Annie Elliot gained a huge social media following following her advice on looking for discount stores for decor that only looks expensive. So, we took her shopping.
Elliott and I recently went to Maryland HomeGoods to see how the designer looks for quality amidst the discount store decor. “That’s one thing about HomeGoods: You have to really check things out, because they wear out a lot,” she says. “Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s a bargain.”
So which items deserve a place in your home and which ones are best left on the shelves? Here, Elliott shares her tips for spending wisely at the decor store.
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Put the furniture to the test
Elliott generally recommends not skimping on large, upholstered pieces at the retailer. If you see something you like, she suggests examining the fabric more closely. “Heavier woven fabrics are fine, but if a pattern is printed on it, it may look cheap and it may not wear as well,” she says.
She also recommends trying the goods: Take a seat to make sure it’s really comfortable, then check the frame. No one wants a rickety chair, so Elliot suggests shaking it well to make sure it’s stable and made sturdily. “When you grab the armrests, you don’t have to feel the piece of wood that makes up the arm,” she says.
Finally, consider the cost. During our shopping trip, most living room chairs cost around $500—not bad, but as Elliott points out, “Once you get to that price point, you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this better than Crate & Barrel, which has good features?'” Really quality? The verdict: Only proceed if the price is right and it looks well made. Otherwise, you may want to invest in better pieces elsewhere.
Examine condition goods carefully
Ensure that doors on side panels and cabinets align, and that all drawers open and close smoothly. While shopping, Elliot stopped by to give a modern dresser a second look only to discover that its front showed visible licks of paint on the finish and that its doors were warped. “If you’re handy, I suppose you can tinker with the hinges and make the doors even, but if you have to take it home and fix it, it might not work,” she says.
When asked if modern pieces of furniture are a good investment at HomeGoods, she advises, “If the price is too low, and you know it won’t last forever, by all means go ahead.” However, it is progressing A more sustainable alternative: booze. You can paint a piece of wood yourself Find it in a vintage storeand the quality is 9 times better out of 10″.
Elliott says the retailer is a great source for stylish and inexpensive side tables. A $130 mid-century-inspired wood end table caught her eye, as did a small rattan table for $60 that could double as a plant stand. I also loved a little live edge occasional table for $100. “You can’t really fake a live edge, so something like this is a good buy,” she says, inspecting the woodwork. “It’s a little worn out, but since that’s the look of the piece, it feels intentional and it works.”
However, not all tables were winning. She pointed to those with flimsy or cheap metal legs and joints that looked as if they were poorly welded. “The thing I advise people to stay away from is things that look cheap or poorly fitted,” she says.
HomeGoods is a windfall for well-designed-looking lamps, and you can often score a matching pair. Elliott says he’s always on the lookout for ceramic patterns, and marks many of the designs that were poached with price tags in the $35 to $50 range. What to skip: Lamps with all-metal bases, “because when there’s a lot of metal in one place, it doesn’t look as expensive and the finish might not wear out as well,” she says.
Look in mirrors, but pass on art
Elliott recommends checking out the mirror section because you can often score smaller, hard-to-find sizes that measure 24 inches or less—perfect for small powder rooms. However, when it comes to wall decor, the designer handles it carefully. “Art is very subjective; I’d rather people buy art at a local art school, antique store, or get a print off Etsy than buy something really generic,” she says.
Make a beeline for the baskets
Elliott is a big fan of HomeGoods’ many organizational solutions, with woven rope and straw baskets topping the list. Many of the styles rival Moroccan-inspired versions from high-end retailers like Serena & Lily, but at a fraction of the cost. “Large ones are especially great for hiding firewood or blankets in a family room,” she says.
Check out the accessories
With everything from hourglasses to obelisks, the store’s decorative objects section is a treasure hunt on its own. What made Elliot’s story? “Animal figurines, because they come in interesting shapes and are a non-controversial way to fill a hole on a bookshelf,” she says. Another endorsement: decorative trays. “If you’re trying to declutter, put it on a tray and suddenly it looks intentional,” she says.
Many decorators and decorators—not just Elliott—will tell you that HomeGoods is their go-to source for oversized glassware for showcasing artfully arranged branches. “Most of the glassware says it’s made in Spain and the quality is great for the price,” says Elliot, who has used several glazes to dress an unfired fireplace.
Elliott says the store can be a reliable place to pick up extra sets of sheets—just read the label to make sure they’re 100 percent cotton, linen, or bamboo, and avoid man-made materials like polyester or microfiber. “I don’t worry too much about thread count, but look for the words ‘percale,’ if you want a nice, crisp look to your sheets, or ‘Egyptian,’ if you want a softer, smoother feel—both are cotton,” she says.
Pick up pillows and sheets
According to Elliott, no trip to HomeGoods is complete without strolling down the pillow aisle—high praise coming from the designer who’s accustomed to custom-made innovations from luxurious fabrics. She suggests looking for pillows with removable, zippered covers (because they can be easily cleaned) and avoiding pillows that snap closed. Her only pillow is grumpy: hard, cramped, no-tender pillows. “I really object to pillow stuffing when the pillow bounces back into shape,” she says, and her favorite: a combination of multi-feather and down-feather filling.
When buying throws, Elliott says to look for natural fibers. She believes the more realistic faux fur throws will have a longer life than the shaggy options, which seem to fall apart and fall apart already on the shelf. “You have to think that if it doesn’t look good now, once you get it home and use it for a while, it really won’t look good,” she says.
Michelle Bruner is a Washington-based writer who covers interior design and culture.