Charity shop furniture – how to bag the best bargains for your home

Get behind October's British Heart Foundation makeover challenge with our tips on how to buy furniture in a charity shop

Wouldn't it be nice to give your home an autumn refresh? But with Christmas on the horizon, it's tricky to justify spending a fortune on new furniture. But there are more cost-effective ways to make your home guest ready for the festive season. And one is to check out the bargains at your local charity shop. Treated properly, charity shop furniture can look stunning – and has far more character than any flat-pack affair.

Follow our tips, and your home could soon be rocking a fabulous new look, while your bank balance stays in the black. Plus, you'll be supporting some fabulous causes in the process – everybody wins!

1. Head out of town

‘The best place I’ve ever found absolute bargain stuff is at the big charity furniture shops in not-so-trendy areas,' says interior stylist, Sarah Akwisombe, who is supporting the British Heart Foundation's October Makeover Challenge.

'I'd recommend heading to the suburbs, as people are often downsizing or upgrading and getting rid of furniture which is exactly what you want. Take a van if you can!

2. Take your time

bathroom makeover with upcycled vanity unit and matching blue floor

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles)

'Don’t be daunted by the scale of the shops and the wealth of items,' advises Sarah. 'Take your time and be patience when wandering through the store. Even if you find something that isn’t to your exact taste or in the ideal condition, just remember that you have the potential to transform it into something amazing with some simple upcycling tricks.'

Related: How to upcycle a vanity unit – to create a super-stylish piece of furniture 

3. Don't be too hung up on imperfections

vintage nathan sideboard with books and flower vase

(Image credit: Megan Taylor/The British Heart Foundation)

‘I found a fantastic vintage Nathan sideboard in a BHF home store, for an absolute steal of £30,' says Sarah. 'It really was retro perfection. It had a few small scratches but I knew it would be nothing a bit of walnut wouldn’t fix. My top tip for any scratches on wood is to grab a walnut, and crack it in half then rub it along the scratch – the natural oils will almost magically erase the scratches. It’s not a permanent solution but it will work for a few months at least before it needs doing again.’

4. Visit regularly

Most areas have a local shop that will specialise in furniture, but don't necessarily expect to come up trumps on your first visit. Patience is a virtue! Expect to see a lot of brown furniture but don't dismiss it, as it is coming back into fashion. Or you could upcycle it (see point 6). Mid-Century teak also comes up more than you'd expect these days...

5. Mix in old with new

living room corner with ikea chair with cushions and beside lamp on table

(Image credit: Future PLC/Simon Whitmore)

If everything from your home comes from a charity shop, there's more danger that the place will look scruffy. So it's vital to strike a balance. Here a pre-loved trunk serves as a side table to a brand-new Ikea chair, while a lamp stand has been refreshed with a new shade.

6. Remember to donate

drawer cabinet with flower vase and lamp

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

Fallen out of love with your sofa? Tired of a table or done with a dresser? Then don't just stick it in the skip – donate it to charity. Both BHF and Sue Ryder offer free furniture collections, so give them a call. It's far better for the planet not to stick old pieces in landfill and it's certainly a better way to support a good cause. In 2017, the BHF tells us they sold more than 140,000 donated sofas, contributing towards the £25 million raised for the charity’s vital work.

7. Be inspired by Instagram

This home is full of inspo: Take a tour around a Victorian terrace in Essex that's full of clever upcycling ideas

Still thinking you won't be able to find something decent in your local charity shop? Then head to Instagram. Search hashtags like #BoughtatBHF or # and you'll see plenty of examples. Like this sideboard, rescued by Linda Barker – it's great inspiration for your next upcycling project.

Amy Cutmore

Amy Cutmore is an experienced interiors editor and writer, who has worked on titles including Ideal Home, Homes & Gardens, LivingEtc, Real Homes, GardeningEtc, Top Ten Reviews and Country Life. And she's a winner of the PPA's Digital Content Leader of the Year. A homes journalist for two decades, she has a strong background in technology and appliances, and has a small portfolio of rental properties, so can offer advice to renters and rentees, alike.