Home & Garden

House of bargains

Amy Philipp was eager for a change when she and her family traded their classic Cotswold ranch for a funkier mid-century modern home three streets down last year.

Out went Philipp's traditional upholstered furniture, the pine armoire, the formal living and dining room sets.

What she craved was a more streamlined look: furniture with cleaner lines, rooms free of knick-knacks, and spaces with classic 1950s and '60s pieces sprinkled about.

But she didn't have a lot of money to spend. And she didn't want her home to have a “designer showroom” feel.

So instead of hitting the furniture stores, she made rounds in what some consider their dumping grounds – area thrift stores and antique malls.

It's taken some time, but she's unearthed some treasures and takes pleasure in her home's uniqueness as well as the piles of cash she's saved. An added bonus: she's recycling someone else's castaways instead of buying new pieces.

“In America, we're such consumers, so it's nice to be able to use something again instead of tossing it in the landfill,” said Philipp, 41, director of recruiting and development at Charlotte Latin School.

And she's picked up a new hobby.

“The hunt is kind of fun,” she grins. “There's some satisfaction as well – achieving a goal for so much less. Why would you want to pay full price if you didn't have to?”

Pamela Cole Harris, who writes a guide to budget decorating for the New York Times Company Web site about.com, says second-hand stores are great places to find wonderful buys.

“Look for well-made, solid wood furniture with dove-tailed drawer construction,” she told the Observer. “Even if it's in pieces, it's worth putting together again. Avoid furniture that is put together with staples, particle board, and cardboard.”

Bargains throughout

Philipp says she shops with a critical eye to keep from picking up pieces that would clutter her rooms or look out of place.

Step through the front door into her living room, and bargains are right there.

Flanking her sectional sofa is a pair of step side tables, identical to ones she was eyeing in a West Elm furniture catalog for $159 each. Her price for gently worn, solid wood ones at the Salvation Army on Central Avenue: $16 apiece.

Then there's the cream-colored sofa in a TV nook, which she bought for $95 at the Habitat ReStore on Wendover Road. Another $140 paid for steam cleaning and a Scotchguard treatment, and the result is a down-filled sofa that looks good as new. A couple of pillows from Marshalls jazz it up even more.

Across from the sofa is a 1950s Bassett console for her TV. It cost $100 at the Habitat ReStore.

“I think a lot of people would walk in there and walk right out,” because it's not laid out prettily, Philipp says of the Habitat ReStore.

Philipp's finds have benefitted the whole family, from husband Keith's '50s-style long and narrow office desk to a handsome bureau for 6-year-old son Ford. A recent trip to the Habitat ReStore netted a solid wood headboard – the perfect canvas for 17-year-old daughter Anna Moore's artwork.

Several of her finds, such as those in her dining area, have come from the Sleepy Poet Antique Mall on South Boulevard where her dad, Phillip Gerdes, runs two booths.

She “funked up” a pair of Victorian glass and gold lamps ($45 at Sleepy Poet) for each side of the sideboard by adding modern shades. And although she's averse to trinkets, Philipp fell in love with a large wooden box with the words “New Home” inlaid into its front.

“Maybe one day I'll find out the story behind it,” she said.