Sunday, December 11, 2016

How to Furnish Your Home without Swedish Superstore Stress

The Twin Cities Runoff Guide to Furniture on a Budget

Covet is at 38th and Chicago
Covet Consign and Design at 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis. Photo by Deborah Carver.

First, some news: Twin Cities Runoff is popping up all over the place throughout the fall to support independent publishing and storytelling initiatives around the Twin Cities. Our friends at C.L.A.P. will be at Twin Cities Zinefest on Saturday, September 24, from 12 to 5 p.m., with some TCR buttons—and fantastic zines of their own, featuring Runoff contributors. This year, Zinefest is at the Powderhorn Park building, at 3400 15th Avenue South in Minneapolis.

Twin Cities Runoff will also be tabling at the Twin Cities Book Festival on Saturday, October 15, from 12 to 5 p.m., at Minneapolis Community and Technical College in downtown Minneapolis. Volunteers are still needed for the Book Festival, so check it out and we’ll see you there. And now: content!

In the years following graduation and before we really settle into something called home, the metro apartments of the young and mobile have taken on a disturbingly similar, principled, austere appearance. When visiting a “real” furniture store or showroom, overly fancy pieces that cost thousands of dollars send us home with our tails between our legs… so we end up at those other places that sell build-it-yourself furniture: IKEA, Target, and Walmart, or wherever we can get the whole house looking nicer than a dorm room for under a thousand dollars.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with inexpensive Swedish design and its American counterparts, but when we fill our houses with a bunch of build-it-yourself furniture, our apartments begin to look uniform. We joke with our friends that we all have the same sofabed and the same bookcases and “oh, I saw that one, and it looked nice, but I bought this one instead.” The conversation becomes not about the distinctive taste that you brought to your own home, but instead, the fact that you can wield an allen wrench just like all your closest friends.

And besides, why buy something new when you can score some really cool furnishings used? People have been making furniture forever, and much of it sticks around for generations. In the Twin Cities, there plenty of options for finding solid furniture, used, and relatively inexpensive that doesn’t look like it’s been sitting in your best friend’s smoky basement for the entire length of R.E.M.’s career.

A lot of times, young people say they don’t know where else to shop, or have tried a couple of discount furniture stores that were still way over budget and scared away anyone with an entry-level salary and massive student loans. Some of us avoid furniture stores entirely because they just look expensive. But one of the benefits to living in a mid-sized city is that you can continuously find good deals on used furniture without hypervigilant stakeouts to beat everyone else to the good stuff. For the most part, shopping at smaller stores is much less stressful than driving out to the supercrowded superstore, where it’s not actually that much cheaper, and where you wind up buying a bunch of extra stuff you don’t really need that’s going to break in a couple of years. You don’t have to buy a whole bunch of new things at once to make your place look good.

So, if you’re not eating meatballs in Bloomington, where else in the Twin Cities do you buy relatively inexpensive furniture that looks nice?

To furnish a whole house, using these options may require a bit of planning. We can’t guarantee any perfect suggestions on where to find a good, cheap, clean couch that will suit your exact personality, and we’re veering away from the mattress question at the moment. But for most things—chairs and dressers and tables and bookshelves and whatever else you’ll need—we have faith that you can put together something cohesive or eclectic or whatever your taste is from these local small businesses.

The Continuously Classy, Seemingly Underpriced World Consignment Retailers

The word “consignment” carries a connotation of dust, of still-out-of-your-range pearl necklaces, of ritzy ladies selling their sequined Versace dresses from their cocaine days. But unequivocally, the best comparison in price and style to chain store furniture is found at our local consignment stores. Consignment stores sell others’ gently used furniture, selecting aesthetically interesting pieces that are in very good condition and keeping a percentage of the sale. Stores generally return the piece if it hasn’t been sold in a specified amount of time, like 60 days, so every store has a guaranteed rotating selection of classic, retro, and contemporary furniture pieces that keep your home unique and classy—and look like you made a much pricier investment. With consignment, as long as it looks good in the store, it’ll look good in your home.

Movables – 1228 2nd Street Northeast, Minneapolis

Movables in Northeast Minneapolis
Movables in Northeast Minneapolis. Photo by Deborah Carver.

With impeccable style and seriously discounted prices, Movables is rooted firmly in owner Kendra Anderson’s fantastic taste, amazing service, and definitive skill in rehabbing furniture. Shabby old wing-back chairs are reupholstered with prints and shades that stand out in your living room, and none of it looks used. With high-quality, totally unique pieces at comparable—or lower—prices than a chain store, Movables is a find for both budget-conscious twenty-somethings and professional interior decorators. Inspirational in its taste and the simplicity of its concept, Movables is seriously phenomenal stuff.

Covet Consign and Design – 3730 Chicago Avenue South, Minneapolis

Next to Wing Young Huie’s Third Place Gallery at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, Covet Consign and Design is strategically—and appropriately—set in a burgeoning artistic corridor. You’re not going to find too much in a single style here; owner Christy Frank consigns classic, retro, and contemporary furniture alike. With completely classy knick-knacks and custom picture framing, along with some stunning pieces of furniture, generally in the $100-$200 range, it’s hard to leave Covet without a reboot of your entire living room. And if you get inspired to make your own stuff, you can always head across the street to the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center and take some classes in welding.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: Antiquing with Taste in and around the Twin Cities

Antique shops teeter between super cool and very creepy, filled with reminders of how little has changed since the middle of the 20th century regarding how much crap goes in and out of our lives. For your convenience, there are no shopping carts in antique stores, and most items are priced slightly higher than “so cheap it’s like not buying anything,” so you only come out with one thing you barely need instead of a cartful.

Antique stores will help with dressers, chests, and tables galore, but you’re not going to find many couches or comfy chairs, or anything besides lots of gorgeous, ornate, heavy wood. But that decades-old, hard-to-transport carpentry has definite advantages in one necessary household item: bookshelves. One trip to an antique shop and literary folk harbor fantasies of turning their duplex living room into one of those labyrinthine libraries they saw on their favorite book blog that one time.

There are a ton of antique shops scattered around Minnesota, and most of them are well aware of the value of the selection they carry and what people will pay for it. Shops closer to the metro are generally more pricey than the ones an hour or two out of town. City shops have city taste, with more modern and mid-century pieces; farther out of town you’re going to find things you might have found in your grandparents’ house, which really isn’t a bad thing at all. Whatever your taste, here are a few recommendations:

Hunt & Gather – 4944 Xerxes Avenue South, Minneapolis
In the happy little place where Linden Hills meets Edina (it’s actually called Fulton) lies the greatest collection of letters you’ve ever seen. With dead card catalogs reincarnated as Pandora’s boxes for your inner scrapbooker, there’s plenty of stuff to sift through, even if you don’t purchase anything. Hunt & Gather’s artistic and tasteful selection is organized by theme and style, or at least split off into sections, which makes browsing feel like a trip to the museum. Hunt & Gather is where the giant, light-up letters from the Town Talk Diner will end up one day, and there definitely aren’t too many creepy dolls to unsettle your trip. There’s plenty of furniture downstairs, and although it’s reasonably priced for what it is, pretty nice stuff carries a pretty nice price tag.

Various Antique Malls – Mainstreet, Hopkins
Downtown Hopkins is either pretty cute or past its prime, but it’s certainly a haven for antiquers. With five antiques dealers that sell a variety of furniture amongst the clip-on earrings, branded sodapop glassware, and time-dulled pocketknives, Mainstreet in Hopkins is only 10-20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and easily reached by the 12 bus, if you want to scope the scene out before you borrow your friend’s pickup (highly recommended). Desks and shelves can be buried beneath all the stuff, but if you’re willing to look closely—and trouble the very sweet employees to dig out a vanity just for you—there’s definitely a decent selection of well-made furniture comparably priced to our local superstores.

The St. Paul Retro Loop
Up Six – 157 Snelling Avenue North, St. Paul
Classic Retro @ Pete’s – 2145 West University Avenue, St. Paul
Succotash – 781 Raymond Avenue, St. Paul

We know you’re not totally jazzed about driving a U-Haul through the Central Corridor construction in St. Paul, but three shops in the casual consortium of St. Paul’s Retro Loop sell vintage furniture, and they’re worth more than a glance. You’re not going to save too much money in the Retro Loop, but you’re going to acquire some conversation pieces and testaments to the glory of the 20th century—maybe an accent piece or two—that are definitely worth the price. And then you can stop by Ax-Man.

Placeholders and Diamonds in the Rough: Thrifting Furniture

Thrifting is like antiquing, but with less chance that you’ll find something you actually like and more chance that you’ll be able to afford it. Although most thrift stores only carry a few pieces of shabby-ish furniture at a time, these Twin Cities stores carry more furniture than most.

Unique Thrift Stores – St. Paul, Columbia Heights, and Elsewhere
With five locations around the metro area, these thrift stores are a great place to get furniture for cheap. The stores live up to their name, acting as treasure troves of desks, dressers, bookcases, coffee and end tables. It’s all second-hand, so some of it may be dinged up; but it’s nothing a coat of bright paint or a little wood polish can’t fix. If you do some digging, you’re sure to find interesting pieces of artwork and some hidden gems at unbelievable prices. Head in on Tuesdays for an automatic 25 percent off discount, and on Fridays you can get the same deal with their VIP discount card. (The Friday discount can not be applied on the same day you buy the card, so pick one up before Friday shopping.)

St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store – 2939 12th Avenue South, Minneapolis
Filled with the big-box furniture of yesteryear, along with some nice shelves, hutches, St. Vincent de Paul has a whole back room devoted to thrift furniture, most of it between $50 and $100. Like most thrift stores, it’s the stuff of DIY fix-it-uppery, but it’ll definitely keep you from keeping your books in milk crates and eating your ramen on the floor.

It Takes a Village – 3405 Chicago Avenue South, Minneapolis
Unlike more ambiguous good cause-benefiting of chain thrift stores, It Takes a Village’s sole cause is to aid the surrounding neighborhood, with most profits going to the next-door community garden, according to owner Jamie Lory. Situated above a small community coffee shop, It Takes a Village carries a larger, more thoughtful selection of furniture than most local thrift stores, and they’ll help you carry your purchase down from the second floor.

Staying Hawkeyed among the Hawkers: Occasional, Neighborhood, and Estate Sales

If you’re into researching and devoting a lot of time to getting your living room fixed up for cheap, there are tons of options that you already know about—but they require getting up early, having a truck and ready supply of cash on hand, and knowing what you’re doing. Craigslist will always yield something or other (and we recommend a willingness to explore the metro suburbs for great deals), but there are a few less spotty ways to find something good for less or get a few things at once.

Similar to pop-up shops, occasional sales last only a few days a few times a year, so some skillful research and asking around is required before you find one. Proprietors of occasional sales will leave fliers at consignment shops and antique stores, and you can just ask furniture dealers, or find sales on Google or Craigslist. (We received a flier for Flamingos Divine Finds, which looks like a promising series of sales this fall.) You can also scour Craigslist for neighborhood and multi-family sales, hitting up the bourgie ’burbs for unwanted stuff. And there’s always estate sales, which require an eagle eye, a competitive spirit, and a clear head, but can yield some pretty nifty results.

Putting on the Finishing Touches: DIY Decorating with Erica

Since there’s no excuse for complementing your newly acquired, gorgeous, unique furniture accented with a tattered Pink Floyd Back Catalogue poster, you may want to invest in a couple of new pieces of art. The MCAD Art Sale—this year it’s November 17-19—is a good chance to score new art and photography for prices ranging from dirt cheap to insane (but mostly dirt cheap). In addition to prints and paintings and photos, you’ll find some work from the furniture design students; it still might be aspirational for your budget, but it can provide inspiration for your aesthetic. In the winter, there’s always a plethora of craft shows, art fairs, and gallery openings—check out MPLSART and l’etoile for weekly rundowns of openings and visual arts-oriented events.

If you want to make your own frames for your newfound art, our resident decorating authority, founding member Erica Edwardson, has some suggestions:

Two Good Uses for Plexiglass

Plexiglass is available at home supply stores, and you should be able to get a large, thin sheet for not too much money. Believe me, the hardest part of these projects is getting off your butt to buy plexiglass.

Simple Picture Frames

Make your own picture Frames
Makeshift picture frames. Photo by Erica Edwardson

  1. Besides the plexiglass, you will need binder clips (in a color of your choosing) and nails to hang up your work.
  2. Choose the pictures you wish to frame.
  3. Cut two pieces of plexiglass to fit around the pictures.
  4. Sandwich your picture in between the frames and keep them contained with binder clips.
  5. Hang, and smile!

Coffee Table Decoration Protection Device

Plexiglass Table Covering
Sprucing up a plain table with Selby the cat. Photo by Erica Edwardson.

I bought a large world map with the intention of hanging it on my wall, and when that didn’t look right, I set it on my coffee table and had an a-ha moment. (Confession: the table is from IKEA.) I’ve seen other versions of this idea elsewhere: one had a colorful array of paint samples under glass. Fabric would work, too.

Fabric-covered Frames
If you need a pop of color to go with those white walls you can’t paint, try finding a fetching piece of fabric, and then stretch it around stretcher bars (available at art supply stores). Where can you find cool fabric? Crafty Planet has a quirky selection, as does Treadle Yard Goods (though neither of these places, while wonderful, are known for their low prices). Try thrift stores and yard sales as well; someone’s colorful old sheet could be your wall art. And I hate to say it, but IKEA has inexpensive fabrics in large prints that are suited quite perfectly for this sort of thing.

We hope we’ve given you a few places to consider through your journeys among rentals. If you have any suggestions or know of somewhere we’ve missed, share your thoughts below.