I’ve looked forward to decorating my own apartment since the womb. So when I finally split from college dorms and into a kind Peruvian woman’s sublet, I had one thing on my mind: Persian rugs.
Also, how fucking expensive city rent is. Fortunately, the room was furnished with everything but elaborate floor threads; a bed, two closets, sunlit windows, a built-in desk and shelving, a beautiful mantle and everything freshly painted white. I truly won the luck of the draw, but as with most things I come across, I had bigger dreams for it. And too many clothes.
Although I don’t plan to stay here (or anywhere) forever, I still want to come home to a space that feels like my own, so I decided to gradually invest in timeless pieces I could transition into my next abode, wherever that may be.
For a plethora of reasons, “gradually investing” would become an idea better left undone. I waited six months before even dropping $20 on a plastic garment rack, and while it worked for the moment, few things proved a greater eye sore than a wardrobe visibly in disarray. Two weeks ago, I finally hit a breaking point: I needed an armoire and I needed it yesterday. I searched Amazon but to no avail; if I wanted something with character, I had to sell my first born, and anything under $200 took a village to build only to break upon eye-contact. I tried to convince myself this is only temporary, to just get something functional and wait to channel Houzz vibes until my name is on a lease, but patience has never been my virtue — and I do not do “good enough.” So I kept looking…and looking. Eventually, I remembered a very underrated, relatively crass corner of the internet: Craigslist.
So through the same way I found the little box I’m living in, I sought to find little things to fill it with. The site may have lost its charm to some, but my allegiance isn’t going anywhere. I mean, I literally found the same exact $700 Amazon-ian armoire I wanted, on Craigslist for $100. And at the same glorious moment, I conveniently realized a dresser would go better with the space. Classic. To make my search even more curious, I particularly wanted a vintage buffet dresser; a timeless, over-sized piece complete with ample storage, cabinets, and old-school character.
And so I found it: a beautiful 1940s mahogany wood buffet for $200, along with an armchair and a collection of other antique things “THAT MUST GO.” It looked gorgeous, a little beat up of course, but in all the right ways. Naturally, the seller needed it picked up at a time I couldn’t commit to, so I reluctantly counted it as a loss and kept scrolling — things too good to be true generally are really fucking inconvenient. But if by destiny, a week later I saw the same link still up and with a pep in my step and desperation in my tears, I reached out to see if the dresser was still up for grabs…
“Sorry, it was all donated yesterday. Opera City Thrift.”
In my four and a half years in New York, I’d never heard of the place. But Vogue had, with its pages declaring City Opera Thrift Shop “the best quality thrift shop in New York City.” So I immediately called, and after a brief hold she said the dresser was alive and well and marked at $250 — a bit more than the original Craigslist posting, but even still, when would I ever find a 1940s dresser for $250?
My name was only on it until end of day, so I took a train and two buses to the east side. As promised, the store was as much a figure of art as that which it held; a relatively narrow space, yet spacious, and centered with a beautiful chandelier and a wrap-around balcony above — every crevice tastefully lined with only the finest art, furniture, décor, and vintage designer clothes and accessories. Doting over Chinese armoires and vintage crocodile bags, I must have been there forty-five minutes before stumbling upon the dresser I came for. For once, it looked even better than the photos, and my original plans of painting it charcoal came to a halt. As I went to run my fingers across the glossy finish, I caught the price tag: $125. A 1940s dresser worth at least $1,200, for $125? Thank you, come again.
Suddenly, my phone rings. It was the movers I ever impulsively scheduled (also courtesy of Craigslist) hours before even arriving to City Opera Thrift. Because that’s the thing about living in New York: I have a hard enough time carrying eggs up my 4th floor walk-up, let alone a 5-foot, solid wood dresser. So I watched strange men wheel away my newly prized possession—half of me worrying I’d never see it again, and the other half completely possessed by everything else I still had to look at and not caring either way.
My eyes only wandered for a moment before I found a scene from heaven framed in gold, my insides coming undone over the Renaissance-like painting I’d been searching for since staring at them night and day while living in Florence. A closer look revealed it was only image on canvas, but it was no less charming. I thought of it like a window into Mount Olympus, and oil painting or not, I wasn’t leaving without it.
From there, I wandered to the corner of books, overflowing with both old and new. I pulled out a torn, sea-green spine that read The Poems of W.B. Yeats; a vast collection of 20th-centry writings from Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats. Flipping through, I found the poem below and smiled, only knowing we’re meant to find the things we do:
229 III. The Mermaid
A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed, and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
Next to the books I found a small shelf of movies, CDs, and cassettes, and I was suddenly 10 again, sitting before my mother’s rotating media rack. I think it was a light oak wood, with a red velvet interior that I would always leave exposed as I “secretly” plucked several CDs from as a child, rotating them in and out for those unknown to me. From Dave Matthews to Jewel, I discovered all of my beloved artists in my room alone, laying next to my boom box and playing CD after CD after CD, engulfed by the lyric books as they played from beginning to end. Oddly (or not), out of every artist I hoped to find from my memories, I could only think of The Cranberries. (Anyone who knows me would hardly find this as a surprise, as I’ve always said if could swallow my stage fright and sing in any cover band, it would be theirs.) And somehow, there they appeared; out of all of the millions of CDs that could have been in the small assortment of 24, I found No Need to Argue, one of my absolute favorite albums, in its original 1992 packaging. I felt sad and happy all at once. I didn’t care to ever open it, the nostalgia alone was the only reason I needed to take it home.
By this point, the store associates probably thought I was moving in. Right before I checked out, I circled back and grabbed the armchair I saw next to the dresser in the original Craigslist ad (sorry to the couple who wanted it too — “ya gotta be quicker than that”), and it felt weirdly like how I imagine taking home siblings from a shelter would feel.
The damage? Can’t even call it that. All home goods were an extra 25% off — art and furniture included. I took home the 1940’s dresser and artwork for $100 each, the hand-carved, leather upholstered armchair for $20, and the CD, book, a bronze cup for less than $15 all together. All in all, it came to around $200 — the amount I had aside for a dresser alone, thus felt no guilt spending it on six original pieces. Nor would I feel bad buying anything at any price, really, as the shop stands as one of the city’s only charity boutiques that solely endorses the arts.
However, although the “man with a van” did end up showing up to my apartment with my dresser, I’m certain he still has his regrets. Because moving it was a production. I watched three men painfully struggle up four narrow flights of stairs, only to find out they had to take off my door to even get in through the threshold. It was awful. Although he originally quoted me for $100, I shelled out $140 for their trouble, and like, a chiropractor.
But it was money only momentarily missed; a few days later I sold my TV for $100 (haven’t watched it in millenniums), more or less breaking even on the manual labor fee, anyway. And in defense of the unexpected artwork purchase, it was a long-awaited gift to self.
I think I magnetize towards thrift shops because they’re sad in a semiromantic way, like an orphanage for beautiful things people no longer want or have room for, but believe in a future for all the same; beautiful things that have lived a hundred lives unknown, all of their stories leading to a single moment in which we discover them in our own. The thrill of the find is more real here than anywhere else, and at even the chance to relive our dearest dreams and memories, let it be known: no reason at all is reason enough to stop in now and often.
Eau de Parfume / Maison Louis Marie, No.09 Vallée de Farney