Cat’s Out of the Bag: 8 “Secret” Shopping Sources Designers Love — Shop Like a Decorator

For me, shopping for decor is a weird, paradoxical experience. I find myself wanting to have unique things. And yet, I’m the first one to share my sources when I find amazing stuff at chain stores. I think that’s because a) I’m not in high school, so I’ve fully come to terms with the idea that copying is a compliment, and b) When companies are getting it right, especially in an unexpected area, they deserve some love. Who knows, maybe more sales will mean they’ll create even more amazing pieces in the future? And if you have the same accessory or sofa as your best friend, everyone brings a different styling aesthetic to the table, right?

So we asked a few designers to share some of their favorite budget shopping sources, and in the spirit of giving, I’ve peppered some of my own thoughts in between. Not all of these are totally under the radar, but some of what designers use familiar stores for I would never think of, which gets me excited to browse even the biggest of big box stores a bit more. I never really need an excuse to spend, but here are a bunch of sources in case your year-end bonus is burning a hole in your pocket.

Zara Home

Trying to find unique linens that won’t break the bank? Designer Birgit Klein suggests Zara Home. The only thing I’ve ever bought here myself is a decorative hand sculpture, which I’ve placed on top of a stack of books. Random, I know. So I checked out the bedding selection, and she’s right. There are a lot of textures (satins, flannels), prints (florals, paisleys, stripes, checks) and colors (mustard even!) that look high-end, but they’re not that expensive (Design Editor Arlyn Hernandez also swears by linen bedding she bought there a few years back). They also stock quilts and blankets if you’re not a duvet kind of person. And sheets are sold as separates, not sets, so you can save there if you don’t use a top sheet. Brilliant. (Pssst…Klein sources dinnerware there, too.)

Brimfield Antique Show

Donna Garlough is a name you’re going to be hearing a lot more of in 2018. She’s the style director of Joss & Main, but from a home news perspective, she’s about to drop her first book, “Your Home, Your Style“, in March of next year. She’s based in New England, so it’s no surprise she’s reppin’ Brimfield hard as her secret weapon. But what she’s buying when it makes its way to town three times a year (check out the link above for the 2018 schedule) is the surprise—I personally hear Brimfield and think of furniture, but she’s going smaller: “I’ll be stocking up on vintage sketches and portraits, textiles to make into throw pillows, and weird little brass objects for my coffee table,” she says. “I love a good conversation piece, and this is the place to get something one-of-a-kind.”

Jennifer Carter of Studio Envie’s living room.

(Image credit: Studio Envie)

Big Box Clearance Sections

When looking for good furniture pieces on a budget, designer Jennifer Carter of Studio Envie always checks out the clearance section of stores like West Elm, Pottery Barn and other retailers, which are typically in the back of the store or in a separate, smaller room. “They are often selling pieces that were displayed on the floor or returned slightly damaged,” she says. “They might need a little TLC but can easily be reused.” Carter suggests negotiating, too. If you point out another flaw (separate from what’s noted on the tag), you might be able to knock another five or 10 percent off the current selling price.

For anywhere you’re trying to make a statement—an entry, a dining room, a bathroom or over a kitchen table—lighting is key, and it typically costs a pretty penny. This is why we’ve seen the IKEA Maskros fixture so many times. It’s affordable. I get it. But when you want something super high design, things get a little trickier. That’s why I was thrilled to find, which is kind of like the Warby Parker of lighting. They design, manufacture and sell products directly to customers, cutting out the middleman. So we save! Everything from string lights and flameless candles to sconces and pendants is stocked here. And sure, if you can afford designer originals, go for it. But if you’re doing a budget bath makeover and need a new light for over the vanity, or you want Hicks-looking pendants over your island but don’t have a couple grand to throw down, this is your place.

World Market

For things like accessories and small tabletop pieces, designer Christine Markatos Lowe is all about Cost Plus World Market. Again, not a total shocker, but one thing I think World Market doesn’t get enough credit for is their selection of faux plants. I can’t keep much alive in my own space, so I’ve been known to embrace the faux greenery in my parts. It’s tough to pull off, but I have to say, if this fiddle leaf fig is any indicator, this category is worth considering when shopping there.

Antique Malls

Don’t discount an antique mall. Donna Mondi took her daughter to one when they were shopping for a first apartment and found the best treasures at a fraction of the price of new furniture. The trick here is finding an antiques mart that’s off the beaten path, so pricing is more competitive. Mondi found the bronze statue on the vanity of this room at an antique market, as well.


Lisa Adams of LA Closet Design designs some pretty fancypants closets, but she’s all about IKEA shelving, which she used in a recent project for blogger/singer Jessi Malay’s dressing room. Obviously, we think of Sweden’s most famous export for wardrobes and furniture, but it’s easy to forget that they’re a great resource for the more building material type of stuff that might not be on display as you walk through the store.


Adams also recommends Etsy, which isn’t exactly a secret at this point, but there are entire product categories on there that you might not realize. It’s a great resources for hardware, including knobs and pulls but also curtain hardware like drapery rods and finials.



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