Estate Sale Shopping 101

Estate sales are where I do alot of my shopping these days.  I used to go to more garage sales because estate sales, for some reason, seemed . . . intimidating! But, after a year or so now I’ve learned that shopping estate sales gives me so much more bang for my buck that going garage sale-ing.  Sometimes I have to go to 5,6,7,10 garage sales before I find even one thing.  The great advantage of estate sales is that most often you can see pictures of their inventory online beforehand and get a great idea of if it a sales you would like to visit.

There are a few things I’ve learned though in my process from being an intimidated estate sale shopper to a confidant one,  and I’d like to share those with you today.


1.  Know how to find them.

There are great online sites that catalog ongoing and future estate sales.  I use and can search by my zip code.  Craigslist will often have estate sales listed under the “garage sale” tag.  Check your local paper too, they are a great place to find those smaller, family-run sales that often offer great deals.

2. Bring Cash

That’s probably obvious, but many of us are not used to carrying hundreds of dollars in cash around with us when we’re out.  Many estate sale companies will accept credit cards, but trust me, cash always wins in bargaining.

3.  Know what to buy at estate sales, and what not to buy at them.

In my experience, estate sales are terrible places to buy anything French Provincial, collectible china and glassware, and silverplate.  Estate sale companies know dealers can make a quick profit on those items and they are usually priced sky high. Wait for Joe and Susie who live down the street to sell Great Aunt Marge’s old tarnished silver teapot at their garage sale instead.  They’ll only ask $5 because they just see it as old and damaged.

Estate sales are great places to buy old books (read about how I use old books in my decor here and here), vintage ephemera, family photos, sheet music, picture frames, and old garden supplies and implements.



4. Never buy anything one day 1 of a sale.  

In my experience, estate sales are generally way overpriced.  But, they always discount as the sale goes on.  Very little goes full price on the first day.  The final day is most usually 50% off of all items, and I’ve even stumbled upon one in its final hours where everything was 90% off.  Especially for furniture, wait until the discount days.  The great majority of it will still be around then and you’ll pay a much more fair price.


5.  Take advantage of your tax exempt status, if you have it.

Estate sales generally charge sales tax, and some will nicely offer a simple sign-up sheet where you can leave your business name and state sales tax ID number.  After running into a few though who refused to accept just my number, I now keep with me printed and filled-out copies of my state Sales Tax and Resale Exemption Form.  Not paying sales tax can save you alot of money! Be prepared with the right documentation (and by the way, if you are resale and don’t have a state sales tax exemption number, you should!)

6.  Head for garages, attics, and outbuildings first

You’ll find less traffic and better deals outside the main house. Many items in these places aren’t even priced and are sold on a “make offer” basis.  I found my Aubusson Blue Buffet in a garage of an estate sale and paid $40.  It was painted lime green and had junk piled all on top of it.  Steals are found outside.


7.  As the sale winds down, bargain away!

In the final hours of estate sales, the sellers can get pretty generous.  If you aren’t happy with a price on an item, don’t be afraid to make an offer! Smile, be kind, but firmly ask, “__$’s is the most I can pay for this item.  Would you consider that offer?”  I scored a great deal on the vintage Basset sideboard at a local sale this way.  The sellers were much happier to sell it to me for less than to have to haul it away to Goodwill.


I hope these tips give you a confidence boost as you step out in the estate sale world.  Great treasures and great deals are to be found!



Milk Paint vs. Chalk Paint, My Take

I get lots of questions from friends and family about what types of paint I use on my furniture and what my thoughts are on the different paints available.  Most of those questions center around milk paint and chalk paint–the two hot furniture paints out on the market right now. Other bloggers have taken aim at answering this question about the pros and cons of each paint, but everybody has a unique perspective, so I’ll offer mine to my faithful readers.

Milk paint has been around for quite awhile, but from my understanding chalk paint is a relatively new product.  In the past 2-3 years both types have gained lots of popularity because of their ease of use and great color pallets. They are both wonderful products, but they produce different results.

There are several different brands of each, but the two I use are Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint, and Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.



For the purpose of this post, you can assume any mention of milk or chalk paint refers to these two brands.

Let’s get started!


Milk Paint

Milk paint comes in a powdered form and is mixed with water before use.  You only want to mix up as much as you will use in one sitting, because the paint is perishable.  It is a thin paint, and can produce many neat effects, from looking like a colored stain to that awesome “chippy” effect you have probably seen.

Milk paint requires no prep on the furniture, although how well it sticks depends on the existing glossiness of the furniture’s finish. The more glossy the finish, the more the paint will naturally peel and chip away.

Here are the Pro’s of Milk Paint:

– affordable cost

– beautiful color pallet

– creates interesting, one-of-a-kind texture with its natural chippiness

– environmentally friendly

– different colors can be mixed to create your own custom color

Here are the Con’s of Milk Paint

– can be difficult to mix and get the paint smooth

– is  a little unpredictable, the chippiness cannot be controlled without purchasing another product to add to the paint

– color can easily turn streaky as pigments separate, you have to keep mixing the paint you’re using

I really love using milk paint, although I would not recommend it to a furniture painting “beginner” because it is so different than any other kind of paint you may use. It requires some practice, but once its mastered you can use it to create really unique looks.

Here are  a few pieces I have painted with milk paint:


Ironstone over Shutter Gray


Luckett’s Green

dresser 1

Luckett’s Green





I usually save milk paint for those pieces whose natural surface is in good shape.  I like the chippy effect, and so I tend to only use milk paint over surfaces that I am ok with showing through.


Chalk Paint

Chalk Paint is sold in quarts and has a wide range of trendy, yet classic colors.  It’s a thick paint that you can use at full strength, or water down to your liking.  It will stick to just about anything, so it is a great option for covering a laminate wood surface or even metal.  It is almost fool-proof to use, and because of that, I consider it worth the almost $40 a can pricetag.

Several of the colors I have used covered well in one coat.  Each quart of paint will go a long way–I have painted a full size bed frame (with rails), dresser, and desk with hutch with one can. Like milk paint, it distresses easily and so requires a top coat of some kind.  Annie Sloan sells soft waxes which are a great option, and those can be used to add additional depth and texture to the piece.

Chalk Paint Pro’s

– very, very, very easy to use.

– provides great coverage and can transform a piece quickly

– beautiful array of colors available

– versatile paint, easy to clean up and store

– easy to mix and create custom colors

Chalk Paint Con’s

– high cost, roughly $40 a can

– Annie Sloan’s line lacks dark colors

– can’t create the interesting natural “chippy” look that milk paint can

I would recommend chalk paint to anyone, even to beginners.  Its a great time saver because it will stick to anything without having to previously sand and it dries in about 20 minutes.  It does need some sort of top coat to take away that chalky, flat look though, and using one color for a whole piece can look a little cheap.  I think my pieces have gotten better over time as I have learned how to use more than one color to add interest and detail to a piece.

Here are some pieces I have done in chalk paint.


Custom mix French Linen and Pure White with Old White accent


custom mix French Linen & Duck Egg Blue with Old White and Dark Wax


Duck Egg Blue with Old White dry brush


Aubusson Blue


French Linen with Old White


Aubusson Blue


Duck Egg Blue with Old White and Dark Wax


Paris Gray

So who is the “winner” ? Well, neither.  I love and faithfully use both paints. Each has its own unique qualities though, and so I pick which to use based upon the piece I am painting and my vision for it.  They are both awesome products and are taking over the DIY world, so maybe you should give one a try.  I hope my thoughts have educated you a little, I’m happy to answer any other questions you may have.  Happy Painting!

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Unbound Book Stack How-to

I have written before about how I love to decorate with old books.  Sometimes I love the distressed hues of the covers, but other times the books are in really bad shape, or the covers are not very attractive.  In those cases, I rip off the covers and binding and make these great book bundles.


I first saw these books bundles in a Ballard Designs catalog, and then I saw some stacked in a basket in a Pottery Barn catalog.  Ballard Designs actually used to sell them, but for an astronomical price, and I thought, “gee, I could make those!”

So here is a quick how-to guide on how to make your own book bundle.

First, gather your materials.

DSC04229You need at least two old books to make a bundle, plus some sort of twine and scissors.

Next, begin removing the covers and binding from your books.  Some come off easily, and others not so easily.  But really the more ripped and shabby the spines get the better.


Sometimes the glue on the spine is still pretty strong, and you wind up with this:


That does not make for a pretty bundle, so keep working on pulling off as much of that glue as you can.

Now, a quick note for those book lovers out there who are cringing at the idea of me ripping apart books . . . Always give your old books a good once over and make sure you don’t have any valuables in there.  I usually look for old textbooks, because those typically are of no value and I can rip them up with a clear conscience.  Keep an eye out for authors that sound familiar to you.  In this stack of books I got for $5 at a garage sale, I spotted one that caught my eye:


I looked it up online and turns out it was a rare vintage copy, worth about $80.  So, that one stays intact.

After you have ripped the covers off all of your books, start separating each book into about 1 in. sections.


Once you have a bunch of these sections, start stacking. I look for sections that are similar in width and stack them alternating with spine and page edge facing out.


I also try to reserve for the top of the bundle one section that is a title page, or has something particularly interesting on it, like this inside cover that a young lady doodled on many moons ago.  It adds more visual interest to your bundle.


Once your books are stacked 4-5 sections high, tie them up with the twine of your choosing.  I double wrap the twine around mine, again, just to add more visual interest.


And your done! Here is my finished stack–4 book bundles from the stack of 8 books I started with (minus the valuable one!)


I love the spots of glue and strings all sticking out–they add texture to each bundle.

Use them to decorate on bookshelves, table tops, or group a whole bunch in a basket by your fireplace.


Here they are piled in an enamel basin in my shop (along with a GIANT lightbulb!).  They all sold within a week! Time to find more old books.

Try making some for yourself!

Linking up to:


My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia
The DIY'ers