- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Arlington resident Patch Canada welcomes stained and scratched furniture into her home with open arms. Miss Canada, 31, decorates her Arlington town house with items collected over the years from various sales, antique shops even the nearby Dumpster.

Her style is, admittedly, eclectic.

"I like older pieces with newer pieces. They complement each other really well," says Miss Canada, who restores imperfect furniture with paints, finishes and a healthy dose of stain remover.

By turning to used furniture, she can indulge her design tastes without throwing her budget into disarray.

Homeowners regularly visit yard sales, consignment shops and antique dealers to find that special piece to complete their living room's look. While shops like Ikea provide low-cost options for the trend conscious, used furniture havens supply the kind of durable wares that can remain in the family for years, if not generations.

Used furniture doesn't necessarily equal antique furniture. Miss Canada's favorite used item, an armoire she plucked out of a Philadelphia market, has seen several coats of stain and paint since she bought it.

She says the armoire, which might have run more than $800 new, set her back just $100.

"It was beat up," Miss Canada recalls. But its dilapidated condition meant it never would serve as a genuine antique. "It was nothing that would fetch any money, [so] I'm not ruining a valuable piece of furniture."

Currently, it bears a coat of black paint and is a focal point of her master bedroom.

"It's a great feeling to come home with my little treasures," she says of the shopping experience.

And Miss Canada isn't too proud to go "Dumpster diving."

Her home features a stool and a small table retrieved from the local trash area, where people dispense of their larger items at the end of every month.

Buying used furniture can be like shopping for a second-hand car. It's best to look under the hood, or in the case of furniture, to look at the exposed drawers or undercarriage.

Better furniture makers, like Stickley, Century and Drexel Heritage, will either burnish those areas with their label or affix a metal plate to them with their logo emblazoned upon it, says Bob H. Willey, president of Upscale Resale in Falls Church.

"They're proud enough to put their name on it," says Mr. Willey, whose store offers a mix of new and used goods.

A soundly structured item also will be finished on all four sides.

"It could be [placed] anywhere in a room and would still look good," he says.

Higher quality furniture will have its pieces joined together by tight "tongue and groove" couplings, rather than being glued or bolted together, Mr. Willey says.

The 28,000-square-foot center isn't the stuffy, wood dominated affair one might expect.

The store's used goods come from a number of sources, including individual homeowners looking to unload their furniture to make way for new pieces. The store takes it all, "as long as it's popular and in demand in the Washington market," Mr. Willey says.

Lately, that excludes pieces with a Mediterranean look, which haven't been selling well of late. And oak furniture, while still marketable, doesn't entice area buyers as much as mahogany and cherry woods do, he reports.

The most popular styles in his shop are reproductions of English and French furniture, the latter paying particular devotion to pieces reminiscent of Louis XV and XVI.

Price isn't necessarily the overriding factor for a used-furniture purchase.

Mr. Willey estimates about 80 percent of his customers are women, and their incomes range from $75,000 to about $300,000.

That said, many customers swing by the store each week to see if an item that caught their eye has been reduced in price.

Roxanne Stephens, 33, of Falls Church stopped by Upscale Resale last week, snapping pictures with a digital camera of items she wanted her husband to see .

"I have three kids. I want something solid. The new stuff is either too delicate or too sparkly," Mrs. Stephens says of modern furniture.

She wants to find pieces to match several antique pieces in her home dating back to the 1800s.

Barry Skeenes, 46, of Alexandria, is on the lookout for either a Chinese-themed chest or chair for his home.

Mr. Skeenes doesn't mind slapping on some paint or a fresh layer of stain to give life to a piece.

"Sometimes, I pick things up that don't need any work," says Mr. Skeenes, who also visits antique shops to flesh out his home's interior.

"I try not to have too many of the same styles together," he says. "but enough of the same styles so it doesn't look like it was thrown together."

His furniture may not look the same, but he keeps a balance by making sure the pieces are of similar sizes.

Gloria Capron, founder of Gloria Capron Interior Design in Kensington says some apartment dwellers turn to her to furnish their homes through consignment shops.

"It's a temporary use, and they want to keep it on a low budget. For me, I feel it's my way to recycle," Mrs. Capron says. "It's always an adventure to see what's in the local consignment shops."

The stores she recommends include NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) thrift shop and the Prevention of Blindness thrift shop in Kensington and the new Christ Child Opportunity Shop in Georgetown.

Not every client is eager to dig through consignment shops for a special item while others prefer the worn, lived in look of used furniture.

"I don't think people care where it comes from if it has the right look and appeal," she says.

Buying used furniture "has always been a part of design," says Patricia Selig, owner of All for Design in Falls Church.

Money obviously is a factor in a person's pursuit of used goods, but she cautions, hiring an expert for guidance might be a better use of resources.

"The little bit of money it costs to get them started in the right direction is the best money they ever spent," Ms. Selig says of hiring a decorator for advice.

She names shops such as Kensington's Sparrows on Howard Avenue as places shoppers might consider for used goods.

No matter how different the pieces in a home may be, a dash of color can bring it all together. Just don't fall back on the trendy color du jour, she advises.

Size matters while shopping for used goods.

"You don't want one huge, heavy sofa and little light pip-squeak chairs. A room has to balance," she says.

Mrs. Capron suggest using similar textures to bring a room together or grouping like items together.

Some of her clients use their collections, from animal figurines to baseball memorabilia, to unify a room built around used furniture.

Ms. Canada uses fabric and Oriental rugs to bring the disparate elements in her home into unity.

"For my bedroom, I spent more money on my fabrics than on the furniture. I'd rather spend the money there."

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