Stop drooling outside of Crate and Barrel. Make a pilgrimage to Ikea, comb your local flea market and prove that affordable furniture is not an oxymoron.
Once you've selected your new humble abode, it's time to move in and decorate. Assuming that you didn't steal any solid pine bookshelves or extra-long twin bed frames from your dorm room, you'll need to buy your own furniture.
When it comes to getting cheap furniture, you pretty much have two options. The first one is to find the nearest IKEA. Quite an awesome sight to behold, this gigantic budget furniture warehouse/store can provide you with both living necessities - bed, desk, table, bookshelf and dresser drawers - and the psychedelic ornamentation your little yuppie pad craves. More than one recent grad has driven across several state borders to stock up on cheap Swedish chic.
Flea Markets and Antiques
Here are our picks for great furniture shopping in some major cities:
New York: Every weekend, deep in the heart of Chelsea, antique shoppers and bargain hunters gather on 6th Avenue between 24th and 27th street at the Annex Antique Fair and Flea Market.
Chicago: You can't beat Belmont Avenue, otherwise known as Antique Row, for a concentrated collection of eclectic stores.
San Francisco: Try the second-hand furniture stores in the Mission District. It will take some work to separate the bargains from the junk, but with names like Community Thrift and Quality Junk, who can resist?
Alternately, you could acquire used furniture - "acquire" because not all used furniture costs money. More than one fortunate adventurer in New York City, for instance, has found brass coffee tables and 17-inch TV's loitering on the sidewalk of Lexington Avenue, begging to be taken home. But because we cannot always depend on the whims of fortune (or in this case, the moving schedule of the wealthy), a good place to search for used furniture and one-of-a-kind decorative treasure in an urban city is the local flea market. Other, more nationally amenable resources on a cheap furniture hunt include the usual concoction of yard sales, classified advertisements and ebay.com.
We lied. There are more than two ways to acquire budget furniture - those were just our best ideas. Here are a few additional tips on where to find it, how to fix it up and pieces you need to have:
- Refurbish, paint or upholster pieces that need work. Take sandpaper to an old table to remove the old finish, then stain, paint or varnish. Alternatively, try buying inexpensive, unfinished pine furniture and paint with a wood stain you like.
- Pier 1 is another good source of inexpensive furniture. They have frequent sales, so check back often, either in the store or online.
- Check out one-of-a-kind rooms in furniture stores (usually in the basement) to find expensive pieces at substantial discounts.
- Paint wicker furniture to match your decor. Once you make the transition from apartment to house, you can use it to furnish a patio or sunroom.
- Your college futon doesn't have to be abandoned on your quest for sophisticated adulthood. Buy a stylish futon cover for a new look - $50 sure beats the $500 you'd shell out on a new sofa.
- If your lease won't allow you to hang a full-length mirror, invest in a free-standing Cheval mirror that will add a touch of elegance to your bedroom.
- Place a large armoire in your bedroom, and you have an extra closet. Put it in your living room, and you have an entertainment center to house TV, stereo, and VCR.
Also of interest: Budget Chic, The Space Race, How to Pick and ISP, Home Repairs for Hovel Dwellers, Feng Shui for Apartment Dwellers.