Turn secondhand finds into decorating gold with tips from an expert bargain hunter

Salvage with Style
Thomas J. Story
Dining room

For Victoria Smith, creator of the design blog sfgirlbybay.com, recycling is not just about doing the right thing―it’s also about creating her own look.

From flea markets and garage and estate sales to the Internet and even the curb, Smith finds treasures and weaves them into the tableau of her ever-evolving San Francisco apartment. “Things from the past just need imagination and a little fixing up to get a whole new life,” she says. “People do it with cars. Why not with furniture?”

Though she’s not against buying a new piece when necessary (her sofa is from Room & Board, for example), Smith believes nothing can compare to the thrill of discovery that comes with a secondhand find. Her credo: “Things don’t have to be new to be stylish and beautiful.”


Statement light
Apartment dweller Victoria Smith so coveted the Venetian glass pendant owned by the previous tenants that she agreed to do their final move-out cleaning in exchange for it.

Affordable art
Unified by simple Ikea frames, promotional postcards share a wall with original designs by friends and Etsy artists.

New tabletop
A sheet of glass turns this metal rolling cart ($15 at an antiques store) into a one-of-a-kind coffee table that pairs perfectly with the sofa.

Unconventional seating
A flea-market rattan chair and a side table found on Craigslist hold their own next to a new Eames rocking chair.


Colorful collections
Mismatched pottery highlights a selection of favorite books on white built-in shelves.

Seating nook
Vintage knickknacks add interest to a changing palette of pillows and throws on two chairs that were found on Craigslist.

Mix of eras
The eclectic combinations include midcentury tulip chairs (bought through Craigslist for $150) surrounding a 200-year-old French farm table from Smith’s mother.

Hidden beauty
Smith stripped the “icky, bubbled cream paint” off this $5 garage-sale sideboard, then sanded it to a warm honey glow.




“On eBay, I stick to buying small things like pottery or vintage fabrics, unless it’s an item within 100 miles of my apartment. It can be daunting not to see the items in person before you commit. For bigger items, or if I’m selling, I prefer to use my local Craigslist.”



Info: Follow Smith’s creative shopping adventures on her blog.