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The hardware store is daunting to many of us because of its size and massive inventory of goods. It's often rare to spend less than an hour at these stores, let alone buy all the correct items. That being said, hardware stores can be hidden gems for finding beautiful items for the home. We've asked interior designers for their best advice when navigating the secret realms of the hardware store, from finding the right product to creating unique projects.
Come Equipped with a Well-Researched List of Items
Don't wait until you are at the store to determine exactly what you need. It's important to know the exact make, model, and a number of what you need to save yourself the extra headache—the item you usually buy may not be as recognizable as you'd think in a sea of similar options. If you can't find what you're looking for, hardware store employees are very knowledgeable and will be able to help you locate what you need. It's also worth checking the stock of your local store online before heading out. If the stock looks low, call ahead and double-check they actually have what you need.
If you're installing something yourself, don't skip the fine print. Make sure you have all the parts, and tools, you need before going into the store in case you need to stock up on additional items. Open all packaging to double-check you have the necessary tools, and add any you don't have to your shopping list.
"I can tell you from first-hand experience that the best shoppers always came prepared with a list," Tiffany Piotrowski of Tiffany Leigh Design says. "A list helps you stay on task, stay focused, plan a route through the store, and ensures that you don't get home only to realize you forgot to grab something you needed for your project. Bring some inspiration photos as well so you can stick to your vision rather than end up sidetracked by a tempting sale you'll regret later."
When in Doubt, Get More than You Need
Whether you are picking up gardening supplies, tools, or parts, stock up with more than you need if there's any doubt. If you don't know the exact size needed for an item like a screw or a lightbulb, get a size up and a size down. It's less frustrating to have to return items later than to return back immediately because you made a wrong guess. Big box hardware stores like Lowes and Home Depot have a lenient return policy where you can return almost anything, including opened packages. Just be sure to double-check store policies and save those receipts!
Make Friends with the Employees
"If you're shopping for a specific project, come with a list, and don't be afraid to ask for help," Jessica Davis of Atelier Davis recommends. "Sometimes things aren't where you think they are. Like caulk could be with insulation or with painting supplies. Sand could be in the landscaping section or with concrete supplies. Salespeople can, of course, point you toward the right aisle and often have great ideas if you tell them about your project."
This may sound like common sense, but understanding your local hardware store's layout will save you both stress and time. If you are a frequent hardware store visitor, make friends with the employees. Admittedly, not everyone that works at the hardware store is going to be an expert in every field, but the majority of employees have some interest in making, gardening, or design. Seek out the employees that have been the most helpful in the past or that you frequently find in your desired areas. Even if you have done the research and know what you need, sometimes it's helpful to talk it through with someone else there.
"Always ask for help," Eddie Maestri of Maestri Studio recommends. "I don’t know how many times I’ve gone into a hardware store with the certainty of knowing exactly what I’ve wanted, but after speaking with a knowledgeable salesperson, I’ve found something even better."
Embrace Your Creative Side
Hardware stores offer so much more than just wrenches and rope. If you have the time, wandering around and seeing what is available at your local store can be an invaluable tool that can lead to unique design elements—and inspire future projects. Davis, who has her own line of hardware now called Nest Studio, approaches trips to the hardware store not as a chore but as part of her creative process.
"Don't be afraid to look around at stuff at the hardware store and imagine it as other things," says Davis. "From fencing that can be used as a modern lattice for a vine to pipes that can be used as table legs, it's like your own Lego box for real life!"
The hardware store may not be the first place we think of when it comes to outfitting our homes with beautiful finishes and appliances, however, Piotrowski says that you can get the high-end look even from a big box store. Plus, chatting with store representatives can help you learn about special-order projects to best fit your vision.
"Hardware stores sometimes get a bad rap for being home of the handyman and DIY-er, which doesn't always bring to mind a high-end look," she says. "With a little creativity and hunting, a hardware store can be a one-stop and affordable shop for everything you need for a renovation that looks straight out of a magazine."
Eddie Maestri of Maestri Studio notes that creative projects don't have to be difficult either. Stepping outside of the box can actually make your life easier, allowing you to find the most efficient options for your next endeavor.
"The secret to a hardware store is your own creativity – you can’t expect it to give you anything one of a kind. But the DIY projects don’t have to be difficult. One of my most asked about items was spraying the sometimes cheesy, sometimes fabulous pink flamingo yard ornament with gold spray paint. Everybody wanted to know where I got them, but it was easy, fast, and cheap—thanks to the hardware store down the street."
Designers Share Their Favorite Hardware Store Finds
The hardware store might not be your first thought for designer details, but there are a lot of hidden treasures if you know where to look. Here are nine designer-tested, secret sources that will prove invaluable for upgrading your home:
"If you are giving your walls a fresh coat of paint, SureSwatch will be invaluable. Instead of painting swatch colors on the wall that you'll just have to cover up later, these 9 x 12 clear film samples are paintable on one side and tacky on the other. You can stick them on the wall after painting and easily move them around the room to view the paint color in all light throughout the day. " — Sara Clark, assistant style and market editor at VERANDA
"A lot of hardware stores carry great-quality bamboo blinds, which are having a big moment in window treatments right now. It's sometimes hit-or-miss on sizing, but if you can find one that matches your window, you'll save a bundle! With the resurgence in popularity of square tile, check your local hardware store for inexpensive colored ceramic tile. You can use these affordable tiles (less than $10 per square foot) to create patterns and designs that look extremely custom!" — Tiffany Piotrowski
"I love getting rope from the hardware store whether it's manila rope for hanging a swing or wrapping an exposed radiator pipe, or nylon rope in fun colors (which I've used to hang all of my cleaning implements on the wall and create a toy storage wall for my son)." — Jessica Davis
"The perfect finishing touch is using metallic spray paint for screws – to match the brass cabinet pull, or vintage bronze fixture. Spray paint is magical." — Eddie Maestri
Stylish luxury designer paper plates and napkins are an unexpected find for outdoor entertaining according to Carole Malloy of Josephine Design House. "Ceiling medallions and fragrant candles are great items found in hardwood stores. Resin is another secret find." —Carole Malloy of Josephine Design House
"Pick up some moulding to add architectural detail to a wall that only looks expensive. Plants are also so important for adding a pop of color and bringing nature indoors, but don’t worry if you can’t commit to being a plant parent. We have faux greenery and florals that are zero-maintenance and will bring life to any space." — Caroline Harmon; Lowe’s trend strategy manager
"Always have an install kit that you regularly restock. We have bags that we take to every client installation with just about anything and everything we could possibly need. Most of these items are pretty basic but keeping them in one place and always having extras is always helpful." — Marea Clark of Marea Clark Interiors
"It can be so tempting to buy a lot of items at a hardware store that are decorative because they're easy and right there, but more specialty and decorative items should be purchased at a specialty hardware vendor." — Joyce Downing Pickens of JDP Interiors
"Treat the trip to the hardware store as an adventure. Take your time and you can always find something you didn’t realize you needed." — Mark Lavender of M. Lavender Interiors
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