I'm furnishing my new home with second hand homeware – this is how it’s going

The joys, the trials and tribulations of shopping second hand

A dining room with a second-hand extendable dining table and chairs
(Image credit: eBay)

On the occasion of Second Hand September, I thought it would be fitting to share with you my recent commitment to furnish my new flat with second hand home decor and furniture.

Second Hand September is an initiative in its fifth year launched by Oxfam to encourage Brits to ‘donate, reuse, rewear, restyle’ and buy nothing new basically for the whole month of September. And while I personally still need to buy things because I just moved, I refrain from buying brand new things.

But let’s set the scene first. At the end of July of this year, I moved house from a fully furnished flat to a completely unfurnished one. So we had very little to fill the new space, to say the very least. But I was thrilled because it meant that for the first time, I would be able to realise my vision and furnish my home exactly the way I (fine, and my boyfriend) want. 

At the same time, I set myself a challenge, which I thought would make it even more fun, as well as better for the environment – furnish my new place with second hand finds. For very little money, on top of that, which presents an additional challenge as there is plenty of beautiful but expensive vintage home decor out there. So if you’re curious to see how this journey is going, as it’s very much a work in progress, and would like some buying second hand furniture tips, then read on.

Furnishing my home with second hand finds

A bar trolley with a tall floor lamp against an exposed brick wall

(Image credit: eBay)

In this day and age, the environmental reasons and benefits to shopping second hand are most probably obvious as we’re battling plastic pollution and more and more of our non-biodegradable waste is dumped into landfills every day. 

Earlier this year, eBay reported that UK households discard around half a million tones of furniture a year. And according to the resell site’s research, the average person looks to refresh their home around three times a year. This quick a turnaround is usually catered to by fast homeware, as Rachel Miles, head of home and garden at eBay, explains.

‘Fast homeware is mass-produced homeware that is not going to be fit to be there for a long period of time. It's like fast fashion. Basically, it's exactly the same as that - to fulfil a trend, or a really fast demand for something that potentially doesn't have any longevity. And for me, it definitely feels like it's the kind of furniture that you wouldn't put any effort into keeping.'

A set of second-hand painted dipping bowls

(Image credit: Sara Hesikova)

'If you were going to move somewhere else or redecorate, you wouldn't have any qualms about getting rid of it. It tends to be quite on the cheaper side of what you can get out there. It doesn't have the capability of having that second life, it's very much for that moment, and then we have to get rid of it. And that's what's creating all that landfill.’

The same eBay research showed that one in seven, which amounts to 14%, say they are buying more second-hand furniture now compared to two years ago. That’s a sign that things are changing for the better and hopefully, this number will keep getting higher year after year. 

How is my second hand-only commitment going

A vintage glass trinket tray in the shape of a flower

(Image credit: Sara Hesikova)

So two months into living in our new abode, you might think that the place is all done and put together, we got everything we needed etc. Our families certainly seem to be under that impression. Wrong! If there is one downside to shopping second hand on a budget, it’s that you have to spend a LOT of time searching and waiting around for the right items to appear on the market. But once you get them, you know the wait was worth it.

I personally find that nice second-hand decor is much easier to come by. I see things like lamps, mirrors, trinket dishes like my glass, flower-shaped one (pictured above) and even vintage crockery that I like on the daily. The big pieces, furniture that is, tends to be more difficult and can be pricey. But not always, you’d be amazed at the things people get rid of for free. 

My red rocking chair (pictured below) is the perfect example. It looks just like the iconic Eames RAR Rocking Chair by Vitra, available at Heal’s for £670! I have no idea whether it's the original or not (I doubt it, to be honest) but I don't really care. It’s my prized possession that I would be very sad to ever part with. And it was free! Even though I know it’s not the easiest to style as it doesn’t go with everything and every interior, it’s perfect for my vintage living room ideas

A second-hand red rocking chair with second-hand string lights

(Image credit: Sara Hesikova)

But I’m not the only one in the Ideal Home office that loves shopping second hand. Our Editor, Heather Young, whose home we’re endlessly jealous of at the office, often decorates with second-hand treasures. Her extendable dining table and chairs were an eBay find.

‘I didn't even need to reupholster the seats. Not only did it add some vintage character to our new kitchen space, but our budget was pretty much gone by that point, so it was a great way to get a dining set without spending too much money,’ she says. 

And she scored her chic garden deck chairs at the famous Sunbury Antiques Market, which I have yet to visit because it’s only open on Tuesdays.

A dining room with a second-hand extendable dining table and chairs

(Image credit: Heather Young)

Ideal Home’ Ecommerce Editor, Molly Cleary, also looked to second hand when furnishing her flat and found a gem on Gumtree that vintage bedroom ideas and dreams are made of. ‘When I moved into my unfurnished flat, the first thing we needed to sort out was a bed frame. We found a vintage one on Gumtree for £150 and have had it ever since. All of the slats are removable, so it was super easy to transport too.’

But if you’re looking to start shopping for your homewares second hand but don’t know where to start, here are some tips. 

A vintage bed frame

(Image credit: Molly Cleary)

Start with a mood board

Whether it’s on your phone or Pinterest, create mood boards and add to them regularly whenever you see a space, a look or a piece that you like. So that when it actually comes to shopping for that thing you need, you know exactly what you’re looking for. Impulse buying has no place here. Instead, put some real consideration behind your purchases.

I even save specific pieces I like from high street stores and sometimes search for them on resell sites. At times successfully. That’s right, sometimes people get rid of furniture that’s from retailers’ current collections because they’re either moving (sometimes unexpectedly) or the item didn’t work for them and their space but they can’t return it.

Know where to look - and look often

A set of vintage deck chairs in the garden

(Image credit: Heather Young)

This one is very personal because we all have various styles, preferences and budgets. And there are many places and platforms selling second-hand home furnishings today, each catering to a different customer base. But here are some of my personal favourites:

Charity shops - a great place to start, especially since most people have some in their area. Home decor is available in almost every charity shop, but if you’re after furniture, then the British Heart Foundation is the best in my opinion. It also has an eBay account where you can bid for your favourite pieces. I just missed out on a beautiful dining table with a set of chairs which I’m still not over. 

Apps and online - why not start with platforms where you can get things for free? Olio is my top pick, while Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree offer a mix of free and selling. If your budget is not too tight, then a newer app called Narchie is especially great for home decor, while Vinterior, which specialises in vintage, has some amazing furniture and lighting. 

A set of round gilded mirrors at the Sunbury Antiques Market

(Image credit: Heather Young)

Carboot sales, flea markets and jumble trails - make a day of it and venture into weekend markets filled with second hand treasures. I’m very fond of the London Car Boot Co located in the Princess May School in London's Stoke Newington every weekend without fail. And Hackney Flea Market, which also organises flea markets in London’s Walthamstow and Peckham, is another great resource, albeit more costly than a humble carboot. 

Sunbury Antiques Market

(Image credit: Heather Young)

I’m not going to lie, the search is time-consuming but it is something I thoroughly enjoy. It’s worth checking these platforms regularly, I look every day. Saving searches and setting notifications for styles and specific items you’re looking for also makes the process all the easier.

I’ll keep you posted on how my second-hand adventure goes.

Sara Hesikova
News Writer

Sara Hesikova has been Ideal Home’s News Writer since July 2023, bringing the Ideal Home’s readership breaking news stories from the world of home and interiors. Graduating from London College of Fashion with a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism in 2016, she got her start in niche fashion and lifestyle magazines like Glass and Alvar as a writer and editor before making the leap into interiors. She feels the two are intrinsically connected - if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.