So You Think You Can Craft

Last week I shared a few fun things from my day at the Nashville Flea Market. The reason I went was because of an article I read in Dwell about a designer, Kathryn Tyler who, over years, furnished her entire home by finding old/vintage mid-century modern furniture that either was still in great shape or that she ended up refurbishing on her own. (Read more about her here)

The Husband and I are in the process of really modifying our home to make it our own since we've decided not to move and I've made a decision to dedicate what I can to really putting our own touches on what we own and finding good quality furniture is one way that seems most appealing to me. The idea of finding a classic piece that just needs a new home is great but I didn't know where to start. SO, I turned to someone who I know is great at this, someone whose style of decor is a lot like what I would like to have in my house.

ModFruGal is probably one of my favorite blogs to read and one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter. She's got a great sense of style, a great eye for design and I knew she'd be able to lead me in the right direction to get started on this long-term project.

Just a few things about why I love her blog so much - she and her husband have built a kick-ass treehouse for their two kids and she's blogged about the process. She refurbishes not only furniture but they've also been working on their fabulous house, and she also loves good food so she cooks and blogs about that.

She's got awesome before/after posts on her site, and a great familiarity with the Nashville Flea Market so last week, before heading out there I sent her a few questions which she has so graciously answered! Enjoy!

Q&A With ModFrugal.

You’d mentioned in an interview that refurbishing vintage furniture was something you’d always done. For those of us less adept, what’s the best way to start?

The first refurb I did as a teen, without help from my parents, was a pair of 40’s metal outdoor chairs that I refinished for indoor use. I didn’t have google, so I just figured it out as I went, but now, so many tutorials are available, that it’s much less intimidating to attempt a rehab job.

A simple wood coffee table or side table is usually a good first choice to refurb.  Flat planes and surfaces are always easier than curves.

A simpler project, she bought some old cages and repainted them.

What tips or pointers do you have when it comes to someone like me who is headed to an estate sale or to a flea market and who’s new to this?  How do you find those diamonds in the rough?

Just get out there and start looking!  If you aren’t sure of your style, the more you look, the more you will see a pattern with what kind of items/styles resonate with you. Some people can’t stomach the grungy thrift stores and flea markets, so I send them to antique malls.  You’ll pay a little more, but it’s been cleaned up and presented in a more palatable environment. Others can hit garage sales, estate sales, thrift stores and flea markets. I like to keep some wet wipes in the car to clean up after an especially dirty dig!

For me, successful vintage shopping is often simply changing perspective. I don’t look for the thing that’s perfect, I look for the thing that COULD be perfect. If it was a pristine piece, 90% of the time, it wouldn’t be nearly as affordable or accessible, a dealer will snap it up, but sometimes you get lucky!  It’s listening to your instincts about what attracts you and what you love at first sight, or think you can love. Some of my best finds were items I was oddly drawn to, but doubted at first. When I tune in to my instincts, I’m rarely disappointed.

Chair project where she turned the old set into these funky, furry boys she nicknamed "Becks & Bieber."

Same question but for craigslist/ebay!

Mostly the same answer, but when buying a newer item, be wary of photos where they only show the catalog shot of the item, and not the actual piece you are supposedly buying.  It makes me think there is something to hide, even if it’s just laziness on the part of the seller. Always check the shipping before bidding because sometimes the price doubles. Always do a “local” search first, so you can eliminate shipping and pick up in person.

What should I look for if I see a chair or piece of furniture I’d like to buy? How do I know it’s worth taking home and working on?

I think the first thing is to take a good look at the wood, metal whatever material the piece is made of and clearly assess the rot/corrosion/rust situation. Especially check the joinery. Sometimes, without the proper tools and skills, a piece is too far gone, but more often than not, it’s salveageable.

Are there any red flags or tell-tale signs to keep in mind so we know we’re not getting screwed? Especially when it comes to online finds?

Analyze the photography and make sure the photos are of the actual piece, not a catalog/magazine shot. Check dimensions carefully, sometimes the photo can lead to assumptions on size that turn out to be drastically different. Check feedback on the seller, and make sure they have insurance. I  recently received 16 shattered wine glasses from an e-bay seller who packed them very poorly. He had insurance, so I got a refund. Otherwise, I could have been out a lot of money with little recourse.

What are the 3 - 5 key pieces of equipment someone who wants to dabble in refurbishing furniture should have?

I’d say a palm sander, paint scrapers, electric or pneumatic staple gun, tung or teak oil, and a pack of magic erasers. I can get a lot done with just those things.

Do you think this is a hobby everyone can handle? Who is it for, and who would you discourage from doing it?

I think anyone CAN handle it, but not everyone should. Some people just don’t have the patience, and that’s OK! That’s why antique malls and shops exist!

If you aren’t enjoying the process or having fun, then you probably won’t do a very good job, so I think it’s simply a matter of how you feel about it. If you like getting your hands a bit dirty and you are interested in how things work, and craftsmanship, then it could be a fun and rewarding hobby.

SHE MAKES IT ALL SOUND SO SIMPLE!! So with all that in mind, I picked something up that I will be working on and will share, hopefully sooner than later. Hope you found this Q&A as informative as I have.

Be sure to check out ModFrugal's blog here. Oh! Wanted to add: I'm also enjoying this format and would love to interview more local people so if you have any suggestions, do send them my way! Also if you have your own before/after crafts or craft/flea market/vintage furniture adventures to share please do leave a comment with a link!

(all images courtesy of

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