The UpcycledHOME: How to Find Second-hand Furniture to Paint

by | Apr 6, 2022 | UpcycledHOME Magazine

When it comes to refurbishing furniture, Upcyclers have many options for finding the perfect piece to paint. Second-hand furniture is by far the most sought-after piece to Upcycle. Why? Well, for one, second-hand furniture is affordable. Depending on where you find your piece, you can expect to find a gorgeous piece at a steal of a deal or even come across a free gem for the taking!

It should go without saying that Upcycling second-hand furniture is environmentally friendly. By refurbishing a previously loved piece, we are saving it from the terrible fate of ending up in the landfill where it will simply sit for years on end, rotting and wasting away. Upcycling second-hand furniture is, of course, essential for achieving a greener environment for our children’s futures.

Older furniture tends to have a better quality of craftsmanship and durability than those newer pieces available through the large box stores. Rather than being manufactured in an extensive product line, older furniture tends to be made with better quality materials that hold up well. Today’s furniture products are often made of the cheaper pressed board or MDF material, which falls apart after a few years, resulting in them being disposed of and replaced. While modern furniture is mass-produced, older pieces have more unique qualities because they were produced in smaller amounts due to the handcrafting that went into them.

Finally, the thrill of the hunt makes seeking out and finally stumbling on that perfect piece worth all the time and effort it took to find it.

Above: Commissioned Piece

Today, I want to share with you some ideas on where to look and some tips on what to look for.

Where to Look:

Facebook Marketplace and similar sites – Facebook Marketplace is one of my favourite places to find second-hand furniture. I will often browse daily through the furniture posts to see what new pieces have been posted. If I find a free or super cheap piece, I scoop that up as quickly as a fox! Other sites useful for second-hand furniture include Kijiji, Craigslist, Letgo and local Facebook groups that share similar posts of free or affordable furniture pieces.

Thrift stores and Habitat for Humanity/ReStore – I am sure that most of you have entered a Salvation Army Thrift store with your mom growing up. Today, many more thrift stores are around, and many of them have hidden gems just waiting to be taken home!

Garage sales, auctions, and antique markets – With the promise of Spring comes the anticipation of garage sale season! My family knows all too well that when the garage sales start popping up, I eagerly jump out of bed early on a Saturday morning so that I can scope the neighbourhood and hunt for just the perfect piece! Auctions and antique markets hold the same excitement for me, too, as they often have pieces that hold years of history, and I will do all I can to unlock its secrets.

Friends and family – If you have friends and family, you have an excellent source for unwanted second-hand furniture. I have gone months without ever needing to purchase a single item because friends and family were calling me to ask if I wanted to take a piece off their hands. The surprise and delight when they see their once unwanted piece turned into something they would like to have in their home again are certainly fulfilling!

Blue Wall units: Wall units that were given to me by a friend. Upcycled and sold 24 hours after posting!

Roadside finds and dumpster diving – I share this without a single ounce of shame – yes, I have found and taken pieces of second-hand furniture found on the side of the road home with me and have been known to dive into a dumpster or two to rescue a piece from certain death! Surprisingly, I have come across very few pieces that needed nothing more than minor repairs.

Corner Fireplace: This piece was a bit of both a donation from a friend and a garbage rescue! Here is a great example of thinking outside of the box. I took an outdated corner TV unit and transformed it into a corner fireplace with a cozy area for furbabies to snuggle and relax. The client who purchased this piece loved the idea of a space for her cats to lounge!

Network with local junk removal businesses – There are many small businesses that you can often find through Facebook of people who spend their day removing junk from people’s homes and backyards. Reach out to these small businesses and create a working relationship with them. In exchange for keeping an eye out for furniture pieces that you can upcycle, you can offer to refer clients to them or contract them to help you pick up and deliver commissioned pieces, or even agree to give them a small percentage of the earnings from the sale of the piece they procured for you.

Your Own Home – This should probably be the first tip I shared with you because it is exactly how I began. As the years go by, even we ourselves can grow tired of certain furniture pieces or simply not need them for whatever they were originally intended for.  When I first started out painting furniture, I began with pieces that I already owned. Some of them I have kept and used for my own pleasure, but most of them I ended up selling.

End tables: These nesting end tables had been in my home for some time and in fact, I can’t for the life of me remember where I got them from. I ended up refinishing them into a set of game tables and a client purchased them as a Christmas gift for a family member.  I even created game pieces for these tables, which are not shown here.

What to look for:

Once you have come across a piece of second-hand furniture that you feel would be a great canvas to paint, there are a few things you will want to check before you take it home.

  1. Look over the piece carefully – Whether you are looking over a piece of furniture on the side of the road or inspecting it in front of the seller, don’t be afraid to examine the piece with more than just your eyes. Test any hinges, doors and drawers on the piece. Pull a drawer out and inspect underneath – does it have dove-tail joints, indicating a high quality of craftsmanship or are the drawers glued together and falling apart?
  2. Smell the piece – Yes, I said to smell the pie e. Don’t be afraid to get up close to the piece and inspect it for odours, such as cigarette smoke, mothballs or even pet urine. Sometimes smells can be difficult to get out of a piece, although it is possible. Let your nose help you judge whether the effort to get the odour out is worth it.
  3. Inspect the piece for bugs – If the piece has been stored in an attic or garage, it could carry spiders and other creepy crawlies. You also want to look for signs of a potential or former bedbug or termite infestation. Familiarize yourself with what the signs are for these types of infestations so that you are not bringing the infestation into your home and potentially your client’s home.
  4. Look for any repairs that the piece might require – As you begin painting furniture, you will most certainly come across pieces that require some degree of r pair. Often, dents, scratches and missing veneer can easily be repaired but if the piece is falling apart and needs serious repairs, be sure that you know how to make those repairs before you bring the piece home. I have attended a few furniture repair workshops and watched many YouTube videos on essential to more complicated repairs so I often know if I will be able to tackle the repair myself or not.
  5. Set a price limit for yourself – If you are out attending garage sales and auctions, it is wise to set yourself a limit of what you are willing to pay for a piece. While garage sales are a great place to hone your negotiation skills, auctions can easily get out of hand if you allow yourself to get caught up in the excitement of the bid. Remember that if you are intending on painting the piece to resell it, you want to make a reasonable profit.
  6. Consider how you will upcycle the piece – When you are inspecting the piece, try to look beyond its current state and visualize its hidden potential. Think outside the box and don’t limit yourself on what you could do with it.

Ultimately, if you are in love with the piece, it passes these few tests, and the price is right, then scoop that baby up and take it home with you to work your magic on it!

How have you come across pieces of second-hand furniture to paint? Please share with me below how you came across some of your favourite works of upcycling art!

Happy Upcycling!


1 Comment

  1. Danny

    Love the article! Learnt alot about UpCycled furniture. And the pieces showcased are very lovely ???


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