What to Buy From a Junk Store, According to a Designer

·3 min read
Photo credit: Sarah Winchester
Photo credit: Sarah Winchester

"Do you long to become a super stylish and authentic human being?" That's how designer Mally Skok opens her debut book—and indeed, the following pages are a cheerful guide for doing just that, as well as for "living a life that is meaningful, surrounded with the things that you love." Unlike many interior design books, which are focused primarily on rooms and their look (and sometimes function), Mally's Little Handbook is, instead, a practical guide to living life more like a designer—someone who is acutely aware of her surroundings, loves creating a home filled with things (and people) she loves, and is always in search of creative inspiration.

Though the book is full of life lessons—from hosting guests to arranging flowers—all presented in a style Skok refers to as "a friendly chat," one of our favorites at House Beautiful is Skok's insight into something we love: Shopping a junk store. Skok, who is an undiscriminating collector of treasures, from high-end dealers and forgotten piles of thrift shops alike—offers up some sound bits of practical advice to shoppers eager to find a deal on treasure at their local haunt. Here are her best tips.

1. Don't try too hard.

Sure, that might sound counterintuitive when there are treasures to be had—but as Skok sees it, getting caught up in finding THE perfect item may blind you to others. Instead, she advises, wander slowly, letting your eyes take everything in until something catches your fancy.

2. Never pass up a little jug.

The one thing Skok always stops for? "An adorable little jug!" Not only are these multifunctional, the designer advises—fill them with flowers on your guest room nightstand, use them to pour milk with morning coffee—but they are also an easy way to create a collected look on any surface in your home, from a mantel to a sideboard to a tabletop.

Photo credit: Sally Murphy
Photo credit: Sally Murphy

3. Follow your internal cash register.

When shopping at junk stores—unlike auctions with comparable sales, or online retailers where you can price compare—there's often no set price that's "right" for an item. Instead, it's up to you to consider what something is worth. (To Skok, in the example of the aforementioned little jug, "it should be $35 if it's fabulous, or less if it's a bit meh.") But that's all up to you: "The price has little to do with how much cash you have in your wallet...it has everything to do with whether your purchase is a wonderful little coup, and you walk away thinking you did rather nicely."

4. Buy what you love.

And finally, you know the saying that behind every cliché is a bit of truth: "There is no right or wrong to what takes your fancy," advises Skok. After all, the rummage you select will be living its new life in your home, so it's your happiness that matters.

Photo credit: Sarah Winchester
Photo credit: Sarah Winchester

Skok's lessons in shopping junk sales underscore the two main takeaways of her book: Making your home a happy, personal place and becoming what the designer refers to as "a noticer." As Skok sees it, having style is less about an innate "eye" and more about taking the time to notice the things around you. "Teach yourself to stop for a moment" when taking your commute, walking through a familiar place, or exploring a new one, she advises, and realize what your eyes land on. "You are developing your own unique eye." And what better foundation for the perfect home than that?

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