Katherine Picks Up Her Furniture Essentials for under $1,000

 Our blogger Katherine has chronicled the ups and downs of her apartment search, and now shares how she’s furnished  the basics for less than $1,000. 


So I’ve recently found my first real-live apartment and my roommate and I have found ourselves in that predicament that newlyweds usually face: furnishing a home. Now, for all my ladies out there who eagerly awaited PBTeen in middle school and have since graduated to West Elm, a cautionary tale: be careful what you wish for.  Unless you end up with a shoebox (sorry New Yorkers!) your apartment will seem to swallow up furniture. And furniture ain’t cheap my friends!

When my roommate and I moved to our new place we needed a lot of stuff. One month later, we still need a lot of stuff.  And here’s what I’ve learned: that’s a-okay. Prioritize what’s necessary (kitchen table, couch, bed) and gather the rest slowly. In the end you’ll be much happier with the things you have than if you bought EVERYTHING in one panic-stricken trip to IKEA. The things you buy for your first apartment will probably be with you for a while; or at least until you have the cheese to buy a house. So I’m betting that you will be happier with a cool old table you fixed up than the pressed board one in the LACK series you got from a Swedish home superstore.

For me the essential items were these:

1. Bed
I purchased the Sultan Hansbro at IKEA for $399 + Bedframe and I LOVE IT. A mattress isn’t something you totally want to skimp on if you can afford it because you’ll likely have it for a long time.  (If you are heading out to the mattress specialty store read these tips on how to negotiate with the sales person and save a bundle.)

2. Dresser
I got mine from a guy at a flea market in LA called “The Melrose Trading Post” for $150.

3. Couch
My roommate already had a couch; I think she got it from Pier One, but I’m not entirely certain on that.

4. Kitchen/Dining Table + Chairs
Another “Melrose Trading Post” find! $200 for the table and the chairs and the paint job. What a steal, really.

5. Curtains/Blinds (the voyeurs are real)
IKEA and BB&B. Our rods were of the standard black IKEA genus, retailing at $7.99 a piece and our curtains were discovered at Bed Bath and Beyond for $16/piece after the 20% coupons we used. Sign up with Bed Bath and Beyond and they will kindly flood your inbox with coupons. They are actually really useful. ( Secret tip: they usually honor even outdated coupons.)

I know you can live without all the rest because I’ve done it successfully for 4 months.  Okay, so once you’ve gathered all that, you can begin to look for the fun stuff like side tables, and bookshelves, and art. But you’re still on a budget, I’m sure. This is where places like Goodwill and flea markets become your best friend. The table you see in the picture is a table I purchased at a flea market for $200, chairs included. And the guy even painted it all different colors for me! And if people are throwing things away, take them! My boss was throwing out a bookshelf and a few cute stools, and we offered to take them away so that she didn’t have to pay for a pick-up. Awesome way to get something cool for free.

Get  yelping and look up good thrift stores in your area. This will help you filter which ones you should go to. For example, St. Vincent De Pauls are great in Wisconsin where my parents live but pretty scarce in Los Angeles. Here in SoCal, there’s a great chain of thrift stores run by Jewish moms called the National Jewish Women’s Thrift Council. The same goes for flea markets; some are good, some are bad and some charge an admission fee. You’ll want to know all this information before you go. So look up the good ones in your area and get to hunting!

Popular LA Thrift Stores:
National Council of Jewish Women Thrift Stores 

Melrose Trading Post:  Corner of Melrose and Fairfax, every Sunday. $2 entry fee.

The Rose Bowl:  3rd Sunday of every month, admission varies with the time that you get there.

Goodwill: For locations: goodwill.org

Finally, check out The Thriftshopper website. There you’ll find the thrift stores near you by zip code.

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Comments (3)

  1. Avatar Emily

    Great post!

    I’m moving into my second apartment (but all on my own for the first time) tomorrow and I’m currently trying to decide if I want to invest in a couch that I love for $1100 + tax, and wait a few months to buy a TV and TV stand, OR buy a couch that I like (from a certain Swedish home superstore) for $500 and have enough left over to get a nice TV and stand.

    Any thoughts?

    • Sisko Sisko

      I’d go for the less expensive couch that you still like and get the TV. You’ll be probably moving a couple of more times until you settle into a more permanent situation (your first condo!)and a couch will add to the cost of moving. Plus, even a really good couch will get beat up in frequent moves. Not to mention the beating it gets in a typical, small first (or second) apartment. With the Swedish alternative, when it gets too funky or is too expensive to move, you won’t cry to put in on the curb or freecycle.