Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thrifting Guide to Northern Virginia

I've updated this guide for 2014. HERE.

Whenever I talk to people about Pies & Puggles, I generally describe it as a blog about thrifting with a heavy dose of cooking and DIY. This inevitably leads to a discussion of the thrift stores I like best in the Northern Virginia area so I thought I should finally post my favorites here. I go out about twice a week and have a little rotation since these stores tend to be grouped together to some extent. I have a Fairfax route, an Alexandria route and a Herndon route. I also occasionally make forays into Arlington/Falls Church and Loudoun County, but those trips are more rare; Arlington because I find the selection to be both pricey and picked-over and Loudoun because it's just so darn far away. So mostly these are the ones on my regular routes.

INOVA Fair Oaks Hospital Thrift Shop
9683 Fairfax Boulevard
Fairfax, VA 22031

The INOVA Fair Oaks Hospital Thrift Shop is located right at Fairfax Circle on Route 50 across the street from Home Depot in a strip mall. This is probably the most consistent of the thrift stores I visit on a regular basis. Even if I find occasion to visit twice in one week, I will usually find something for my Etsy shop here. That said, the prices are all over the map, which sometimes leads to head-scratching experiences, from crazy high prices on sets of dinnerware (IKEA priced higher than new) to crazy low prices on other things, like a vintage wire, wheeled cart I bought for my husband's gaming stuff for $4. This was also where I found the musical ice bucket and where I find a lot of the ceramics that make their way into my shop. 

Goodwill Fairfax
9960 Main Street
Fairfax, VA 22031

The Goodwill store in Fairfax is the thrift store closest to my house. I can't get to either the hardware store or the bank without passing it so I stop in there pretty often, which is probably why I've found as many good pieces there as I have. Lots of Dansk, the occasional piece of vintage barware, some mid century modern dishes. Goodwill is pretty rigorous about sifting out the real treasures for their online auctions, but if you know what you're looking at and/or you're willing to buy odds and ends (this set of Frankoma dishes), you can score some real bargains.

Annandale Treasure Trove
7010 Columbia Pike
Annandale, VA 22003

The second of the three INOVA shops I visit on a regular basis, the Annandale location does a lot of consignment business and I've often wondered if they have a refinisher on staff because a lot of their furniture seems to have been already touched-up. This is great if you want to bring something home and set it up in your house, not so great if you want a bargain project to work on yourself. That said, I've gotten some great deals on vintage barware here and I'm hoping that someone will convince them to sell the sad, white-painted Broyhill Saga desk where they have their boombox so it can be rescued. I always see mid century furniture here, usually in the $200 range, but since it's in generally really nice shape, this is a great place for people who don't want to have to do a lot of DIYing to get something pretty and inexpensive. I also seem to turn up a lot of vintage table linens here.

Salvation Army Annandale
6528 Little River Turnpike
Alexandria, VA 22312

This store has super friendly and helpful employees. If you're polite, you can often get them to check in back for you if you're missing part of a set that's on the floor and they are very proactive about helping you load stuff into your car (nice when you're alone and buying a dresser). This is a huge store and they have a large selection of furniture and housewares. The key is picking the day you visit. Wednesdays are 25% off days, but get there early. The place gets picked clean very quickly. My favorite day to visit is Tuesday, preferably late in the afternoon. You don't get the discount, but I think they must get a lot of drop-offs over the weekend and price throughout Monday and Tuesday because whenever I've been here on a Tuesday, I come out with a haul.

Back Porch Thrift Shop
7838 Richmond Highway
Alexandria, VA 22306

I've only been to this store twice, but both times I have found items well worth the drive. It's not a huge store, but they pack in quite a bit and have more furniture than many larger stores. I've found some nicely priced globes here as well as quite a bit of vintage glassware. This store is also notable for being willing to adjust pricing if you find something that you think is truly out of whack, which in my experience is a rarity in thrift stores. I don't negotiate on pieces that are going into my Etsy shop though. It's a charity shop so that's just rude. Also, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore is just about half a block up the street and they've got a lot of amazing furniture there too.

McLean Treasure Trove
1317B Chain Bridge Road
McLean, VA 22101
This is another INOVA shop that seems to do a lot of consignment business and McLean seems to be the spot for designer clothing consignments. This means very high quality items: name brands like J. Crew and Lily Pulitzer, but also serious designers like Balenciaga, Chloe and Oscar de la Renta. And they know what these designer items should cost, even used. I include this store only because the consistently high quality options mean that sometimes you can get a deal on a really amazing piece (the context here though is versus buying new). I buy something pretty much every time I visit, but it's usually for myself because the prices are too high for much resale wiggle room. And don't go at lunchtime because there's very little parking in the strip mall where it's located. Best bet is early afternoon.

The Bargain Loft
336 Victory Drive
Herndon, VA 20170

Here's a general thrift store tip: the best stores are ones located in relatively more affluent areas. The Bargain Loft falls into this category and it shows. It is lovingly staffed by volunteers from Reston-Herndon FISH, a social services organization in Northern Fairfax County. They take great care to inspect, research, tag and display the nice items that come into the store, which is admittedly pretty small. The prices here are a little higher than they would be at your typical Goodwill store, but while there might be items that don't suit your needs or tastes, there is virtually no junk. It's just a really well-curated store and the staff is not snooty like at some other higher end thrift stores. This is the place for mid century name brand housewares, beautiful table linens and high quality lamps.

The Closet of Herndon
845 Station Street
Herndon, VA 20170
The Closet is just a hoot. The hours are terrible, the place is always completely jam packed with people, it's impossible to park your car, there is stuff literally everywhere from the floor to the ceiling and they're always trying to get you to take their free bread. Seriously, every time you turn around, someone tries to hand you a loaf of bread. It's the weirdest thing. That said, if I lived closer, I'd go every day they were open. First of all, if you're a first timer and you happen to mention it, they'll ring a big ship's bell in the front of the store and everyone cheers. Second, if you're looking for something specific, just ask. I asked about a navy wool blazer one time and they didn't have any, but by the next time I visited, the manager remembered me and had put aside several in my size for me to choose from. That's unprecedented service for a thrift store. Third, this is far and away the best place to find things to repurpose. Tons of lamps, lampshades, dishes, clothing, a huge craft section with yarn, fabric, patterns, stamps and such. This store is not for people with a low tolerance for chaos, but if serendipity suits you fine, you'll love it. Oh, and bring cash (lots) because they don't take credit cards.

Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Shop
151 W Main Street
Purcellville, VA 20132

Whenever I find myself in Loudoun County, I make it a point to stop in at the Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Shop in Purcellville. I realize this is quite a haul for DC types, but Catoctin Creek Distillery is out here and it's just past Leesburg so there are plenty of other things to do if you want to make a day trip of it. The great thing about this store is that apparently no one in Loudoun County shares my love for mid century modern pieces. I visit every month or two and always find a large collection of items just sitting there waiting for me. And the best thing is that I'd call the pricing about half what it would be for similar items in a Fairfax County store and about a third the cost of comparable items found in Arlington County stores. 

That pretty much covers the ones I make it to regularly. There are a few others where I find the occasional great piece, but these are my go-to staples. Do you have a favorite thrift store in Northern Virginia? Let me know in the comments.

UPDATES: When I visit new stores, I'll add links to my reviews here and from now on, those posts will also be tagged "thrifting guide to northern virginia" so you can find them all easily.

Thrifty Old Town Alexandria

Annandale Goodwill on John Marr Drive

Thrifting Prince William County

Friday, January 4, 2013

Reader question: How do I fix a chair so dry that it's grey?

Reader Elaine asks:

I have two mid century chairs that were oil finished and then left outside. the wood is now grey. I want to rehab the wood(teak) I believe, and then stain and wax. How do I go about rehabbing the wood? I was going to start with sandpaper. Do you have any suggestions? 

Hi Elaine! Thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, if the wood is grey, this is a big project and it will take me several posts to explain just how to go about fixing it. First, if the chairs have sentimental value or you know they are worth quite a lot (say, it's a Sam Maloof rocking chair), I'd take them to a professional refinisher and get his opinion since I'm just an amateur. If they don't have sentimental value and they aren't Very Good or Excellent on a antique scale of 1 to 5 (i.e. you know who made them and what they're worth), this probably isn't a project I'd personally tackle because of the level of effort it's going to need. If you intend to sell them, you certainly won't be able to get your money out of them unless they're by someone quite famous. Lucky for you though, I learned that by hard experience so I can tell you what you're going to have to do if you're determined to try.

Don't mind the husband and the puggle. They're not the relevant piece here.

Enter my sad Yugoslavian knock-off Danish modern lounge chair. I picked up this chair for $20 out near Annapolis. It was rickety and dry and not even a very good example of its breed. Basically, a 1970s knock-off of a much more famous and much better put-together Danish modern chair.

I suppose it doesn't look that bad here, but it's what Cher would call, "A full-on Monet." From far away it's okay, but get close and it's a big old mess.

See that gap there in the wood? Well, that was caused by shrinkage. This chair sat in the sun and wind and rain for just a few too many seasons after it lost its finish. It might not look that serious, but unfixed, that gap and the others like it will eventually cause this chair to collapse under someone's weight. In fact, if you look close enough, you can see that this one already has and been inexpertly repaired. They glued the little shards back onto the joint and left it. That won't work in the long-run. This repair is so bad, it probably won't even work in the short-run. Frankly, if I hadn't wanted the practice, at this point, I would have thrown this chair in the trash. Sorry, but it's true. Some things aren't worth fixing.

You might not be able to see this unless you click the picture above and blow it up, but there is a small crack in the center of that leg. The front of this chair here is being held together by what's called a "mortise and tenon" joint. Basically it's a hole in the side of the vertical leg glued to a protruding piece on the end of the horizontal stretcher. Click here for a better explanation. This is pretty much the best way to put together a chair. But the expansion of that protruding piece and the contraction of the hole has started to create a crack that runs along the grain. This doesn't happen when a chair is properly made and properly cared for.

Which pretty much brings me to point Number One about fixing old wood stuff. 

Always fix structural issues first. 

A piece as dry as the one Elaine describes is probably going to need to be knocked apart and glued back together before you can work on refinishing it. There is almost no way the joints haven't weakened if it's put together with traditional joinery. If it's screwed together, you're going to need wood filler to help fill the screw holes. On this chair, I needed both, but I had to take it apart before I could put it back together.

When you take apart any piece, it's really important to catalog everything so you know how it's supposed to go back together. I just use pieces of painters tape. This piece was intended to come apart to be flat-packed so that's where I started. From there, I required a few tools. Namely, a hammer and a spare block of scrap wood.

For a mortise and tenon that isn't pinned (a small dowel across the joint, which you'll see as a small round piece of end grain) using a rubber mallet or a hammer and a wooden block so you don't dent the chair, lightly tap to separate the joints. If you do have a pinned joint that needs fixing, you can drill out the pin and replace it later, but I've never done it.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of this step of the process since I never intended to blog about this embarrassing purchasing failure of mine, but the piece above basically separated into six pieces with mortise and tenons on each side. Once the piece is apart, you need to clean off any old glue, which you can do with white vinegar and/or sandpaper depending on the type of glue. If you don't clean off the old glue, the new glue won't stick. After the joints are clean and dry, using wood glue and bar clamps, glue and clamp the piece back together and let dry for 24 hours.

Then do the same with any other joints. Keep in mind that if you fix one joint, you have to fix all the joints. Never try to fix just one that has failed. If you do, you'll be creating weak points, which will cause another joint to fail over time. Now you can proceed to the next step: stripping the wood of any leftover finish. 

But that's for the next post. Good luck!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Resolution: 2013

I make resolutions all the time. Why wait for the new year when you can make a resolution today? Of course, that doesn't mean I fare any better than resolvers of the new year variety. I have vowed not to buy clothes for a year (two Augusts ago), to get dressed every day for a month (in November of this year), to exercise more (just about every other day). I'm not good at following through. And the more objectives I have, the worse I am. 

You know what I am good at? To do lists. I make excellent, comprehensive and yet achieveable to do lists. They live all over the house. I found one this morning that was left over from before our trip. Everything I needed to do had been crossed off, right down to clearing off the dining room table so it would be ready for Christmas dinner when we returned from our cruise after two weeks. What I can't will myself into completing, I can usually trick myself into completing.

That said, to do lists in electronic form do not carry the same weight with me as to do lists in my own hand. I have tried and failed with many forms of electronic reminder and list-making services. I like the ignore button. And the close button. And the hide function. And anything else that keeps that undone item from staring me in the face.

So here's my Resolution for 2013.

Of course, it's not that simple. There are a couple of accompanying resolutions.

1) Not to beat myself up for not being able to accomplish everything on a given list on a given day. 

2) Not to beat myself up for things that might exist on some mental wish list to do list in my head, but that aren't actually on paper. 

3) To add something to the list every day that accomplishes a larger goal, any larger goal. While some days taking a shower, walking the dog and eating three real meals are all I can manage to do, at least I can think about having days when I feel capable of more.

And that's about it for 2013. If I can do that, I will feel very accomplished indeed.

A Year in Review: 2012

This year was a strange one. Right around this time in 2012, I was still in California after my brother's wedding. I was dreading going back to work in a place where I didn't feel safe. I no longer trusted myself to do my job and I'd convinced myself that no one else thought I could do it either. I was contemplating quitting and didn't know what else I could do besides marketing, which I had begun to realize that I hated. I had started to take stock of the things that I love and was trying to find a way to reorient around those things.

Those who read this blog on a regular basis probably don't have to think very hard to come up with what those things are, but for the uninitiated:

1) My husband. He's the reason I realized that I never wanted another job where I'd have to work more than 40 hours per week.

2) My puggle. He's the reason I realized that I never wanted to pay someone else to do things that I love to do myself.

3) Baking. Some people exercise or pray or play video games to stay sane. I bake.

4) Vintage. Partly a love of history, partly a love of mystery and puzzles, partly a love of beautiful things. Finding and rescuing objects that are worthy of being rescued has been a passion of mine for a long time.

5) Writing. For a while growing up, I thought I might be a writer. I gave up on that idea years ago when I got my first serious job, but no matter what I've done since, I have always found myself writing about it.

I did end up quitting the job. I decided to start a business baking treats for dogs. This lets me stay home with my puggle, bake lots and still have time and energy for my husband when he gets home from work. I really only just got everything up and running at full speed in August, took a break for a lot of December and January to recharge, revamp and rethink. See, when I started, I thought I'd sell at the local farmer's market and that repeat internet business would carry me through the winter, but none of that worked out as planned. I didn't get accepted to the market so I had to cobble together a series of other different events and the product has proved to be more of an impulse item than something people would worry about running out of so I've had to rethink my business plan.

Then in September, I got a cold and toward the tail-end of it, I was bored senseless, still low on energy and had a few extraneous vintage pieces laying around so I thought I'd snap a few pictures, put them on Etsy and see what happened. And a lot of those pieces sold. So I went to a few nearby thrift stores and found a few other pieces. And those pieces sold. In fact, I've made a tidy profit already and the start-up costs were a lot lower than the dog treat business. It's also a lot easier, a lot more fun and it fits better in our schedule than the dog treat business because it largely leaves our weekends free.

I've picked up a few other assorted pass-times along the way. This blog, for one, and another that may just die a natural death. I've been volunteering at church in our emergency response ministry program, helping people with sudden financial, health and food security emergencies. And I've been helping a group called Braddock Dogs try to gain financing for a dog park near our house. Along with our Dungeons & Dragons schedule, keeping up with friends and staying active at church, it's been a busy year. So busy, in fact, that I sometimes forgot that this new life of mine was supposed to be helping my confidence, not eroding it.

So here I am, having arrived at a position of hope for the new year. Not idle, not fretting, not really having any idea what comes next (and also sick again). But for now, that's okay.
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