Meanwhile, I've had a few people ask me for tips on finding good furniture (and other things), so I thought I would share a few things that we've learned.
1. Structural Integrity. Look for pieces that have good "bones," meaning they are sturdy and won't need a lot of repairs. If something has wobbly legs, drawers that won't close, or large cracks- walk away. Those things are extremely difficult and time-consuming for the average person to fix, so unless your plan is to take it apart and completely re-invent it into something else (or unless you are Norm Abram, because Lord knows that dude can fix ANYTHING!), it isn't worth your time.
2. Look past the cosmetic flaws. As long as something is sturdy, don't be afraid to look past things like chipped paint, vinyl tacked over the top, ugly hardware, etc. Also remember that just a good cleaning with soap and water can do wonders. For example, we found this dresser a few weeks ago for $10.
Other buyers had likely passed it up because it was covered in grime and had a hideous piece of old vinyl tacked onto the top. But it was sturdy and after we cleaned it, we decided we actually liked the paint color and naturally shabby look. So, we just sanded it lightly, used chemical stripper to remove the paint from the drawer pulls, then stained the top and pulls (after removing the vinyl of course), and gave the whole thing a coat of water-based poly.
3. Just say no to damaged veneer. Veneer is pretty much impossible to fix. I have heard there is a way to do it using Bondo (in fact we have a planter with damaged veneer sitting in the garage right now, waiting to try this trick), but bear in mind this only works if you are planning to paint the piece. If you want to keep it with the natural wood, you are pretty much out of luck.
4. Know your bottom line. Something that only costs $5 may seem like a great deal, but don't forget to calculate the cost of fixing it up. Sandpaper, paint/stain, poly, wood glue, and new hardware all cost money too. Also, consider the amount of time all of the work will take. That $5 may not be such a great deal after $50 in supplies and 25 hours of work! My first project was a Hoosier cabinet that I found for $50. This was a great deal considering that they typically sell for $300 and up, and this one had all of it's original parts (flour sifter, metal bread box, etc.).
However, it needed SO much work! We had to replace several water damaged panels of wood, which meant pretty much the entire thing had to be taken apart and put back together again before we could even start sanding and painting. This all took MONTHS of work- way more than I'd anticipated. In the end, it turned out pretty good, but with all of the supplies and labor, we probably put way more than $300 into it.
5. Finally, pay attention to where the furniture came from. Is the person selling it a smoker? Was it stored in a damp basement? Remember that wood soaks up smells pretty easily (and some smells are impossible to get rid of), so if you are buying from someone whose house reeks like cat pee, chances are your dream furniture deal is going to turn into a nightmare pretty quickly.
Hopefully you find this helpful next time you head out bargain hunting with a head full of Pinterest-inspired ideas. Just yesterday we came home with a car load of solid wood drawers ($10 for six of them!) that the sellers had taken out of their arts and crafts style built-ins. Beyond the obvious question (why in the world would anyone take OUT built-ins like that!!?), I am still not sure what I am going to do with them, so stay tuned to see whether that turns out to be a genius buy or a colossal mistake!