for your home? A bookshelf or china cabinet can stand in just fine. Take out a shelf or two to accommodate tall bottles and glasses, and consider screwing a rack into the top shelf to hold hanging wineglasses. To glitz it up a bit, add a mirror to the back wall of the furniture.

“It always looks good when the crystal is shining and reflecting,” Evans said.

Patio furniture is a find

Patio furniture is ridiculously expensive. “So if you can find it at a secondhand store, it’s a steal,” Evans said.

A set of chandeliers can be repurposed for patio lights and decorations. Remove the glass and electrical and fill them with candles for a coastal look. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Recover old furniture by recovering it

Outdated fabrics can be a deterrent. But Evans said replacing chair coverings with modern prints is an easy fix — and one you can do yourself. Not confident in your upholstery skills? Change the chair’s look with a slipcover.

“And they’re all over the price points. You can spend $25 for a cover, you can spend $200 for a cover,” Evans said.

Old patio benches also work as vanity seats. Just replace the outdated fabric with a more modern look. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
Home improvement projects

Contractors, manufacturers and home improvement stores donate their excess materials to Habitat for Humanity’s restore, so if you have a big project on the horizon, it’s always worth it to check in and check out their tiles, kitchen cabinets, sinks and more.

Evans said carpet remnants are another good thing to buy from a store like Habitat. If you find one in good condition, take it to a carpet store and get a binding put on it. Voilà: a new rug.

This post has been updated to change Michele’s last name from Seiver to Evans.  

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