Why You Should Furniture Shop at Tag Sales Instead of IKEA

I’m going to make a bold statement for someone of my generation: I absolutely loathe IKEA.

I don’t like the style. I don’t like that it requires me to put it together and I somehow still end up with spare parts. I’ve sat on far too many IKEA couches and chairs that have been poorly assembled and had my ass hit the floor. And I’m sorry, but not even their meatballs are enough to lure me into the store. But perhaps what I dislike the most about it is that I can walk into the home of anyone between the ages of 18-35 and we’ve all got the same generic furniture.

Why? Because it’s affordable. Unfortunately, despite Target’s best efforts, affordability is the death knoll of style because face it, most of us can’t afford the Pottery Barns or artisan hand-crafted custom pieces. Sadly budget furniture comes in easily packaged, ill put-together, cookie cutter quantities and most of the time we’ve got to make do with what we’ve got.

But I’m here to offer an alternative, that is not only par with IKEA prices, but infinitely more fun to hunt down: The Tag Sale. Tag sales are wonderful things that are kind of like if Wayfair or One King’s Lane had a flea market baby designed by Etsy. They can be monthly events where a lot of local furniture makers, upcyclers, and small boutique owners bring their goods to sell. You can also go directly to the source and hunt down these local stores.

These places offer quality and custom furniture you’re not going to find at your standard box store. These are pieces of furniture that have been hand made from old materials (there’s a lot of barn door tables), forged from scrap metals, refurbished vintage pieces, and redesigned with chalk paint and distressed. The styles and types of furniture and decor are endless. One weekend you might find a pair of midcentury leather and chrome chairs going for $400 the next a painted breakfast nook table and benches going for $250. At a January tag sale I bought a painted solid oak table with two leaves and six reupholstered and painted chairs (two of which were arm chairs) for $400 total. That’s about on par with what you can get at IKEA and the best part is no one else will have it.

You also can’t beat the fact that you’re supporting your local artisans and small businesses. I’ve had a lot of conversations and made a number of contacts on my furniture hunts, and these are contacts who are keeping an eye out for an iron bookshelf for me, sending me paint chips, and remembering me when I run into them months later. Many of them are your weekend warrior crafters and are willing to spend time with you teaching you how to refurbish your own vintage pieces. It’s fun and interactive, and I really like knowing that my money is going directly into the economy instead of poor attempts at trickle down economics hording it for the big businesses.

Still not convinced you can find amazing stuff through tag sales? Here’s a few pictures of one day of hunting in Virginia and Maryland—and everything pictured was under $1000, most of it in the $200-400 range.

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