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Secondhand furniture sees upswing in popularity

Roxanne Grimm loves the thrill of the chase.

When she’s off “muckin’ and junkin’ ” for secondhand treasures, her heart races as she searches for unique finds. She might stumble upon a coffee table with great lines that simply needs a coat of paint. She might find a dresser that would be perfect for a child’s room after switching out the knobs.

“I go into my undiagnosed ADD mode, and I start to hyperventilate,” Grimm says. “I come back with my car so full there’s only room for me and a cup of coffee.”

Through her company, Calamity Jane’s Vintage Furniture, Grimm refurbishes and resells furnishings she finds at garage sales, secondhand stores and sometimes abandoned on the side of the road. She says more and more customers are seeking products like hers as they try to spend less money, simplify their lifestyles and live in a more environmentally friendly way.

“The big SUVs and the trying to extend yourself … the economy isn’t supporting that anymore,” Grimm says. “I think there’s a more responsible generation coming forward, a generation that’s living more intelligently.”

Grimm isn’t the only secondhand furniture dealer who has seen increased interest among customers as the economy has faltered. Joel Ferris Jr., who owns the consignment store Upscale Home Furnishings on Spokane’s near North Side, says he’s seeing more customers who previously had only considered buying new furniture.

“There are people coming in who had not looked at this market before,” he says. “They’re the same people who are making different decisions on how they drive because of the (high) gas prices.”

Ferris says he’s highly selective of the furniture he carries, and turns away about 60 percent of the items people bring him for consideration.

The idea for the store came about three years ago, when Ferris’ family was closing Joel, the longtime downtown Spokane furnishings and housewares store. Customers he’d never seen before came in seeking clearance prices and buying backroom pieces that weren’t part of the store’s inventory.

Nine years ago, Spokane resident Cherie Killilea took furnishing her home on a budget into her own hands – literally.

Her family had just moved into a larger home and didn’t have enough furniture to fill it. Killilea spotted a neighbor who was about to haul away an old couch and intercepted her but decided the piece needed new upholstery, if it was going to be usable.

Instead of bringing the sofa to a professional upholsterer, though, she brought the upholsterer to her living room.

Killilea and two friends paid a pro to teach them how to recover and repair secondhand furniture. The first lesson involved learning how to strip off the old material – a step that is hard on the hands, says Killilea, who has a scar to prove it.

A few days later, the upholsterer returned to examine the condition of the furniture’s padding. The women fixed springs and adjusted the frames, as was needed.

“You really have to examine your frame before you just re-cover if you want it to be a piece of furniture that’s going to last a lot of years,” Killilea says. “If I’m going to take the time to do it, I want it to be like new.”

They also ordered batting and foam, which are key elements to making an old couch comfortable again, she says.

“I used to go to a furniture store near Pike Place Market (in Seattle) and dream about the $10,000 couches there, but mine is just as comfortable as those now and it’s because of the foam,” Killilea says.

The sessions with the professional launched a period when Killilea ran an upholstery service, which eventually led to her making custom slipcovers. Today she designs other products, including highly functional diaper bags, but for a while she says she’d warn friends, “Don’t put something in front of me. I might upholster it.”

Unlike Ferris, of Upscale Home Furnishings, and Grimm, who sells her Calamity Jane’s furniture at The Trellis Marketplace in Spokane Valley, not all secondhand furniture dealers are benefiting from the recent frugality movement.

In Coeur d’Alene, the Shabby to Chic Shoppe, a vintage consignment and retail store, is seeing about the same amount of traffic, but customers are spending less than they did before, says store manager Randy Myer.

“A person who might have spent $100 a couple of years ago, that same customer is spending maybe $50 now,” he says. “We’re hanging in there, but we’re affected like everyone else is. It’s not like we’re blooming because the new-furniture stores are hurting.”

Ironically, Myers says many of the Shabby to Chic Shoppe’s consigners are women who began tinkering with furniture because they couldn’t or didn’t want to spend money on brand-new products.

“Most of them are hobbyists who’ve turned their hobby into a money-making opportunity,” he says.

Megan Cooley can be reached at (509) 326-6024 or