If we all lived in a land where Eames chairs and Conran sofas grew on trees, I have no doubt we would be able to make our homes look good. However, in reality, very few of us have the money to spend on expensive furniture. Even those that do, do not necessarily spend it well; I often find the people who spend the most on their homes end up with the least character as they don’t have to think as carefully about what is going into their home.
Farah, and her husband Laurie and son Isa, have recently moved into their dream Victorian terrace in south-west London. They are slowly renovating the house, one room at a time, so these pictures do not show the finished article. However, what I do want to show you is Farah’s innate ability to find a bargain. In fact, every time I see her she gives me a quick run-down of her latest eBay/antique fair/charity shop buys. She will never, ever buy anything new or at full market price yet she still manages to create a home full of personality and style. I asked her to chat us through some of her bargains and tips for furnishing a house without having to spend all your life savings…
“When I was pregnant I was looking for a nursing chair; one that could be used later as well. I bought this Ercol chair from eBay and the nest of Ercol pebble tables from a furniture fair at Brockwell park. I bargained hard! They were in really good condition, which is hard to find on eBay: I had been looking for a year. They are now dented thanks to Isa and his wooden toys. Aesthetically pleasing toys ruin furniture. In fact, children ruin furniture but luckily, the cute chops is worth it.”
“Always get involved when relatives and friends are having clear outs. My coffee table and rocket lamp are both from Laurie’s aunt’s loft and I’ve seen the lamps in Spitalfields for £150. Mine was totally free! This pleases me A LOT. Our sofa and armchair are designed by Robin Day from Habitat. Laurie and I decided it’s best to buy furniture that lasts and you’ll keep forever so in the long run it’s an investment. Habitat do a 20% off sale every year so if you have your eye on something wait for that. That’s what we did. On big purchases like this you end up saving loads.”
“So many of my vintage kitchen finds are from charity shops. I will pick up single plates for 50p and put them together to form a mis-matched collection. The pink sugar bowl was a French flea market find for €5. My sister’s neighbour was having a house clearance and I gave her £10 for the yellow pot. I will even haggle in John Lewis and Habitat: I got the silver teapot from John Lewis for £15, and it retails at £40. If something is on sale, always ask for more off.”
“I’m always on the look-out in charity shops: I bought the vintage jelly moulds for £5. The cafe tin was another French flea market find for €5.”
“We got the T.G. Green sugar pot from Laurie’s Nana as she had lots of lovely Cornishware. We always go to vintage shops and I picked up the T.G. Green utensils holder from Northcote Road. Car boot sales are another good place to get bargains. We bought the LeCreuset salt seller from TKMax for £6.”
“You can pick up single bone-handled knives very cheaply from car boot sales but they look really good on display. We got ours from Laurie’s Nana.”
“The enamel flour tin was another hand-me-down from Laurie’s Nana and we keep rice in it.”
“Friends were clearing out their house, as they were renovating, so we bought pieces of furniture from them like the chaise longue. We also bought the Habitat bed frame from eBay, which was far cheaper than buying it new. We saw it in the shop and then came home and searched it out on eBay. It’s a really good idea to go to nice furniture shops, get an idea of what you like, and then try and search it out cheaper elsewhere.”
“I have collected these mirrors over time from relatives or charity shops and car boot sales and I never spend more than £10 on them.”
“We hunted in every fireplace shop in South West London. Turns out the best and cheapest place was a 3 minute walk from our house (Focal Point- Eardly Road, Streatham Common). It looks like an unassuming shop from the front but an amazing reclamation yard is hidden out back. The owner will come to your house first and look at the space to advise you as to what fits and he’ll show you what type of fireplace would have been there originally.”
“The Kantha quilt on our bed is made from old shalvar kameezes sewn together in Pakistan and I’ve seen the same sort of thing in Liberty for £300! If you do go on holiday, buy homewares which you know to be much more expensive in the UK.”
“I didn’t want to buy a brand new nursery ‘set’. The children’s 1940’s wardrobe was free from a friend clearing their house and the drawers are from the British Heart foundation furniture shop. I keep Isa’s toys in hampers from charity shops.”
“Update antique furniture for children with additions like this Cath Kidston oilcloth rather than buying a brand new piece of furniture.”
“My sister cut this Miffy picture out of a magazine and framed it and gave it to me when Isa was born.”
“I bought this Alphabet print wrapping paper from Liberty for £3 and framed it in a £1 charity shop frame (I think you can get similar from Ikea).”
“I always display books and toys as they look so nice. I tend to buy new soft toys but you can get lots of second hand wooden toys from charity shops and just wash them thoroughly. Farah charity shops in Southfields, Balham, Clapham and Earlsfield are great. I have been collecting old Ladybird books. They make nice coasters and there are some great pictures to frame. Search your parent’s loft for your old baby books and toys to see if you can re-use them for your own child.”
Now, this mini Ercol chair was a present from me to Isa. An eBay buy (although I won’t reveal the price as it was a present). I’m sure if Farah had bought it she would have got it a lot cheaper!
These are some of Farah’s tips for furnishing a home whilst watching the pennies:
1) Save where you can so that you can splurge on things like fireplaces and sofas.
2) Buy furniture that you will enjoy forever. Laurie says “we can’t afford to buy twice”.
3) It’s better to buy something lovely that is second-hand rather than something that is ordinary first-hand.
4) Everything should have function and form e.g. store dummies and bonjella in a vintage tea cup or jelly mould.
5) We spend our lives in antique and vintage shops: get an idea and then try to find it cheaper elsewhere.
I can’t wait to come back when the house is finished! Thanks, Farah x