The Best Things to Buy at Garage Sales

Author: Melissa Maddison on Houzz

There is so much to love about garage sales. Finding a treasure that someone has made or cherished, or both, is such a rewarding, guilt-free way to shop. Here are some ideas that will inspire you to begin the hunt for some beautiful things you may not have considered sourcing at garage sales.

Everybody knows that garage sales are fabulous places to find interesting pieces for interiors, but often your neighbours also hold true gems. Look past the clothes and shoes, and skirt around the edges. Here you’re more likely to find the wonderfully edgy, the old fashioned, or kitschy. 


Kitchen containers

It is hard to resist kitchen tins and containers. Look for ones that only require a quick clean and are rust free. Not only are they beautiful when displayed together, they are useful and because they are on their second or third lives, environmentally friendly. 

If you’re fortunate, you’ll stumble across sets of bakelite kitchen containers from the 50s and 60s. These look fabulous on your mantlepiece or in the bathroom. The beautiful colours can work well in a plain white bathroom and make great storage containers for cotton balls, soap and bath salts. Don’t feel you have to confine them to the kitchen.

So many things can become beautiful displays if you are prepared to hunt around and collect. Kitchen scales from different eras look fabulous perched on a kitchen shelf, as do retro cookbooks. People can’t resist looking through a cookbook to find a recipe that totally baffles them. Frankfurter and corn casserole anyone?


The wonderful world of crockery

There are so many reasons to begin your retro crockery collection. It can be as simple as picking up a beautiful plate that you fall in love with, then finding the plate isn’t part of a set. This can be the foundation piece for your collection of mismatched plates. Mismatched plates add colour and style to a set table, and you might find you enjoy considering the placement of each plate and how it will look beside its table mate. Pick a colour and collect plates, side dishes and glasses in different styles and eras in only that colour, or allow yourself the freedom to go completely mismatched and collect in every hue and style your eyes are drawn to. 

Look out for names such as Arabia Ruska, Marimekko, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Mikasa and Noritake, and of course the distinctive blue and white Willow plates.

Don’t forget to look for beautiful old silver cutlery, and lace napkins. 


Step up to the plates

If you’re not ready to give up your matching sets of crockery just yet, consider displaying your collection on the wall. It is an effective and simple decorative twist, and you’ll get to experience the joy of collecting. You could even display beautiful old glassware, all different shapes, colours and sizes. There is no need to worry about not being able to find a matching set of six, and if one breaks, simply find another the next time you’re at a garage sale.

Tip: the best way to hang plates without using wires is with disc adhesive plate hangers. They are made for the purpose and work on glazed and unglazed plates alike.




Fantastic fabric

Curtains and tablecloths are usually buried under other things. Here’s where the real treasure lies. Beautiful, handmade lace tablecloths are stylish and provide great textural contrast in modern interiors. While they look beautiful as they are, especially after a good soaking, consider dyeing them a punchy colour, such as a vivid jade, or a soft pastel or even using a shibori dye technique. Dyes can be found at your local chemist and are easy to apply, generally just requiring to be added to the washing cycle

While you’re rummaging around in the fabrics, look for 50s style gingham and the bold prints of the 60s and 70s, often folded up and ready to go, like they had just walked out of the haberdashery store, ready to be made up as curtains, a bold cover for an armchair, or a custom tablecloth. Look out for floral paisleys, geometric patterns, polka dots, plaids, Marimekko-style prints and abstract modern fabrics. These retro materials go so well with the 20th-century style furniture that many of us are hunting for. 

Don’t forget too that tablecloths make excellent bedspreads, or throws for a tired sofa. As do the colourful crocheted blankets that you may find.


In record time

Most of us got rid of our turntables eons ago, but sometimes finding these old records reminds us of fun times gone by, and what better way to keep those memories alive than to display them in your home?

Simply hang the records on the wall, as you would a picture, remembering that album covers are works of art in themselves. Frame them in specially sized frames just for album covers from here or prop them on a window ledge, as though you had just taken them off the record player before stepping out for the evening…


Map it out

While maps are harder to find, they are worth the search. You’ll find these usually folded or stacked, somewhere near the books, often with posters and pictures. Old maps are not only beautiful works of art, but are wonderful conversation starters. They also look great grouped with modern, more colourful maps.



Larger maps make great wallpaper alternatives or colourful additions to children’s bedrooms. Keep your eye out for much sought-after school maps. Not only do they look retro, they stand the test of time, even after spending their formative years in the classroom.



Vintage Pottery

Vintage pottery is another great find. While the interest in vintage pottery continues to grow, you’ll still find beautiful pieces here and there for the buying at garage sales, often at reasonable prices. Get in before the dealers do, and hunt around for your favourite styles and potters or simply grab the ones you love.

The rich, vivid and earthy colours of pottery add an organic, textural feel to an interior, and look great on their own or clustered together. Do some research into vintage pottery and learn to identify the unique pottery marks each artist prints on the bottom of their pieces. Sites such as International Ceramics Directory have marks sorted by country and are put together by enthusiasts so are free-of-charge. Look for work with no chips or visible cracks. Australia has a rich history of pottery, and this art form won’t be lost or forgotten if we continue to collect it and keep it part of our aesthetic.

Some potters’ marks to keep an eye out for include Bakewell Brothers, Remued Pottery, Koala, Kathie Winkle, Diana and Scheurich (West Germany).

Before you buy new, consider the old. Garage sales can provide us with not only beautiful, but useful things for our home as well. It is very satisfying to hunt around for something wonderful, knowing you have supported a neighbour, and done your bit to be sustainable. It is also simply good fun to find a long-forgotten treasure. Go and have a good browse through your neighbor's garages at the garage sale trail. You never know what you might uncover.