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Just a recap: Jess and I both wrote about why we purchase secondhand here and here.  And last week started the beginning of our “Choosing Secondhand Furniture” series. Read Jess’s thoughts from last week about Reality vs. Vision. Right now, I’m passing along everything that I know about determining quality while thrifting furniture.

All that I know, I learned from my momma and through experience. My mom has fantastic taste in good quality furniture. Her bedroom suite she bought back in the 70s has survived four children, a dozen or more moves, and did I mention four children? Also, she only purchased one nightstand at the time and so when she married my dad she’s always needed another one. That was 30+ years ago. When in Lubbock, Texas recently, I found her a second nightstand at an estate sale! It was an awesome and the price reflected the quality.

So here are thoughts to consider:

1.) When considering purchasing anything that has drawers check to see if they’re dovetailed. (i.e. dressers, nightstands, cabinets, crates, etc.) Dovetailing consists of “pins” and “tails” that fit nicely together. Example:

(Hello, pile of laundry in my desk chair!)

Dovetails indicate quality. Yes, there is still quality furniture out there that is nailed, glued, or screwed drawers, but in my experience the drawers don’t last as long. Dovetailed drawers hold together because the two pieces of wood are made in such a way that they fit together. That’s important when it’s going to be a piece of furniture that you use often. Keep in mind that dovetail joints can pull apart over time if not taken care of properly. So make sure it looks solid and the fit is snug. The face of the drawer should not be able to easily pull away from the body.

2.) Does the bottom of the drawer look like it can handle the weight of the items you’ll be placing in it? This is really something to investigate. The bottom of the drawer should be snug and not gaping on any of the edges. It should also be able to handle some pressure. Also, is there water damage? If so, this might be a piece you should pass on.

3.) What’s the finish like? Is it veneer, paint, stain, or something else? And what condition is the finish in? For veneer: Check to see if it’s chipped. If veneer is chipped badly, it will more than likely be really difficult to make it look good again. Most of the time, even if you take the piece to get it refinished, you’ll spend more money redoing the veneer than the piece is actually worth. So, the condition of the veneer is definitely something to consider. For paint: if it’s an older piece make sure to ask the dealer/seller if it’s been tested for lead paint. This is really important especially if you’re thinking about stripping or sanding the piece. Here’s an example of chipped veneer from a piece I bought recently (details in a post this week!):

4.) Look for a name brand which is sometimes called a mark stamp. With furniture, they can be hiding anywhere. Check the inside, side, underneath, and back of drawers or the back of the piece itself. Just remember that it’s usually tucked away but not too hard to find. Don’t be worried about pulling the piece out and investigating it. I used to be really shy with this and never wanted to disrupt, but honestly if you’re going to buy the piece you of course need to know what you’re getting! Here on my Drexel desk, the mark stamp is hiding in the top drawer on the right:

5.) I’ll cover this in greater detail in a later post about researching, but the easy way to recognize a brand is just to bring along something with the ability to Google (i.e. iPad or smart phone).

Do these guidelines work ALL the time? NOPE. No way. They are just that, guidelines. Things to consider. Hell, it’s entirely possible that I will find the most awesome piece of vintage furniture without dovetailed drawers. And guess what, if I love it, it’ll probably go home with me.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got for quality. Anything you think I’m leaving out or you’d like to add?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Happy Thrifting!

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Owning a house is awesome and comes with all sorts of interesting problems. After we took possession of the house, we lost hot water three times. Once, when electricity had been off because we were rewiring some rooms, once when electricity was off because we had to fix another appliance situation, and once at random in March. The first time, a new bottom element did the trick. The second time, a new top element + some wiggling of wires worked. And the third time, begging the manufacturer for a new one was the only solution.

It appeared to be a problem with the top element, again, but it also confirmed our earlier suspicion that the problem with the top element before had been a wiring problem. It had taken us two elements and a tinkering with the ground wire to get it to work on the second loss of hot water. After calling the maintenance they recommended under their warranty and learning we would have to go from Thursday – Tuesday without hot water, Kyle convinced the manufacturer that a new hot water heater would be the only solution.

Getting the new hot water heater required returning the old hot water heater which required draining the old hot water heater. So we tried it, but the hot water heater, which was usually very slow to drain, would not drain beyond a slow trickle. Kyle went to Orscheln to get new channel locks so we could take it apart and told me to try anything that I found on the Internet that seemed like a reasonable solution.

We were pretty sure the reason it was draining slow was because too much sediment had settled at the bottom of the tank. I eventually came across a suggestion to leave the cold water on and open the drain so that water was forced out of the drain. I turned the cold water on to the tank and stepped to the side to watch. Soon, water came out a little slower and then a little faster, and then sprayed miniature fire-hose style across my basement!

Good thing we have a wet basement and both I and my laptop were just to the right of its range. As you can see from the photo, it’s range managed to splatter all over the wall across from the hot water heater. That wall is probably about 7 or so feet from where the hot water heater sits.

For some reason (missing plug cap perhaps?) we couldn’t get the hose to work to drain water to the sump pump so Kyle and I had to take turns dumping buckets out in the yard. Luckily, we got the tank out, exchanged it at Lowe’s, and still had time for a celebratory Friday night dinner date with the new hot water heater strapped into the back of the truck.

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So Eclectic is a blog dedicated to great ideas for home design. Austin, Texas-based writer Mary Marcum and Savannah, Missouri-based writer Jess Rezac feature affordable decor, decorating solutions, and inspiration. At So Eclectic, we experiment with design together. So Eclectic posts new content every weekday.

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