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There’s No Kelly Blue Book: How to Price Used Furniture

9 Jul
Coffee beans and cup

Relevant, I swear.

Ah, the market.  And by market I don’t mean capital M Market, as in Red Chair.  I mean the whimsical market that defines the price of everything, in many cases with little regard to its useful value or original price.  Did you know, for example, that the most expensive coffee in the world is “processed” through the intestinal tract of the civet in Asia?  That’s right; you can pay a premium of up to 1000% to have your coffee pre-digested.

“OK, interesting I guess”, you may be thinking, “but why bring THAT up? Especially given that some people may read this during mealtime?”  The point is, the price of many things is pretty subjective.

How to Price Used Furniture

Pricing used furniture is tricky.  There are some tangible factors like quality of construction, materials and brand name that are fairly obvious.  But the reality is a lot of those things don’t seem to be reflected in the eventual sales price.  Much depends on the whims of fashion, which can be strange and difficult to predict. I mean,who’da thunk monkey-poop coffee would be all the rage?

I have an ulterior motive with this story.  I want you to sell your stuff on Red Chair Market.  And if it’s priced too high, nobody will buy it, and you’ll blame us.  And that makes me sad.  So I did some research to make sure everyone’s got realistic expectations and can walk (or click, I guess) away from the experience with good feelings.

So you don’t think I’m just making things up (never happens), I talked to some experts. First was Karen Schilffarth, a veteran of the furniture consignment industry and manager at Cierra in Bee Caves. Along with some very positive feedback on the Market, she confirmed my great fear: many of the used items on the site are priced too high. Yikes.

The next stop was the fine ladies at Design With Consignment.  Both Lisa and Sharrin have also been in the furniture biz long enough to know what’s what. Among many other pearls of wisdom which we’ll get in to, Lisa drew me a brilliant chart which really explained it all.  I’ve recreated it below with some embellishments that I hope she agrees with. She used the example of those venetian mirrors that were the thing several years ago, but you can imagine any “hot” style or item: chintz sofas, shag carpet, Nagels.

Furniture price lifecycle

So obviously the cycles of fashion are a biggie, but there are a few other factors to consider:

Location, location, location.  According to Lisa, blonde wood and wicker will always be somewhat fashionable in Florida.  Colonial will never look completely out of place in Boston.  And a Texas Hill Country house can probably handle a few antlers.  The reverse is also true; try selling that antler-table in Boston.

Duncan Phyfe dining table

Beautiful, and plentiful.

Supply and Demand.  Take for example, the Duncan Phyfe table. Graceful lines, gleaming wood; they remind me of my grandmother’s dining room.  Unfortunately, they remind EVERYONE of their grandmother’s dining room, because everyone’s grandmother had one.  So while they’re classic and well-made, they’re also quite abundant.  Now that I’ve brought it up, you’ll see a DP table in every antique store in Austin.

Southwestern bedroom

Whitewashed logs, pastels, feathers…the whole nine yards.

Going To Extremes. There’s southwestern and then there’s Southwestern. If your item is a very stylized version of what was hot, it’s going to eventually look more dated and will be harder to sell.

So What to Do?

This is a very long-winded way of providing some guidance to you on pricing furniture that you’re going to put on the Market.

Start by looking at the chart above.  Is the style of your piece in the peak, decline, trough or resurgence? There aren’t hard and fast numbers to the decline and rise of price, but it should give you the basic idea.

In Style

If your piece is in excellent shape, relatively in-style or very classic, a reasonable color, well-made (solid wood, quality upholstery), and especially if it’s a recognized and respected name brand; then start with 40-60% of the original price.  So if your coffee table was $1000 new, start pricing it a $400-600.

“Argh!” you say.  “It’s practically new! You’re so mean.” OK, but remember this: according to Edmund’s, even a car loses 8% of its value the minute it’s driven off the lot. And most people can get 20-30% off at a good sale.

If you just know it’s worth more, price it higher and see what happens.  If you sell it quickly and for your asking price, you can call me and tell me I’m full of monkey poop. I’ll still be thrilled because you’re happy.

Just Old

What to do if you’re in the trough?  Sadly, if something’s really in the trough and it isn’t an artisan-crafted example of the style, you won’t get much at all. I’m so sorry. That said, you could paint it, change the knobs, add some new pillows.  Or you could hold on to it; blonde oak WILL come back someday.  But you probably just want to move it along, so price it as low as you can live with and look to the future.


Colonial maple table

Gorgeous, solid wood…but a “retro” Formica table would probably go faster.

Not everything that’s 30-50 years old counts as vintage, in fact, this category is especially susceptible to the whims of fashion. So for example, the sleek, modern stuff from the ‘50s through ‘70s is on fire right now. The cherry colonial dining set is not, nor is my much-loved white French provincial bedroom furniture.

If you think your piece qualifies as vintage; poke around some stores or on eBay for ideas.  Remember, however, retail stores can and will charge a higher price because they offer services like charming salespeople, delivery, returns and credit card processing.


Finally, if you think your piece qualifies as antique (usually at least 80 years old, if not 100), you might want to have it appraised.  Mention the appraisal in your ad; take a picture if you got a written one.  Price it slightly lower than the appraisal.

Let Go with Grace

White leather tufted chair I’ll leave you with this.  Buy what you love; a quality piece that calls to you or something fun and trendy that gives you a thrill. Think of it as investing in your surroundings and general well-being, not specifically in that item.  When it’s time to move it on, let go with grace.  Your sofa or dining table has given you hours of enjoyment and utility (hopefully) and it has probably paid you back already for its price.  Take what you can get, and use that boon to donate to your favorite charity or buy an accessory for the new piece you’ve fallen in love with.

For more suggestions for selling on Red Chair Market including taking photos, writing descriptions and more, visit our tips page.

Pro-Tip Tuesday: Painting Crisp Stripes on a Wall

22 May
These subtle stripes add interest without overwhelming a small space.

These subtle stripes add interest without overwhelming a small space.

Adding a stripe (or several) to a wall is a great, inexpensive way to perk things up without spending a lot of money.  You can go subtle with tone-on-tone, or go bold with contrasting colors.  It’s pretty quick too, but getting those really crisp, clean lines can be hard, and blurry edges can kind of ruin the whole effect. I suppose you could get away with it in a dining room and try to convince your guests it was the wine, but better to get them straight to start with.  So what to do?

We got a tip from Mary Pullen from Redux Home Staging and Redesign who learned the hard way after trying it on her own living room.

Pro Tip:

Tape your lines with painter’s tape, then run a very small bead of caulk along the edge.  Smooth it completely, let dry, then paint with your brush or roller moving outward from the tape.  The caulk seals the tape down to the wall, and painting away from the tape prevents you from pushing the paint under it.

Voila! Crisp, clean lines.

Here are a few more ideas for striping it up.

See more Pro Tips; and be sure to connect with us so you don’t miss anything!

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Pro-Tip Tuesday – Live Life on the Edge

24 Apr
Mix it up a little!  this outfit could use some edge.

Mix it up a little! this outfit could use some bling.

So we all know mixing things up a bit adds some depth and prevents your decor from looking like it was purchased en masse from the “Estate” collection at JCP. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.  After all, Garanimals invented matching for a reason;  it’s easy.  But how far should you go?

This week’s Pro Tip was inspired by a conversation with Mari Johnson, founder and owner of Back Home Furniture and Back Home with a Twist.  We had wonderful chat last week and we’re sharing one of her many thoughts that hit a note with us.

Pro Tip

Pick at least one thing that’s edgy, that can spark conversation.  When asked if it’s possible to go to far with the edgy, Mari said serenely “If you love it, you can’t go to far”.  Based on that we’ll add a corollary: push yourself a bit, but don’t buy anything you don’t love otherwise .

Round Top Antiques Festival hoof lamp

Please don’t buy this just because it’s edgy.

Bad Edgy: (walk in to a store, immediately find a clerk) “Hello, I need something edgy for my home, what’s the edgiest thing you’ve got?  That? Well, I suppose it is edgy, or, something….but, I’ll take it.” (shoulders slump, trudge out of store)

Good Edgy: (walk in to a store, immediately gravitate to one piece) “Wow, look at that!  That’s so cool!  I don’t know if it would “go” in my house though, it doesn’t really match the rest of my style.  Oh heck, I love it. I’ll take it!” (skip out of store)

Back Home Furniture Rustic Table

Good edgy, like this from Back Home Furniture.

So the point is–take a chance on that crazy piece that calls to you…and have fun! At least you’ll have a good conversation starter at your next party.


See more Pro Tips; and be sure to connect with us so you don’t miss anything!

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Pro-Tip Tuesday: Pick Fabric First

9 Apr
Bolt Fabrics samples

Don’t let the wall color keep you from a great combo like this! (courtesy of Bolt Fabrics)

Knowing in which order to do things is one of the big differences between an amateur and a professional.  For example, would Jeeves* have put Wooster’s shoes on before his pants?  Of course not! Rookie mistake. Order is also important when designing a room.  This week’s Pro Tip is inspired by the folks at Bolt Fabrics, an interior fabric store on South Lamar.

Pro Tip

When redesigning an entire room, start with the fabric.  While there are hundreds of fabric choices, there are thousands of paint colors, so it will be easier to match paint to fabric than vice-versa.  In fact you can usually get paint custom-matched to your fabric if necessary. Plus, this prevents the tragedy of painting a room, then falling in love with a fabric that clashes.  Just trying to save you the  heartache.


Jeeves and Wooster is a British comedy television programme adapted from P.G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves” stories. It aired on the ITV network from 1990 to 1993, with the last series nominated for a British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series. It starred Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster, a young gentleman with a “distinctive blend of airy nonchalance and refined gormlessness”, and Stephen Fry as Jeeves, his improbably well-informed and talented valet. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Gormlessness, best word ever.

See more Pro Tips; and be sure to connect with us so you don’t miss anything!

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Pro-Tip Tuesday: Right-Sizing Your Rug

19 Mar
Tiny Rug

Even too small for Pookie!

As with clothing, size in a rug can make a statement.  Just imagine how much more elegant Snooki would look if her clothes weren’t too tiny.  OK, bad example.

So while a too-small rug may not convey the same message that a too-small outfit does, it certainly doesn’t do much for your room. To help us understand how to right-size our rugs, we were inspired by Jan Griffin of Griffin Interior Makeovers in Austin.

Pro Tip

When you’re looking for a rug, be sure the size complements your furniture and room arrangement.  The perfect rug should connect all the major pieces of furniture in your room, i.e. sofas, chairs and large coffee tables.  The rug should go at least a few inches under the front legs of each piece.

Here is a before and after example from Griffin Interior Makeovers:

Griffin Interior Makeovers 2

Griffin Interior Makeovers 1

Don’t have a big enough rug? Consider layering a large one under your smaller rug to anchor the room.  See more idea for rug layering in our Cheap Tricks post.

See more Pro Tips; and be sure to connect with us so you don’t miss anything!

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Home Office Makeover Part Two: What a Difference a Pro Makes

28 Feb
Home office makeover before

Not exactly what we had in mind.

As you know, we’ve been making over our home office to better serve as a command center for world domination.  In Part One of our chronicles, we shared the process of getting the built-in bookcases installed.  Once installed, we thought we were done, just slap those books up there and get back to work!  Well, it turns out that just slapping those books up there made our gorgeous new investment look pretty crappy.  So, once again, we turned to a professional.  Enter Mary Pullen of Redux Home Staging and Redesign, who whipped us in to shape.

You may recall that our little space has to serve a multitude of functions: the Red Chair Market command center (i.e. my office), Mr. Handsome’s office, the family bill-paying and filing station, the guest room and the music room.  It is also the first thing guests see when entering the house, so it has to look good.  That’s a lot of multitasking for 120 square feet, but Mary was undaunted.

In case you haven’t worked with redesigner before, they are generally focused on using what you have in new, creative ways. So the first thing we did was wander around the house to give Mary a sense of our style (or lack thereof) and scope out pieces we could use to spark up the room.  We then retired to the soon-to-be fabulous office to brainstorm a bit.

Her first suggestion was to consider covering the back of the bookcases with burlap.  Hmmm. But, I figured she’s the expert (and she’d done it before) so I agreed to give it a shot.  She thought the sofa area could be more inviting; I had kind of ignored it,  but once she suggested adding a pillow, lamp and small table I could see how neglectful I had been.  We both agreed that a more interesting light fixture was in order, the current one was a basic builder version. Finally, she suggested covering the functional-yet-ugly corkboard with some fun fabric.

Home office makeover burlap shelving

In progress.

So after our first meeting I was armed with a list of ideas and a few things to purchase.  My big score was the $5 chandelier from the Habitat Re-Store,  re-wired by my friends at D&W Lighting.  We reconvened a week later and went to work.  First we tackled the upholstering of the bookcases, which was actually pretty easy.  We just cut pieces about 4″ bigger than the area we were covering (we won’t mention that one little mishap) and folded the top over to make a nice straight line. Then starting at the top, we stapled it to the wood with a light-duty staplegun.  Once the top was in place, we could fold in the edges and staple down the sides, smoothing as we went along.  Burlap is pretty forgiving and even hides the staples, so it was a great way to try out the technique.  I’m totally amazed at how it changed the look of the room, somehow the jumble of books looked less jumbly already.

Next we went to work putting the books back up.  Mary “shopped” my house to find some doodads to break up the books and add some visual interest.  She asked me about my work habits (I fudged) and made sure that things I needed and used every day were accessible.  I think she would have liked to have culled a few books, but when I mentioned it to Mr. Handsome he got a little crabby.  Apparently he thinks bookshelves are for books.  So they all stayed.

Home office makover bookshelves

Nice mix of books and doodads.

Next we re-arranged the console area, using it to house the less attractive items like the printer.  I still had a million papers that I felt as though I needed immediate access to, so she suggested putting the baskets under the console for additional storage. Finally, we found a tiny, forgotten lamp handmade by my Aunt to add light to the sofa area, and added a fluffy pillow and side table.

As you can see, the transformation is amazing.  Most importantly, the Command Center is completely conducive to world domination; not only organized, but a beautiful place to while away the hours.

Home office makeover after

Ta Da! I look like quite the professional sitting here, even if I’m just surfing Reddit.

The “guest room” is also much more enjoyable and functional, both when the bed is open and when it’s not.  The pillow, lamp and table added to the spacealso make it a nice area for me to retire to when Mr. Handsome takes over the desk.

Home office makeover sofa area

Imagine sitting here reading Raymond Chandler with a glass of wine…

Home office makeover guest bed

Cat included, whether you like it or not.

While not ideal, we also have a space for the keyboard for when the kids want to work on their scholarship opportunities; they can use it on the desk and it slides under the sofa when not in use. (It’s not a very interesting picture, so I didn’t include it.)

And finally, we found one more use for the room.  It makes a perfect romantic little place for a dinner celebrating all our achievements.

Home office makeover dining room

Celebration time!

Here are a few other ideas from Mary (and one from me) that made the room a smashing success:

  • We painted all the storage baskets a dark brown (actually an “oiled bronze” which she calls magic paint) so they kind of disappear in to the background.  There are two baskets under the console, see if you can find them!
  • We installed a slide lock on the French door next to the sofa – when that door opens it significantly reduces the usable area of the room.
  • (This was my idea) I covered some foamcore boards with the leftover burlap and used them to cover up the open back of the console, hiding the cords (for some reason cords fill me with great angst).

So! We’re finally done, and it was all worthwhile, especially the help from our pro friends.  Below are a few of the Austin-area resources we used on the project.

Austin-area resources

B-Squared Woodworks

Redux Home Staging and Redesign

Bolt Fabrics – pillow and corkboard fabric (isn’t that faux-bois awesome?)

Capital City Upholstery Supply – cheapest burlap in town

D&W Lighting – rewiring several of my old and “found” fixtures

Habitat Re-Store – vintage chandelier

Pro-Tip Tuesday: Framing Vintage Fabric

25 Feb
Framed vintage fabric

Saved! From becoming yet another pillow, or worse, getting stuck in the closet.

For those fabriholics among us (and you know who you are), you may often wonder if you’ve hit the upper limit of pillows you can make for yourself .  Or you may have hit the wall already and have begun to make them for your friends, but not everyone has the taste to appreciate that toile depicting the Battle of the Bulge (where did you find that anyway?) If you’ve still got fantastic yardage left and have been banned from making pillows, we’ve got a solution for you.  This week’s Pro Tip is inspired by Jean Heath, proprietrix of Uptown Modern on Burnet Road.

Pro Tip

Turn your hoarded vintage fabric in to art by framing it.  The one above gracing Uptown Modern’s walls is stretched over a simple wooden frame available at hobby and craft stores. Grab a staple gun and start with one side, securing it in a nice, straight line.  Then gently stretch the fabric to the other side and staple, starting from the middle.  It may take a time or two to get the tension right so that you don’t have any sags or overly tight areas, but fortunately staples are easily removed.  You know, just in case the moratorium on pillows gets lifted.

See a few other ides below:

Framed vintage fabric

This solution uses up even more!

Framed, embroidered vintage fabric

This one was embellished with some embroidery to make it more dimensional.

Victorian frame vintage fabric

Great Victorian frame sets this fabric off.

Pro-Tip Tuesday: Make your Artwork Pop with Color Blocks

19 Feb

Did you know that the famous Vermeer painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring is only 18″x15″?  And that the average house size is almost 2500 square feet? That can be a lot of wall space to fill, and you certainly don’t want your TGWTPE drowning in a sea of plaster on your 10″ tall wall. Nor do most of us want to invest in the Guernica just to fill space (among other reasons, it’s not the happiest painting in the world). So we turned to Austin interior designer Robin Callan of Room Fu Interiors who inspired this week’s tip.

Pro Tip


Pop! This simple blue background makes the piece stand out and also fills up space.

To make a small piece of artwork fill up more space visually, paint a color block behind it to give it an extra frame.  This serves to both fill up the wall, and emphasize the artwork through the strategic use of color.  In this example Room Fu was asked to spice up a long, boring entry hall without investing in a lot of new items.  By painting a coordinating block behind the artwork, it reads as a much bigger piece and adds some much-needed interest to the hallway (see the original post here).  To pick a shade, try pulling a tertiary color out of the piece you’re highlighting to give it depth.  Fortunately, paint is cheap, so you can afford to make a mistake or two before you get it right.  Room Fu’s example here is bold, but you could also consider just a shade or two lighter or darker than the wall color for a more subtle accent.  The more ambitious could even consider trying to frame the block with molding, although you’d have to be careful not to get too busy.

Below are a few other examples from the world wide web; doing wonders for a plain mirror, a small clock and a tiny portrait (click on the images for the original posts). So dig out that tiny priceless (or not so priceless) piece from the attic, grab a paintbrush and go to town.

Color block behind art

The tiny clock takes up the whole wall now.

Color block behind mirror

Same great color as Room Fu’s example, perking up a plain mirror.

Pro-Tip Tuesday: Upgrade Your Entry

12 Feb

Many of us forget that the front door is the first thing visitors see when they enter your home.  Well, that and the plethora of soccer balls and foam darts that decorate your front porch.  Oh, not yours?  Well, uh, not mine either.  This week’s Pro Tip was inspired by a conversation with Emily Belyea, of Crestview Doors.

Pro Tip:

A distinctive front door adds tons of curb appeal to your home for next to nothing.  If you’re on a tight budget, just paint your door a fun color then add a matching planter, mailbox or house numbers for an instant update. Consider replacing your standard screen door with something more interesting too; those utilitarian models do as little for your entry as a pair of grey sweats do for your body.  For a little more money you can upgrade your door to something memorable; stained wood, iron and glass or a fun mid-century modern design like the ones at Crestview Doors.

Here’s a before and after example from Crestview, and a sample of their new screen-door line in collaboration with Austin artist Susan Wallace:

Crestview Doors before and after

Voila! Instant update.

Crestview Doors screen door

100% better, and functional!

So take a hard look at your front door the next time you come home and ask “grey sweatpants or fabulous?” If you answered “grey sweatpants”, you know what to do.

Sneak Peek: Southern Living Showcase Home Austin (Lago Vista)

6 Feb
Fireplace in the living room.  Taller than my house.

Fireplace in the living room. Taller than my house.

We were lucky enough to be invited by interior designer Heather Harkovich out to Lago Vista (when are they going to build a bridge?) to get a super-secret sneak peek of the Southern Living Showcase Home. Heather was selected to do all the design work in the house–which is a huge honor–and she had the chance to show her efforts off to a few select luminaries.  You know me, a Select Luminary.

Wow.  It was easy to assume that the house would be a traditional Hill Country Tuscan, but this house belied all the stereotypes. It’s a bit hard to describe, but the interiors feel like a marriage of beach and barn, if the beach was in the Hamptons and the barn was in the French countryside.

The interior was done in mostly shades of white, with accents of beachy blues. The furnishings were beautiful, but I was completely smitten by the materials used throughout the house.  Whitewashed horizontal-planked walls in the living room, incredible marble tilework in the kitchen and baths, navy grasscloth in the study (swoon).

Here are pics of a few details you might miss if you don’t look carefully:

Guest bath shower ceiling

The shower ceiling in the guest bath. Both Mr. Handsome and I blurted out “how the heck to they get that up there?”

Living room interior windows

Interior windows reminiscent of a barn…although not many barns have chandeliers.

Marble mosaic in kitchen

The “entertaining” kitchen. The backsplash is marble mosaic tile. Gah.

Guest bed light fixture

This unique light in the upstairs guest bedroom made beautiful patterns on the ceiling.

Here are a few other things we noticed but forgot to get photos of:

  • An electric staircase to the attic, just push a button and it slides down!  No more jumping for that dumb string that’s always just a little too short.
  • An herb garden at the entrance to the house (on the left side). You can’t have your basil too close!
  • The lamps on the buffet in the main room are corbels bought in Round Top and wired by Austin’s Re-Works Works.
  • The “entertaining kitchen” concept.  I’ve noticed this in several high-end houses lately;  builders and designers are finally accepting that everyone is going to end up in the kitchen at a party.  So there is a super-sparkly one that is in the main traffic flow and has lots of counter space for serving, and there is a second catering/family kitchen for prepping and storage.

(You can read more about the design process here on Heather’s blog).

So, of course you want to go.  The official Tour opens this Saturday and runs through the 24th.

Southern Living Showcase Home

Tickets and Information

And of course you also want to go to the new Heather Scott Home and Design Store!  Here are a sampling of some of the wonderful things they have from the Market.   Now go get inspired!

green striped rug

Green striped rug

greywashed wicker cabinet

Greywashed wicker cabinet

Leather and chrome nesting tables

Leather and chrome nesting tables