Second-hand September: why it’s out with the new and in with the old for your home
It’s that time of year when we count the cost of the summer – namely PCR tests and overpriced staycations – and think about getting thrifty. Which is presumably why Oxfam has chosen this month to encourage shoppers to buy preloved clothes, with its Second Hand September campaign.
But it’s not only our clothing choices that could do with some TLC. According to the North London Waste Authority, 22 million pieces of furniture are discarded every year in the UK. So surely our savvy shopping habits can be put to good use outside our wardrobes? The experts think so.
Creative director Camilla Clarke, of interior design studio Albion Nord, has just put the finishing touches to London’s new Chelsea Barracks residential quarter, and is seeing more clients requesting one-off pieces: “I believe it’s down to the ‘treasure hunt’ aspect – it’s the search and thrill factor in finding an amazing item,” she says. “Second hand furniture can bring so much warmth and character to spaces, whether you have a new build or listed property.”
One by-product of the Covid restrictions is that many more antique dealers have acquainted themselves with the internet. Regulars at Sandown or Kempton Park antiques markets now showcase their wares on websites like Etsy and eBay. Even Facebook has a ‘marketplace’ option.
Kate Watson-Smyth, who writes the Mad About The House blog, warns that when shopping online it’s best to hone your language. “This is one of the key ways to save precious time when you are hunting for something specific,” she says. “Try sticking ‘vintage dining chairs’ into eBay and [when I did] there were over 7,000 hits. But when I put ‘set of six mid-century dining chairs’ it came down to six.”
If you prefer a vis-à-vis transaction, Watson-Smyth suggests arriving at antique markets a little earlier than suggested to score an early-bird deal before other treasure seekers turn up (keep this to yourself, obviously) or hold back until the end, when a vendor might be feeling generous and reluctant to take any leftovers home. If you’re looking for a particular item, it pays to research which vintage brands are the best in terms of quality and resale value before you leave home, so you can be confident when you discover a gem.
Remember to consider condition and comfort, as restoration costs can quickly spiral, although tired or mundane fabrics can often be transformed with new or vintage reupholstery. Indeed, upcycling has also rocketed during the lockdowns, with many of us embracing a ‘make do and mend’ mindset while stuck indoors.
Designer Whinnie Williams, of new BBC series Flat Out Fabulous, is currently showing viewers that upcycling can feel more rewarding than we might think – and doesn’t have to leave you covered in paint.
“Upcycling is so broad. If you’re new to doing it yourself, one way to get started is simply by covering a lacklustre lampshade with decorated fabric and you’ve already made something your own – there are plenty of tutorials online and ready-made kits available to help guide you,’’ she says.
So what should we be keeping an eye out for while rummaging?
Natural fibres like rattan don’t seem to be budging off many an enthusiast’s wishlist as the cottagecore trend goes from strength to strength – woven trays or storage units nod to the fashion nicely and are readily available. For the eagle-eyed, look out for quirky design spins. Bobbin legs on mid-century furniture, scalloped edges on side tables and unusual textiles are all predicted to be centrepieces in our homes over the coming season – and don’t be put off by imperfections. Instead, relish the knowledge your diamond in the rough has had a past life before entering yours.
Plus, keep an eye out for pairs. If you spot a bedside table, ask if it has a twin - should you decide to part with your purchase in the future, you’re more likely to make a profit if you sell two of the same.
If space is an issue, however, renting a big ticket item is now an alternative. As renting clothes is fast becoming the norm, so online companies are now offering a leasing service for your sitting room. By Rotation added a homeware category to its roster last month, with items from labels such as Lisa Corti, Matteo Grassi and Yolke available, you can rent anything from a tablecloth to a lounge chair for a few days at a time.
So no matter if you choose to upcycle, root through the charity shop, or give rental a try, why not pledge to shop second-hand for your home this September? And beyond.
Our pick of the preloved
Clockwise, from top left: Reupholstered Swedish midcentury armchair, £2,765, Thurstan; Lustreware gold and blue pot, £22, Host Home; Bobbin chair with rush seat, £323, Pamono; Italian plate, £45, rococolondoninteriors.com; Compton vintage fabric cushion, £155, The Old Cinema