lifestyled . . . thrift-chic in austin
photo source: erin williamson
Q: “I just moved to Austin, TX and bought my first place! Iʼm totally digging the thrift-chic look; do you know of any great shops or flea markets around town where I can pick stuff up?”
Congratulations and welcome to “the live music capital of the world!” I don’t live in Austin, but I have had the benefit of visiting several times for SXSW and to shoot my web series, Urban Eco. Austin is rad, I love it there. I’m sure you will too.
Thrift-chic is a look that must be carefully curated to reflect your personal interests and style. Because if it’s not, you will basically just end up with a garage sale in your living room, which is not a good look. In my opinion, the absolute best part about second-hand objects is that they come with their own personal stories and histories. Sometimes you can learn these stories through the acquisition process, like when the sweet and chatty gray-haired lady holding the yard sale tells you she got that tea set as a wedding gift when she married her first husband in 1963. Or sometimes you can see the story in the patina of wear the object showcases, like the wrinkles, age spots, and calluses on hard-working hands. In essence, these objects have personality and character, and can bring as much depth and sophistication to your decor as Dieter Rams could to your cocktail party. I like to think of thrift stores, estate sales, and the like as “orphanages for objects.” My sole purpose is to find the cast-off treasure that speaks to me so I can love it up and give it a good home.
You should be aware that expert thrifting is an ongoing process. Unlike Ikea, you cannot outfit a whole house in one frustrated and dehydrated day of lugging, unboxing, and allen wrench-twisting. It’s a hobby, a beloved pastime. It involves patience and a lot of hunting and gathering in order to collect a mix of objects of which you love both the look and the utility, and in the best cases, that mix is constantly evolving; editing out tired pieces and rotating in new-used pieces. Sometimes your adoptees will need a little tlc and/or repair; that is part of the joy of parenthood. Be careful though, not to clean them up too much, or you will remove some of the expressive charm, much like pumping grandma so full of botox that she can’t even wink at you anymore.
Ok, soapboxing out of the way, I will commence with the goods:
The Thrift: (kinda like the grift, but more pawn, less con) Guidelines to keep in mind
-Old people have the good stuff, and usually charge “historic” (as in from 1975) prices. Learn where the retirement communities are and look for garage sales, estate sales, and thrift stores in their area.
-Rich people give a lot of good loot, in good condition, to charity. Look for charity-based thrift stores in wealthier neighborhoods. This is not a secret, the re-salers prowl these places daily. The secret is to go there often, play the odds.
-Veer from the beaten path and venture out into the sticks. You will find one-off church resale shops and veteran thrifts that do not get traversed as readily by the trendy vintage whores and resalers that live in the city.
-Scour the internet and weekly circulars for estate sales. These can be a great place to bulk-buy many cohesive objects. Unlike garage sales where people are unloading a hodgepodge of unwanted fax machines and popcorn poppers, estate sales are usually the liquidation of a whole household worth of furniture, art, and housewares.
-Get an app for your mobile phone. I have iGarageSale, it’s pretty great for making the Saturday-morning garage sale circuit much more efficient and productive.
-Learn to recognize the sale type from the drive-by. You will save a boat load of time not parking and getting out of the car just by recognizing a meth-head sale, or a “don’t-need-this-all-this-baby-stuff-anymore-highchair-and-stroller” sale.
-Talk to people. Befriend the volunteers at thrift stores, church shops, and garage sales. They will like you, and you will learn more about the objects you’re purchasing. Plus, it will make the whole process more enjoyable. There are a lot of interesting folks out there! Also, bonus, they may remember you and give you a heads up when they have a lead on something you may like.
-Bring cash. Haggle a bit. If you’re negotiating for a higher ticket item or a batch of goods, you can often offer them a “package price” in cash that is lower than what they would take for a check, cc, or paypal. This is especially the case at mom n’ pop resale shops.
-Look for collectors, eccentrics and hoarders—they frequently place ads in weeklies and craigslist that you can learn to recognize. Usually a great source for specific and/or obscure finds, but keep in mind that often they plan to sell the item but have a hard time parting with it. You may have to do some convincing, and in my experience, it’s usually not about the money . . . it’s about sharing a passion for the object, or some untold character assessment, so be nice and get to know them a little if you really want it.
-Architectural Salvage—look into it for beautiful door knobs, light fixtures, towel bars, etc. It’s more for the stuff that gets installed as opposed to placed, but it’s an important resource for hardware and accessories that can carry your look through to the bone, as opposed to skin-deep.
I don’t live in Austin, but some of the coolest people I know do, so I hit them up for some insider intel.
My friend Elaine Holton (has incredible style, trust me you can see her in episodes 1 and 5 of Urban Eco) says that Top Drawer Thrift is a hidden treasure. Added bonus, it benefits Project Transitions, the non-profit AIDS organization for which she is a volunteer and outreach and media coordinator. www.projecttransitions.org.
According to her, Treasure City Thrift is a lovely spot. Has regular 25 cent sales, but that’s mostly clothes and shoes. (Sometimes those can be decorations, you know?)
My dear friend from grad school, the talented and stylish Jennifer Prichard (who also happens to be the most amazing ceramic artist, www.jpricharddesign.com) seconds Treasure City, and also recs Texas Thrift Store, the Lake Austin Goodwill on Newman Drive, and City-Wide Garage Sale, which is held about monthly at the Palmer Events Center.
I suggest you join krrb www.krrb.com. Modern Ink’s own Andrew Wagner is the director of krrb, and when he says it’s like a hyper-local, way more neighborly version of craigslist, I hear, “less OBO and more ‘to a good home.’” That’s the way I like it. Uh huh, uh huh.