— Rachel Elmkies
You won’t always find the perfect antique side table or the china collection of your dreams on your flea market adventure. Even if you do, nearly every thrifted gem requires a little TLC. The best thrifters have a third eye that sees any piece for what it is, but also what it could be. Here, we’ll help you zero in on the most practical finds with the highest potential for storage and decoration. Watch for these 10 underrated staples on your next hunt.
1. Table Legs
On their own, table legs don’t seem like much. Who wants pizza without cheese? Sonny without Cher? But we all have at least one surface at home that needs only legs to become a table or shelf. And unless you go super trendy (read: hairpin legs), you’re likely to get a great deal.
2. Picture Frames
Even if you’re not in love with a picture that’s for sale, its frame alone could be worth the price tag. An older, ornate frame can add character to an all-IKEA gallery wall. Remember that a simple coat of paint can fix any finish and unify your find with frames you already have on display at home.
Related: 5 Things to Do With…Picture Frames
If you have clutter, you need crates. Use them as cheap, stackable storage in your garage, basement, attic, or shed. Wooden crates offer serious repurposing potential as tables or planters. If you’re lucky enough to find one that has unique vintage branding, you might even opt to use it as open shelving.
Related: 8 New Ways to Use Old Wooden Crates
4. Dishes and Cutlery
If they’re in good condition, dishware and cutlery are just one washing away from being at home in your kitchen. Already have a full set of dishes? Hang ornate plates on the wall for display, and repurpose small bowls and teacups as junk drawer organizers, planters, or light fixtures.
Related: 8 Brilliant Ways to Reinvent Your Dinnerware
Trunks have vintage appeal, but they’re also practical—especially for small spaces. Use one as a footer for the bed to hold extra pillowcases and blankets. You can even add a few chair cushions on top to turn this storage unit into extra seating—guests will never know they’re sitting on the mess you threw inside to clean up before they arrived.
Fabrics are a safe bet at flea markets and secondhand shops. Wash them to use as guest blankets, or frame patterned or embroidered fabric to make a low-cost wall hanging. Before buying, sniff the fabric for offensive odors—but try not to face the seller while you’re burying your face in the goods. While you’re at it, check for rips, cigarette burns, and stains.
Before you buy, always ask yourself: Is it worth the work to bring it back to life? Look for high-quality materials like leather and wood, and check for structural stability. If you’re interested in a chair, ask the buyer if you can sit in it, then rock around a bit when they’re not looking. You can always repaint or reupholster, but factor in those costs before committing.
8. Cast-Iron Cookware
New cast-iron pots and pans can cost a fortune. The good news? Because they’re classics, you can almost always pick them up secondhand for less. Sure, they’re heavy enough to double as a weapon against home intruders, but cast-iron pots and pans will last you a lifetime.
Related: Kitchen Envy: 10 Rooms We Love
Like whiskey and wine, leather ages well. Vendors specializing in fabric and leather goods run curated shops and know the true value of their items, so expect them to reject low-ball offers. You’ll find the real deals when leather goods are piled in mixed lots.
Don’t discount the humble drawer. Even when separated from their dresser, solid wood drawers are repurposing gold. Outside, they make sturdy planters. Indoors, they are easily transformed into ottomans, jewelry organizers, or shelves. Better yet, attach those table legs you picked up earlier for a crafty nightstand.