Furnish Your Place on the Cheap -

I needed to sell my condo.The real estate agent was reassuring; even in this market, it can be done, she said. There are still buyers out there.Then she saw the place. "This furniture....mmm," she said, looking over my collection of orange and blue mid-century chairs and tables, painstakingly collected through years of Ebay-trolling. All of it dinged and worn; mint Eames and Knoll are beyond the reach of the average single girl."It's very, very....interesting. Personally, I like it," she said diplomatically."But it won't sell."So there it was: I had to find an apartment's worth of buyer-friendly furniture. In a month. For as close to no cash as possible. Closings aren't cheap.Furniture, even small pieces, can be budget-breakingly expensive. But if you're willing to work a little, you can find it for much less than you'd pay at a furniture store or via catalog. (Or even at a high-design, low-cost chain like Ikea or Target -- they're great, but if you're counting every penny, you can do better.)None of these venues offer warrantees, nice packaging, delivery service or the range of choice you'll find in a store. They are not convenient. But they are cheap.The attics of family and friendsBy far the most economical place to pick up a few tables, chairs or bookshelves is among the discards of your nearest and dearest. Not to worry if the finish on that chair that's been sitting in grandma's damp basement is worn: About $5 buys you a can of all-purpose spray-paint, which hides a multitude of sins. (Remember to sand everything before you spray, and learn from my mistake: Spray paint outdoors. Accidental graffiti on kitchen cabinets is not a good look.) Try Krylon brand spray paint, available at Michael's and Ace Hardware stores --it adheres to anything, including metal and plastic. Tip: The darker the paint color, the better it is at hiding irregularities you can't sand out.If you'd rather keep the look of wood, try a product called McFate's Restorz-It: Available only online at restorzit.com, this is a varnish that doesn't require you to strip furniture before it's applied. It's pricey -- $49.95 a bottle -- but one bottle can gloss up a kitchen's worth of cabinetry, or a whole apartment's worth of furniture. I was skeptical, but the stuff lives up to its billing: Nicks, scratches and watermarks on old wood disappeared, or at least receded, under this thick, satin-finish coating.The attics of strangersSpring and summer are high seasons for garage sales -- check the classifieds, keep tabs on estate sale websites like njestateandmovingsales.com, or just drive around the neighborhood. Better yet, drive around a really expensive neighborhood, where the discards are often surprisingly high-end. Go early to get the best stuff. Bring cash, a large vehicle and a strong friend -- you never know when you'll find, as I did, a gorgeous cream-linen-covered armchair for a mere $70 at a house sale in ritzy Millburn. (Price for a similar armchair covered in poly at Target: $239.99.)Craig's ListProbably the best furniture bargain on the web is this location-specific website (craigslist.com) where millions of folks cleaning out their houses post pictures of the furniture they're giving away for a song -- and sometimes less. (While eBbay charges to post items for sale, Craig's List postings are free and dazzlingly simple to use -- so older folks getting rid of half a century's worth of stuff as they downsize are more likely to post here.) For the best deals, check out the "free stuff" listings under the "for sale" category. As I type, there are current listings for a free desk, night stand, chest of drawers, a love-seat and even a kitchen stove in the Northern New Jersey Craig's List "free stuff" posts. It may not be glamorous furniture, but it's a lot cheaper to buy, say, a love seat slipcover for $49 at Target, than to buy the love seat itself. And throw pillows do wonders.Consignment storesThey're not just for clothing any more! Consigned furniture tends to be nicer than garage sale or Craig's List discards -- since the proprietor has a stake in selling it -- and still cheaper than almost any furniture bought new. At C. J.'s Furniture Consignment on Bloomfield Avenue in Fairfield (973-444-3533), I found a dining room table and four chairs -- dark wood with cream upholstery seats -- for $140. (Cheapest wood table and chair set at Ikea: $149.95 -- but that's for unfinished wood, and chairs without upholstery.) Sure, there were some less-than-shiny spots in the finish of my new tabletop.That's what tablecloths are for.

Furnish Your Place on the Cheap - 1

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