- - Thursday, January 26, 2012

If you find yourself longing for some shabby-chic style or just the chance to find something unique to brighten your home without spending a fortune, you may want to take the advice of local interior designers: Head to a thrift store.

Thrift stores, consignment shops and flea markets all can offer up low-cost treasures for those who know where to look and what items offer the best value.

Sherry Petersik, who with her husband, John, writes the YoungHouseLove.com blog from Richmond, said, “Thrift stores can be an amazing resource, particularly for solid-wood furniture. It can be cheaper than buying particleboard furniture; plus, you can refinish solid wood, which is nearly impossible to do with laminate or particleboard furniture.”

Mrs. Petersik said the most important thing to look for when shopping at thrift stores is whether you like the lines of the furniture and the sturdiness of each piece because the stain or paint color can be changed.

Kelley Proxmire, principal of Kelley Interior Design in Bethesda, loves to go “junking,” as she calls it, and has found interesting objects as well as some terrific bargains.

“For people who are just starting out shopping at thrift stores, I recommend looking for one-of-a-kind items, such as small accessories that you could display on a table, or a vase,” Mrs. Proxmire said. “If you want to look for furniture, you should be aware that you may need to put in some elbow grease to fix something up or to pay extra to have someone else do that for you.”

Items that have caught the eye of Jessica Bonness, an interior designer with JBG Interiors in the District, include a stained-glass square with a multitude of colors that was used by a stained-glass maker as a model to display color choices.

“I always recommend that people look for something that is personal to them or catches their eye, such as accessories, picture frames, stained glass and storage containers like baskets,” Mrs. Bonness said.

Mrs. Petersik also recommended looking for small items such as bookends, lacquered boxes and old books at thrift stores.

“We always look for great frames, too, even if we don’t like the art, because you can easily switch out the art,” Mrs. Petersik said. “You can keep the old wood frame or stain it or paint it.”

Mrs. Bonness said small pieces of furniture, including end tables, desks and dressers, can be great thrift-store finds, especially for those who want to stain or repaint something themselves.

All three interior designers recommend avoiding upholstered furniture unless it is a dining-room chair with a fabric-covered seat.

“A stuffed armchair or a sofa could have mold or bedbugs or anything underneath, even if it looks clean on top,” Mrs. Petersik said. “Unless you are going to strip off the fabric down to the studs, which, of course, adds a lot to the cost, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Mrs. Petersik said re-covering a dining-room chair is simple, even for novice do-it-yourselfers. She said the seats usually are held on with one or two screws, so they can be popped off quickly, stripped of the existing fabric and then re-covered with new fabric with help from a staple gun, and screwed back together.

The Petersiks purchased two chairs for $30 each, re-covered the seats and painted them to use as desk chairs. She said she has seen similar chairs selling for $275 each.

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