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How to Decorate Your NYC Apartment on a Budget with Street-Scavenged Gems and Vintage Trésor

Summary

I come from a family of expert-level dumpster-divers and road-pickers. My grandfather once found two flat-screen TVs on the side of a road in his neighborhood in Florida. He picked them up, put them in his car, and drove home—where […]

I come from a family of expert-level dumpster-divers and road-pickers.

My grandfather once found two flat-screen TVs on the side of a road in his neighborhood in Florida. He picked them up, put them in his car, and drove home—where he set them up in separate rooms, so that he and my grandma could watch their different soap operas every night, in peace. 

The next day, my grandpa walked up to the house where he’d found the TVs—then knocked on the door and asked for the remotes. 

Looking at the cast-off or once-loved/now abandoned objects in alleys and stoops and dusty thrift store shelves and seeing possibility— this is a trait that runs in my family. Moving into a new apartment after graduating from college meant beginning a new chapter, as an official adult—and wanting an official, adult apartment. For me, this meant spending my entire summer searching for cheap furniture and sorting out how I wanted my apartment to look. Here’s how I did it, with a mix of tried-and-true online and NYC shops.

Mother of Junk ($)
567 Driggs Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Junk is the ultimate spot in Brooklyn for well-priced treasures. I mean, I grew up upstate, so I know I could find almost everything in their store for half the price back home, but within the five boroughs? This place is a goldmine. 

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Skip it if you’re not in the mood to hunt: I’ve found all of my gems here by trial-and-error: rifling through painting after painting, stepping on glass on the second floor, and going to the store at least once a week for a month. Unfortunately for those of us inclined toward wheelin’ and dealin’, they do not like when you try to bargain or bundle. I’ve tried.

I got these three framed exhibition prints, which fit perfectly on the wall above my couch and dining set. 

Habitat for Humanity ($)
6201 Northern Blvd, Queens, NY 11377

Habitat for Humanity, although better upstate, is great for used furniture—and they have a store in Queens! Everything here is sold to support their nonprofit work, through which volunteers build affordable homes for families in need. 

At Habitat, I purchased a large mantle, which I later painted white. I also picked up a lamp, a record player, a midcentury dresser, a picture, and a frame.

Dobbins St. Co-Op ($$$)
310 Graham Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Dobbin’s Street Vintage Co-Op is a dream. It’s not cheap, but the prices are reasonable for what they are selling, which is amazing vintage furniture. I often go just to look and dream big, big interior-decorating dreams.

Remix Market  ($$)
33-56 11th St, Queens, NY 11106

Located in Astoria, Remix is a small store with a wide variety of home goods—plus they’re super active on Instagram, so it’s easy to stay up to date. I have had success bundling here—like with a recent purchase of a dresser, lamp, and painting, all for under $100. Remix also gets five stars for its friendly workers, who won’t mind helping you load furniture into an Uber. 

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ONLINE ONLY

Facebook Marketplace 

The only reason I have not deleted my Facebook is because of its online market. Sometimes before bed, I’ll go on just to see what people around me are selling: I’ve found mushroom lamps, mirrors, couches, and everything else under the sun. (Often, the good vintage furniture is in New Jersey.) If you’re looking for a cheap coffee table or armchair, have at it, and make offers fast—most people here are moving and want to get rid of their items quickly. 

We got this cute little yellow chair, which fits perfectly in our dining room, for free!

Craigslist

Craigslist: Scary, yet some amazing finds, like beautiful vintage speaker systems, record players, dining room tables, and more. We purchased a green chair here—barely used and in perfect condition, for $100! 

OfferUp

Offerup may very well have the cheapest furniture online—check it out if you’re not on Facebook. I expect the prices here to be half what they are at a shop like Remix. 

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Etsy

Etsy has everything: If you can’t find what you’re looking at the shops above, Etsy will have it—whether it’s the perfect grandma-style afghan or a vintage exhibition print. Etsy is full of small vintage shops from all over the world, and many are reasonably priced. If something’s still too much, message the seller and share your budget—it doesn’t hurt to try! 

StoopingNYC

Last but not least: my favorite instagram account. StoopingNYC posts free stuff from the sidewalk daily—like perfect-condition dressers and couches that (probably) don’t have bed bugs. Personally: I would think twice about taking upholstered furniture from the side of the street—but hey, that’s up to you, and my grandpa would totally do it. 

Be careful if you follow this account—it is difficult missing out on exceptional pieces. 

I found a mirror and frame on the sidewalk—I painted it a butter yellow!

While I was at it, I also painted my pot holder and the outer glass that holds my candle in a messy white and yellow check. 

Happy treasure hunting and make sure you bring a friend with you to pick up anything. Wear a mask, and be smart!

What’s the greatest thing you’ve found for cheap or on the side of the street?

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