“The Best Stuff Is Worth the Hassle”

Lauren Murrow | April 23, 2014 | Lifestyle Story Shopping

1. Get Thee to Sonoma
Petaluma is a hotbed of affordable vintage, says Electric Blanket owner Jillian West. Start at French Hen Antiques (218 Petaluma Blvd., near Washington St., 707-763-1657) and Summer Cottage Antiques (53 Kentucky St., near Washington St., 707-776-2873).

2. Approach Garage Sales Like Apartment Hunting
Eevery Friday night at 11 p.m., Brandon Clark of Mixed Nuts logs on to Craigslist’s garage sale section and maps out his Saturday-morning plan of attack. He arrives as soon as they start selling. Garage sales in the Outer Richmond and Outer Sunset tend to be less populated and thus less picked over. “It’s like being an on-land pirate on a scavenger hunt,” Clark says.

3. Flip It Over
When you’re considering a piece of furniture, check out the underside first, says Illy McMahan of Carousel Consignment. It offers the best indication of where and when the piece was made. “The manufacturer is often branded into the base itself. It’s a good sign if it’s made in Japan or Denmark,” she says. “and you can tell if it’s pre- or post-1950 if a staple gun was used.”

4. Cut out the Middle Man
The Alameda Point Antiques Faire (2900 Navy Way, at Lexington St., Alameda; First Sunday of every month)—a.k.a. the Alameda Flea—is where vintage store owners buy their stuff, which they’ll then mark up and resell. Go before 8 a.m. or don’t go at all.

5. Don’t Rent—Taskrabbit
The errand-outsourcing service is typically cheaper and more efficient than renting a van to move furniture. “I had a vintage hairdressing stand and a giant stack of wood planks moved from Berkeley to the Mission for $25,” says West.

6. Ship by Bus
If you’re vintage hunting on vacation, don’t pass up an oversize find because you’re worried about getting it home. “Greyhound ships, and it’s cheaper and quicker than UPS or FedEx, especially if you’re in the coastal Northwest,” says Charles Register of Schatzi. The service (shipgreyhound.com) doesn’t require a complete box like UPS—just use plastic wrap.

7. Mask Mistreatment
Follow McMahan’s four steps for rendering an irrevocably damaged piece of wood furniture desirable: “Sand it down. Splurge on a high-quality primer. Cover that with two coats of high-quality paint. Then seal it with polyurethane, a clear varnish that protects the piece from dings.”

8. Grade Matters
Alison McLennan of Lost & Found recommends the 0000 variety of steel wool, the finest grade available, for buffing scratches from wood. Always rub in the direction of the grain.

9. Pick up Odd Parts
Urban Ore (900 Murray St., near Ashby St., Berkeley, 510-841-7283) and Building Resources (701 Amador St., near Illinois St., 415-285-7814) have everything you need to refurbish finds, including hardware, tile, glass, stone, lumber, and metals. Score old barn wood at MacBeath Hardwood (930 Ashby Ave., near 9th St., Berkeley, 510-843-4390).

10. Revive Dead Wood
“Howard Restor-A-Finish ($11.50 at Cole Hardware, 956 Cole St., near Parnassus St., 415-753-2653) is magic— it makes stained or dry wood look new again,” says Spacepop’s Jack Mueller.

Read more:
The New Gatekeepers of Old Stuff
Battle of the Bar Carts
10 Tips From Professional Scavengers
Who's Got Time to DIY?

Originally published in the May Issue of San Francisco

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