Vintage bargains sometimes just need a tweak. DC designer Iantha Carley bought an Empire-style dining room set from Emporium Antiques in Frederick for $750. She updated it by covering the seats with a modern geometric print. Reupholstering dining chairs with removable slip seats is an easy project. All you need is a screwdriver and a staple gun.
When hunting for vintage lamps, “look past the shade,” says Celeste Davis, a designer who likes to visit vintage shops such as Miss Pixie’s and GoodWood in DC. She always puts a new shade on an old lamp, usually a drum shade from Restoration Hardware or Pottery Barn.
Finding Real Steals
Though designers typically buy most of their furnishings through companies that don’t sell to the public, they do have some good strategies for scoring deals.
Ireland recently bought two lamps for a client at a sample sale. Though the $6,000 total was hefty, it was a bargain compared with the $15,000 regular price.
The Washington Design Center has a big sample sale that’s open to the public every October and February. Stores such as Theodore’s in Georgetown and Urban Country in Bethesda have big annual outlet sales, and Thos. Moser is currently holding an annex sale in Georgetown through August 9, with furniture from its eight locations. To find out about more sales, Ireland suggests getting on mailing lists for stores you like.
Some of the best deals are online. Steponkus found a 1960s-style gilt-wood mirror on Craigslist for $25. It didn’t need any work, and she hung it above the sofa in her living room.
Radhakrishnan often shops on eBay, especially for art and antiques. If you can afford to, buy originals and pieces from well-known designers; they’re more likely to hold value in the long run.
Flea markets, consignment shops, auctions, and estate sales are other good resources. The Georgetown flea is a favorite among designers, and the best estate sales are in the spring.
Keep an eye out for finds in unexpected places. Wessel found a great antique mirror on the side of the road that didn’t need any repairs. “I can’t imagine why anyone was throwing it away,” she says.
The Ikea Question
Ikea is known for cheap furniture that looks great but doesn’t always last. Yet a surprising number of designers admit to shopping there. What do they buy?
Lots of designers have Ikea furniture in the home office—a room where function trumps form—but they’re more cautious when it comes to other rooms.
“Steer clear of finishes that are recognizably Ikea, especially laminate,” Bishop says. “You don’t want to feel like you’re walking into an Ikea showroom.”
Nestor Santa-Cruz, a design director with the international firm Gensler, has Ikea’s Billy bookcases from floor to ceiling behind his bed. They hold his design and art books, and he hung several small paintings from the front edges of shelves. Surrounded by his beautiful collection, the bookshelves fade into the background.
Radhakrishnan likes the linen panel curtains from Ikea because they’re longer than most premade curtains; you can cut them to fit the height of your windows. But she made them look more substantial—and more expensive—by hanging four pairs of curtains on each of the ten windows in her family room. “You get a lot more volume,” she says. “It looks a lot more customized.”
Ireland needs more clothes storage and is thinking about buying three simple Ikea dressers that he can place in a row. Using multiples makes an item appear more substantial. He’d get away from the recognizably Ikea look by painting them the same color as his floors.
These strategies can be used with furnishings from other popular retailers. Santa-Cruz has a 14-year-old sofa from Crate & Barrel, but he removed the back cushions, covered it with a faux fur throw, and added elegant custom pillows: “You can take something that is off-the-shelf and use it in a new way,” he says.
Santa-Cruz finds that adding something inexpensive can make an otherwise pristine room more livable: “You deconstruct that high-end look with something that is whimsical or fun. Every room should have something like that.”