With just six suitcases, 26 boxes, and a head full of dreams, our little family of three relocated to America from Australia last year. We sold all our major furniture and décor items Down Under before the big move; it was time to start again with a clean slate in our new L.A. home. The Silver Lake apartment we scored was newly renovated with fresh white walls, polished concrete floors, and granite countertops in the kitchen; we couldn’t wait to get started.
After a quick trip to IKEA for the usual kitchen necessities, we started looking for the right pieces to decorate our space. We didn’t even need to get in the car; we just turned on the computer and searched on what has become our favorite affordable store: Craigslist. Now we’re hooked. The best part is the thrill of the hunt; you never know what you’re going to stumble upon, and it’s not all secondhand either. We found a brand-new Tuft & Needle king-size mattress for $350 (it retails for $750) from someone who accidentally bought two, a stunning square granite coffee table, and a set of retro Bose Beovox RL6000 speakers from the ’90s.
But when you find that amazing one-off or new piece you love, the waiting game from the time you email until you hear back from the buyer can be excruciating—and thrilling. Those who know this feeling may be nodding and smiling in agreement, but for those who don’t, here is a little Craigslist counsel to get you started.
Do you know your chaise lounge from your club chair or your midcentury modern from your industrial? If not, do a little research and get familiar with the numerous furniture styles and designs out there, and then figure out which ones you really love and that suit your space—including these popular midcentury modern furniture brands. With thousands of items for sale on the e-emporium, these descriptions will be vital keywords for filtering your search. Type in “black leather couch,” and you’ll see what I mean. You could spend hours scrolling through unrelated pieces, and who has time like that to spare?
So you’ve compiled your furniture categories and eras but still can't find the piece you're looking for. It's time to get down to business—advanced search. Enter specific information about the item you’re tracking in quotation marks—for example, black couch “vintage” “midcentury” “modern”—and it will filter the final results. If you’re still seeing too many results or unrelated items, try excluding terms by adding a negative sign in front of the word. The search midcentury sofa-red will look for listings that have “midcentury” and “sofa” but not “red.” If you want to find posts that have “midcentury” and “Milo Baughman,” then use the “OR” searches that look like this: midcentury | Milo Baughman. If your query is complicated, you can group terms with parentheses, such as black (Milo Baughman | Eames) -2000. The results will show “black” and either “Milo Baughman” or “Eames” (or both) but will exclude the year 2000. You can learn other tricks on Craigslist Help. And one more thing: Don’t forget to click on the “show images” option in the top right-hand corner for a thumbnail preview of the images within the post.
So you know the design, era, and color of your dream décor and have learned how to refine your search to sort the good from the bad—now we’re asking you to ditch it all. Well, not entirely, but there is gold to be found when you look outside the common terms and search for postings that haven’t been categorized properly. Sometimes people don’t know what they have, so they won’t list it under a designer name, or they often misspell the era; other times their photographs are dark or low-res, so most people scroll right over them. Unfortunately, this type of search does take time, and you may develop a little RSI from all the scrolling, but if you chance upon that amazing designer piece for a steal, it will all be worth it, right?
The art of bartering—exchanging goods or services for other goods or services without using money—is sadly lost on the next generation. Well, it’s time to rekindle this amazing skill. Craigslist has an entire barter section where people are willing to trade their items. Sometimes you can find an amazing piece of furniture, décor, or accessory that someone listed for trade because the style just isn’t suited to their space anymore. This is an awesome option for those who have a tight budget but great taste. You can swap one beautiful piece for another. It’s win-win! If you’re interested, try some Craiglist bartering tips.
I’ll admit that when I first started buying on Craigslist, I was a little nervous. I loved the browsing, the hunting, and the shopping, but the final pickup almost put me off. I wasn’t keen on visiting the house of someone I don’t know; it’s definitely a big consideration. You should always be prepared and a little cautious whenever you visit a stranger’s home (you could even bring a friend, if it makes you feel better). But don’t be a shrinking violet either. Sometimes you can meet some pretty awesome characters, and we’ve even scored some great extra pieces at the pickup point. When my husband collected our vintage Bose speakers, he noticed a great receiver that matched them perfectly, so the seller threw it in for a few extra dollars.
What’s your secret shopping haunt for affordable furniture?
This post was originally published on June 15, 2016, and has been updated by Sacha Strebe.