Thrifting for the Cause

By Kate Riley February 17, 2014

Hello everyone, I hope you’re relaxing on this three day weekend here in the States. We spent some time on Saturday in San Francisco at a friend’s wedding and enjoyed an evening stroll, it was unusually warm and we walked through a neighborhood filled with homes with classic architecture, it reminded me I really need to photograph some of those beauties in the various neighborhoods soon.

Last week I did some serious treasure hunting at thrift stores for a great cause. We’re so excited to be jumping back into our philanthropic efforts with the Alma Project. Last week I met with the Director of Housing for our local Committee on the Shelterless and the request was a big one: furnish and decorate an entire house including a family room, dining room, and 4 bedrooms by early summer. [For those unfamiliar with our Alma Project efforts, you can read all about our remodeling projects here.] For me, there’s nothing better than decorating with style on a budget for our favorite charity so I wholeheartedly welcomed the challenge! 

This home’s purpose will serve single adults transitioning from the homeless shelter so the need is for double and twin beds for each bedroom. The Angel of Amazing Thrift Store Prices was hovering over my shoulder as I hit up my favorite local stops and scored some really great finds. (For locals, the Sacks on Liberty Street in Petaluma has some great scores from time to time.)

price tag

I explained the cause to the manager of another one of my favorite thrift stores, the St. Vincent de Paul in Rohnert Park, CA and he gave me a bigger discount on a furniture sale so I saved a ton by being in the right place at the right time. 

I bought two blonde wood full/double headboards, one for $10 and another for $13 – the one in the rear is a basic wood headboard that I will either upholster or add molding to similar to the ones below.

jenny lind style headboard

 headboard makeover options

tobi fairley / ana white


The second full headboard is a Jenny Lind spool style with spindles that will look fab painted a bright color or perhaps something more neutral or even just white. 

aqua painted jenny lind

land of nod


I could not pass up this four poster bed, I think some Restore-A-Finish will bring it back to life. After the discount this was $40, which is such a deal given that similar pineapple finial poster beds sell for hundreds of dollars at auction or in antique stores.

pineapple finial antique poster bed


I got lucky with this find, a full/queen headboard in perfect condition for $20!

mahogany headboard


The classic silhouette will look fantastic with new linens, I’m inspired by these two traditional looks below.

classic headboards

better homes & gardens / joss & main


I also snagged this solid wood dresser for $45 that is unfortunately missing some of the pulls. Too bad about the hardware and it has that speckled 1970s finish up close. I’m on the fence whether to leave it because it looks good from a distance and just replace pulls, or paint it off white like this. Still debating.

classic wood dresser


I bought four chairs for $60 for the set for the dining room, I just love the shape of the backs.

four dining chairs


I’ll have to think about a paint color + fun fabric combination for the set, but they definitely will be a cheerful yet chic combo like these below. 

painted shield back chairs

the everygirl / eddie ross x 2


These navy blue velvet chairs were $40 for the set of two, they’re in excellent condition and will just need a good steam cleaning. I’m thinking I’ll use them as accent chairs in a living room or split them up between bedrooms.

blue velvet chairs


I also hopped onto Craigslist and discovered these two mid century dressers. I went to see them yesterday and while I LOVE the lines unfortunately they’re covered in a milky mid tone faux wood veneer, and the drawers are not real wood, much to my dismay.

mid century dresser 1

mid century dresser 2


I’m a huge fan of the two tone look for midcentury furniture (remember this chest) and I love what Reeves did with this dresser below.  

mid century dresser makeover the weathered door

By the way if you love furniture makeovers as much as I do, Reeves is a 19 year old college student with a great eye, see all of her impressive before and afters at her blog The Weathered Door.

The outside frames can be painted but the drawers are pressboard covered in a thin faux wood grain veneer so as much as I wanted to sand them and stain the drawer fronts it’s not possible unless I remove the old veneer and cover them in new dark walnut veneer (which I have never done but I’m dying to try).

drawer front

I’m storing all of the above in my garage, thankfully I have an understanding husband who is willing to sacrifice parking and tolerate my thrift store furniture hoarding for the cause :)  I’m really so excited to be decorating a house for our local COTS, and the word from the director is there will be more houses (up to five!) to tackle later this year, so there is much for me to do!

I’ll be rounding up some brand sponsors to contribute additional furnishings and linens. I’ll share the spaces in their before state in a few weeks and the furniture and room makeovers over the next few months. We’re planning on an open house in late May or early June so if you’re local we’d love to meet you!  

Now about those two mid century dressers, the owner is holding them for me for 24 hours, what say you, should I snag them for $100 each, yay or nay? 



  1. Awesome finds! I am always so impressed with bloggers’ thrift store finds in the U.S.. Here in Canada (near Toronto, at least) it is much harder to find a great piece at a great price. Grrrrr.

    Can’t wait to see these spaces.

  2. I can’t wait to see all the projects, love what you do for the Alma project. I say Nay on the dressers, you found such great deals on everything else, I think you’ll find some better dressers too.

  3. What a great cause, and I love those headboards you found! I am never that lucky when I hit the thrift shops. By the way, I am in the states, and the only people I know with today off are in banking. The rest of us are working today, and no schools are closed. No three day weekend for us, boo hoo.

  4. What a great cause, a definite way of using your wonderful talent to help out! As for the dressers, I’d wait, I think that price can go much lower still. Good luck!

  5. I say nay on the dressers also. I think you’ll find something you’ll feel better about. Your such a great ‘deal’ shopper! I love how you re-do furniture and cant wait to see it all!

  6. What great finds. I’m never this lucky. I still can’t get over both sets of chairs that you found. I can’t wait to see what you do with them. So many possibilities.

  7. I would pass, especially if the drawers are not real wood. The price is too high.
    Love that you are supporting this cause, I’d love to get involved in something similar in my hometown of Lafayette, LA. I’ll start doing some research…even if we could donate just a few items.

  8. I’ve had some great luck bringing to live veneered furniture but I only attempt it if the rest of the piece is made in a quality way. So nay to the dressers. Sound like a wonderful project and cause. Bless you for taking on the challenge.

  9. Wow, you’ve scored some great furniture so far! The beds are going to be especially gorgeous. I like the lines of the mid century dressers too and I know you could work your magic with them. Have you tried seeing if the owner will go down a bit in price? I’ve learned that it never hurts to ask. Such a great cause you are doing this for! Great job!

    • Hi Tamara, I’ve already worked her down to $100 from $150 but it doesn’t hurt to try again!

  10. Nay as well on the dressers. You already have a lot of work ahead of you, those would probably eat away your time. Keep looking I say! Love all your finds. They are going to look fabulous when you are done. Can’t wait!

  11. I bought these same pieces 52 years ago and still using them. They have traveled from Illinois to S Carolina and back. I say yea you might just try to bargain with dealer. There is also a head & foot board that goes with this set and I have a mirror for my dresser. It could be placed on the side or in the middle of the dresser I think this is Kroehler Furniture. Recheck the drawers mine are wood.

    • Thank you Dixie, this is a different brand I’m going to email the seller again to find out but sadly these drawers aren’t real wood which is a bummer. Glad to know you have some beauties!

  12. Great finds. Wonderful things you guys do. Probably nay on the dressers, you will find something better. Will you set up a donation area?

  13. I love all your finds! You have such a good eye. I say “nay” on the dressers. There are better ones out there.

  14. hi Kate,
    Long time reader, but I don’t think I’ve ever commented! Just writing to say that I admire your longstanding work with the Alma Project–what a meaningful way to help make other people’s spaces calm, beautiful, and orderly.
    Also, no on the dressers. Solid wood dressers can be found for less than $100. There’s no immediate rush (and I think the veneer is hideous…and cardboard drawers are awful.) By the way, gorgeous navy chairs. I wish I had those!

    • Thanks so much Michelle and everyone, you’ve got me leaning no which is a relief since I have PLENTY to do with the other pieces :)

  15. The dressers look good but the price is too high if they are $100 each ..? It all depends if these type of pieces come along occasionally or once in a blue moon via craigslist or elsewhere. if the drawers go in & out smoothly then does it matter if they are not wood unless these will not last long ?

  16. I say Nay on the dressers. You will totally find something better! You are really great at finding such good things!

    I will say ack!! those are the chairs that I want. I would totally paint the navy blue to like a dark orangey pimento color to match my living room. One day I WILL find those chairs here in the chicagoland area! I already have my flokati pillows just waiting to be all nice and snug in them. hmmm a girl can dream right????

  17. Love this idea – so much fun. I think you can do better on the dressers. I bought mid-century dressers with real wood veneer (real wood handles though!) for $35 each. I was able to sand and re-stain and they’re beautiful.

  18. I say nay on the two mid century dressers – they just don’t have the quality there it seems. Thank you so much for the shout out! You are so kind, I really appreciate it :)

  19. I think you can do better on the mid-century dressers as well! I found matching pineapple finial poster beds for my girls for a steal and can’t wait to refinish them when my youngest is out of her crib I am in Northern California as well and I seriously need to check out Sacks in Petalulma!
    xo, Jennifer

  20. You might try faux vinyl wood for the drawer fronts on the dressers. I believe, they come in custom sizes. I recently ordered some samples from them, and they’re surprisingly realistic and easy to apply.

  21. I also say nay on the dressers. Because there will be so many occupants using the drawers, I think solid, all-wood construction is the best bet (even if it means sacrificing a little style for quality). What a great cause and congratulations on being chosen to work on the project! By the way, I love, love, love those navy velvet accent chairs. I have been searching for a similar style for a while in retail stores, but perhaps I should send a prayer to the Thrift Angels and start looking in my local thrift stores.

    • Thanks so much everyone, I’ve decided to pass on the dressers, I really appreciate your input!

  22. Wow, girl, you hit the mother lode! I haven’t had that kind of thrifting success in quite awhile, but you are inspiring me to get back out there! Such a wonderful cause, The Alma Project, I sure wish I was closer so I could help! :)

  23. Really great finds. I’m sad about the local thrift scene. It’s very 80’s modern stuff at very high prices. Ashley lacquered bedroom sets with mirror inlays- $900. Really? lol

  24. I painted,similar dressers that were also wood veneer with Annie Sloan chalk paint . It looks fabulous and very up to date. I used a grey with a white wash.

  25. Good job on all your finds. I’d pass on the dressers. Unless you have some cool wallpaper and put that on the drawer fronts. The price is still too high.

  26. The chairs were total scores– all of them! I’ve been scouting dining chairs for awhile and never find any that gorgeous. Thanks for all you do for charity. It’s wonderful to see people use their talents to do good in this world!

  27. I’m super excited to hear that you are tackling more ALMA houses. I am always willing to help contribute sweat equity again.. Just say the word and I’ll drive up! <3

  28. Great post. My local Habitat for Humanity Restore is a goldmine for me on deals ike this. I say nay on the dressers to use as dressers with the drawers — but if the “bones” are good, maybe use as shelves with baskets or another type storage unit.

  29. Nay on dressers: $100 each is too much for what they are, the shape they’re in. And, dressers get a lot of use so need to be well made, durable to be serviceable. Love your involvement in this cause.

  30. Oh, I can’t wait to see what you do with all your treasures and you certainly got your answer on the dressers. :)

    Since you still have plenty of time and you don’t need them immediately, you can definitely do better. Now if he caves after a few weeks and gives them to you for $50, then that’s a plan. :)

  31. If you’re hesitant, it’s because something else better is out there wanting to be a part of this wonderful project. I’d work on the other items and wait it out for better finds.

  32. Have you thought of covering the dresser drawer fronts in a durable grasscloth type wallpaper or a durable fabric? Taking the veneer off and all that just seems like a lot of work. I know I’ve seen examples of people covering furniture with fabric and using nailheads/upholstery tacs to create an accent design.

    Looking forward to seeing all your transformations.

  33. I eagerly look forward to the series of posts this house will generate. This is actually I think my favorite thing that you do. I also really enjoy the posts over at Design indulgence on similar families-people-in -transition houses in the Atlanta area. It’s just so interesting to see the really charming results despite the very limited budgets. It is also good to think about the people who are going to be living there. I think this is so wonderful.

  34. Everything you bought is so awesome EXCEPT those mid-century dressers. And, the seller wants WAY TOO MUCH for those. I would either ask for a drastic discount, or pass them up. You can find better quality stuff at your other stores, which you’ve already proved to us anyway. Wish I could spend more time away from the office and working on a worthwhile project like that!! Best of luck to you!!

  35. Nay on the dressers. Your project for them sounds neat but don’t think they’re worth the effort. You’ll be plenty busy with your other projects and probably more shopping and more work for a May/June showing. While you’re working on them, the right dressers will find you.

    Such a great project – made me think of the Project Row Houses program in Houston, TX (my hometown) and their Young Mother’s Program started back in 1993 by a young African-American artist/activist in Houston’s Third Ward. What a neat way to give back to the community. I still hope to work on a Habitat for Humanity housing project – slightly different focus but still that opportunity to give back in a creatively fulfilling way. Good luck – looking forward to the “reveal” in May or June.

  36. I love the furniture and cant wait to see what you do with them! In that spirit, I say “yea” to the dressers…. If anyone can re-create them, you can!

  37. Katie I will be interested on what you do with the headboards. My aunt left me set just like the one you got that has been damaged by my mother’s walker and have thought about painting it, it is cherry right now. It’s over fifty years old. What do you think?

    • Hi Nancy, it depends on the damage – sometimes you can sand away minor scratches and restain, but you can always repair with wood glue and wood filler, then paint!

  38. What an exciting but awesomely huge project! I wish you all the best for it. Really looking forward to seeing the results.

    Looks like you found some amazing thrift pieces. It goes to show that you need to look past how it looks in the thrift store and think creatively about how it can be transformed.

  39. Glad you didn’t buy the dressers. You got fabulous buys and nothing at those prices at thrift stores here in Vancouver B.C.

  40. Awesome finds!

    Can I just say that it seems like every time I am perusing Pinterest, I always unknowingly end up pinning things that are from you. Just wanted to say that you have great taste!

  41. Wow! I need to come up there and go thrifting! Great job with all those finds!

    I’d be leery about upholstering the headboard…unless you do it in pleather. With all the people who will be coming in and out, I feel like sweat/head grease stains would quickly ruin a fabric headboard.

    As always your Alma projects are among my favorites on your blog. Can’t wait to see what you do!

  42. I never find fabulous things at thrift stores either. And I’m in AZ. First of all everything is junk, and if it’s NOT, the prices are way too high. Especially on Craigslist. Surprised you find such deals near San Francisco. Oh, and while our kids were off from school, hubby had to work.

  43. Please don’t paint that solid wood dresser! The wood grain is too awesome to cover up

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