When it comes to expensive things, I am doomed to hand-me-downs. I’ve never been the type to turn down, in particular, free furniture. The way I figure it, if I can’t afford to replace it, I should seize the moment when someone offers it to me. My parents, garage sales, discount stores, and the dump are a few of my favorite sources.

This is not to say that things remain in the same condition as when I got them. I usually have to do something to them to make them my own. I’ll take you through a few examples of furniture in my house.

Recovered Ottoman

I found a great ottoman at the Vinalhaven dump. That’s right, the dump. Most dumps or transfer stations have a place where you can leave things that could still work. We all called the Vinalhaven area “The Swap Shop”.

I have a think for ottomans because I think they are really handy. They store and move easily. They make a great luggage stand in a guest room or extra seating at parties. Oh, and you can use them for their original purpose. I took the one I found on Vinalhaven, added a foam topper on it (the springs were sticking out), and then covered it with fabric (I like Amy Butler fabrics). For about $10 worth of supplies, I have a cool looking ottoman that just happens to go perfectly in my living room.

Supplies: Foam topper, staple gun, 1.5 yards for fabric
Difficulty: 3-4 out of 10, you’ll need a friend or patient mother to help you hold the fabric down while you staple.

Painted Bookcase

I see these small pieces of furniture all the time in Goodwill (and now you can shop Goodwill online too, who knew?). My particular piece was retrieved from my parent’s basement. Usually this type of furniture seems a little small to be able to do anything useful (in this case, it doesn’t hold a lot of books) but there are plenty of small places in your house you could maximize with a small piece like this. Also, it usually is made of fake and/or terrible wood making staining out of the question. You have to paint.

In my case, I painted my little bookshelf a shade of khaki (kind of boring) but then added paint swatches to the top. You can get them at a hardware store and they are usually numbered so you can get them in the right order. I went with a multicolor approach but you could also pick shades of red, for example. (I remember seeing this idea in some decorating magazine like Readymade or Domino.) I get so many compliments on that table.

It turns out that the shelf is a perfect size to put in the entry into the kitchen. It holds our keys, Sean’s cell phone, and a dog leash as well as my cookbooks. For $20, I have enough paint and Modge Podge to do at least two of these type of projects.

Supplies: 1 quart paint, paint brush, paint swatches (free), and Modge Podge.
Difficulty: 2, just take your time with the painting (you want it smooth). Also you may need to do three or four thin coats to make it look even.

I have a few other things I could cover but I’ll leave that for another time. In the meantime, some rules to live by:

Nicole’s Tips For Furniture Finding and Fancifying

1) Try the dump.
2) Cover with fabric or a coat of paint.
3) Don’t be afraid to try something bold; you did get if for free. You can always repaint or recover if it doesn’t come out well.
4) Search decorating magazines and the internet for inspiration.

Here’s to you finding a project to get excited about that’s good to your budget.

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