Tips for Finding the Perfect Wood Furniture Piece

The chunky and sturdy solid wood pieces that have stood the test of time and design did not come from the usual stores.

By Stephanie Hell 


Some of the finest pieces of furniture I have are not the ones I put together myself from the only place I eat Swedish meatballs… The chunky and sturdy solid wood pieces that have stood the test of time and design did not come from the usual stores.


I found them hidden among the old books at a thrift store. (Yes, I actually had the workers take all the old books from a mahogany sideboard they were using and hadn’t even thought of selling.). Or I found them sitting in a carport next to an unused treadmill. And one of my favorites, a cedar chest with copper hinges and a scrumptious inlaid design, was as keeper from an estate sale.


These heirloom finds do not come along every day, and the real art of finding these treasures lies in patience. An empty foyer might inspire a trip to a furniture store, but a true pillager will wait it out. Once the perfect piece for that empty space is found, you’ll know it. The hunt is part of the fun, and here are a few ideas to get you started on your journey to unique wood furniture which will become your eternal favorites.


1. They're Called "Thrift Stores" for a Reason

Thrift stores are great places to look. They sell great furniture for the lowest prices you’re likely to find. Since their inventory is meant to move, it is priced low and snapped up quickly by its regular shoppers. Find the best locations close to home and check them often. The money you spend goes to a good cause, so it’s a win-win when you find that bargain shelf you need in the home office.




2. Estate Liquidations

Estate sales are a bit more work, but you’ll be able to shop from an entire house so there’s much more stuff to choose from. You’ll need to set aside some time for an extended forage. If it’s an organized sale, there will be a time to shop and a time to bid, so better pack a protein bar in case you see a few items only you can love. It may take a while. These sales are sometimes not well advertised, so keep your eye out on craigslist and for yard signs.


Photo courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker
Photo courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker - (modified from original image)


3. Second-hand Shops

Consignment shops sometimes have great pieces, and these are spots you’ll want to visit often to get the best deals and the best pieces. These stores mark up the furniture from the sellers, so prices can sometimes be a bit high. The best advice is to look for pieces which need some love. If you don’t know anything about refinishing, it’s not nearly as difficult as you may think, or you find someone who can do it for you.




4. Set Your Alarm for Saturday Morning

Garage sales are a staple experience for the hardcore bargain hunter as these typically start at dawn and everything must go. Many sellers are anxious to get rid of grandma’s old stuff or travel light to their next destination, so there’s plenty of stuff to peruse. Look carefully, as merchandising is not part of the experience, so a careful eye is needed to spot treasures. A table used to hold video games and silverware may be just the one you need as a side table in the kitchen.




5. A Little More Work May Be Needed…

Once you’ve found a piece you cannot live without, it may need some elbow grease to scrub up its real beauty. It may just need a good cleaning and oil for moisture, and replacing drawer pulls and hinges is really easy and very inexpensive. If fact, replacing pulls can add a whole new dimension as you can choose just about any color or design which fits the space. If a piece has some deep scratches, you may need to get some wood putty and look at refinishing or painting. However, the more work you put into it, the more it belongs to you and becomes your creation. And you will end up with a wonderfully crafted piece no one else has.





Images used with permission, courtesy of and

Next: The Importance of Good Decor: In Defense of Uncomfortable Furniture