If you’re not a seasoned thrifter, Goodwill can be a little intimidating. Filled with buzzing fluorescent lights, broken panini presses, laminated filing cabinets, and bouquets of plastic flowers that seem straight off of the Golden Girls set, it can be a little hard to see the potential wedged in between all the garage-sale junk. But it’s there! You just need to squint and know what you’re looking for. Scoring big at a thrift store is one part being prepared, one part having vision, and one part crossing your fingers that it works. Ahead are 10 things you need to stop passing up at Goodwill — you’re missing some solid decor opportunities!
Nevermind that the painting has a boring meadow scene that’s fit for a hotel lobby. As long as the frame catches your attention, you can pop the canvas out and replace it with something else.
This is especially a great idea if you’re looking for an elaborate, gold frame but don’t necessarily have the funds to buy it new. For example, I once bought a painting from Goodwill for $5, took out the bouquet watercolor, and replaced it with a blow-up picture of my mom in her 20s, eating a sandwich in her bell bottom pants. Best thing I own.
Goodwill is loaded with wooden coffee tables, office desks, dining room sets, armoires, and accent chairs, most of which barely crack the $50 price tag. If you bought a new wooden piece at a showroom, you would easily be leaving the store a couple hundred dollars poorer. But if you don’t mind spending a weekend sanding, varnishing, and possibly painting, you can unearth something truly special (and budget friendly.)
Take a look back in our archives and get inspired by the “before and afters” that people have done to outdated, dinged up, and diamond-in-the-rough pieces. Once you have an idea of the possibilities, you’ll be able to spot the potential at the thrift store. For example, you can put reclaimed wood across a buffet to give it a West Elm vibe, give a dated dresser a stenciled makeover, or turn a mediocre cabinet into a ’60s dream.
Ignore the dated fabric patterns and instead focus on the bones of the chairs littered across Goodwill. If you find a shape you love, you can always reupholster the cushions and create a statement piece for a fraction of the price. Check out how this one Apartment Therapy submission found ripped up plastic leather chairs, and transformed them into indigo-patterned mid-century dreams.
Take a spin around Etsy first to see what kind of vintage candlestick styles appeal to you, and then try to find their duplicates at your local thrift store. Sometimes you just need to see it in a more posh setting (like someone’s carefully curated Etsy store) in order to see a home decor item’s potential, especially if it’s sitting next to a broken toaster and Barbie head.
Depression Cocktail Glasses
Once given away for free during the Great Depression, now all the most chic bars serve their $13 cocktails in them. Stock your own bar cart full of the beautiful, textured glass for cheap by keeping an eye out for sets at the thrift store.
Cast Iron Skillets
When bought new, a heavy-duty cast-iron skillet can cost you a pretty penny. Rather than spending good money, find a bargain at the thrift store and take it back home for a fraction of the cost. Even if it’s rusted or in rough-shape, all you’ll need is oil and salt and a couple of rounds in the oven to get it looking like new again.
Paintings If You Love DIYing
If you’re looking for new art and love a good DIY, you can buy old, cheesy paintings for a couple of bucks at the thrift store, and do a paint-by-numbers experiment on them (you gotta see the before on this pretty floral still life on Honestly WTF). For example, you can take a dowdy still-life of a vase, and repaint it using colors that match your space, and a style that feels more modern and fresh.
Not only is it a fun, kitschy addition to anyone’s kitchen, but it’s also incredibly durable and is great for cooking and baking. If you’re all stocked with your cook ware, you can keep an eye out for the vintage throwback piece and then sell it for a nice profit on sites like eBay. A bowl can go for as much as $40 — it’s worth a try!
As more and more tablescapes utilize sapphire blue glasses and sea-foam green tumblers to add a pop of color to their dinner party setup, you can skip the expensive sets found at Crate & Barrel and instead try to piece together your own at Goodwill. Shelves are usually stocked with colored stemware, and with a little bit of patience you can collect your own assortment.
Stoneware Plant Holders
Even if they’re not necessarily your style, once you put trendy house plants in them (like Fig Leaf Trees or Chinese Money Plants) the heavy pots add a quiet, mid-century touch to the room. And if you’re a DIYer, they also look fun paired with paper gardens.