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Top tips for buying second hand business furniture

Starting your own business isn’t always cheap, and even after spending money on the obvious basics such as equipment and stock, you may find that there are additional expenses that you haven't considered as extensively – for example the cost of furnishing your business premises.

Whether you’re opening a high street store, an office or a tradesman’s workshop, you’ll need to furnish your workspace – even if it’s just a kitchen area or break room. Brand new furniture can be costly, especially if you need to buy in some volume, but it’s easy to reduce the amount that you spend on furnishings if you opt to buy second hand.

When it comes to buying pre-owned furniture or upcycling old goods, there’s a wealth of information available concerning the best buying practices that could reduce your costs – but typically only in a domestic capacity. For businesses thinking of buying second hand, information is comparatively sparse, so we’ve put together a list of top tips for business owners wanting to save money with second hand furniture:

Don’t be burdened by branding

Second hand furniture can often be mismatched, which can be a concern for many business owners - especially those with specific branding who are worried about furnishings clashing with their identity. However, there are still ways of making non-matching furniture cohesive, such as painting and decorating it in your business brand colours. Non-matching furniture does not have to be jarring or unsightly – take the chairs in the meeting room on the right as an example:

Test for quality

It’s important that you assess the quality of a second hand piece before spending money on it. You don’t want to end up paying over the odds for something that’s low quality and likely to break. On the other hand, if you can identify a good quality piece, you may be able to bag a bargain. Specific things that you can check for are:

  • Does it look like flat pack furniture? If so, it is probably not worth spending a lot on it.
  • Wooden furniture: is it just nailed together or properly joined? Craftsmanship is a good indicator of quality and value.
  • Are there any signs of DIY? If a previous owner has tampered with the piece, they may have compromised its integrity.
  • Look for labels. Many pieces will still have their original labels, and the source of the piece can give you an indication of value. For example, there are bound to be differences in value between a piece form a high-end luxury brand, and one from a budget furniture store chain.
  • Try before you buy. If you are buying seating, sit on it. If you’re looking at a surface, apply weight to it. You want to make sure that the furniture is sturdy, comfortable and not likely to break.

Don’t worry about unprofessionalism

You may be worried that filling your business premises with pre-owned furniture may not look particularly professional, especially if you are customer-facing, or regularly entertain clients on site. It’s all too common for re-used and upcycled furniture to have a ‘shabby chic’ or ‘rustic’ feel to it – which is not always the desired look for a professional environment. 

But, second hand does not necessarily have to mean scruffy. The beauty of recycled and repurposed furniture is that you can finish it in any way you like. As well as choosing a suitable colour and finish for your piece, there are a number of other smaller changes that you can make to give your furniture a bit of class:

  • Change the legs – Plain, rectangular legs on a piece of furniture are easy to swap out for slim, tapered or pointed equivalents – mimicking a feature of more expensive furniture.
  • Get new knobs or handles – Swapping cheap plastic knobs for more detailed or even metal ones can be surprisingly effective.
  • Paint silver and gold – Adding a metallic effect to a piece of furniture automatically makes it look more refined.
  • Add detail – Adding brass corners or detailed overlays to an ordinary table or display unit is another simple way to upscale a second hand piece.

Know your limits

It’s easy to get carried away when you really get involved in the prospect of repurposing second hand furniture. Whether it's the amount of money that you spend or the amount of time that you commit to renovating pieces, it’s important to keep your business head on. You don’t want to end up paying over the odds for a piece of furniture, and then commit too much time, money and effort to doing it up on top. Make sure that you can at least estimate the total cost of the item – its price plus the cost of upcycling.

Judging the cost of repairs that an item needs can sometimes be tricky, but the main thing is that you can accurately distinguish small issues from larger ones. Small, easily fixed issues include things like scuffs, shallow scratches and mild dirt (like dust). A larger problem could be a large stain, severe damage to upholstery or structural issues such as a wonky table or sagging seat. It’s likely that each item will have to be judged on a case-by-case basis – just remember to steer clear if you have a reasonable amount of doubt.

Think outside of the box

Almost anything can be repurposed, as long as you think creatively. For example, if you’re looking for a front counter for your shop, chances are you’re not going to find a ready-made counter waiting for you. Instead, look for other pieces of similar shapes and sizes: is there a kitchen cabinet, old dresser or table that you could use as a suitable alternative? Could old doors or wooden pallets be cobbled together into a quirky counter? Even if the item’s original function isn’t what you’re looking for, you can usually adapt it to fit your own purposes. 

It’s also important to remember that, in exchange for saving money, you may have to invest more time into enhancing your business furniture - some level of redecorating or repurposing is likely to be required. But, if you don’t mind the prospect of a bit of hands-on refurbishment, second hand business furniture can be a great way to cut start-up costs, and give your business premises a unique identity. 

Image source: Eames chairs, posted by Sharon Anna on Pinterest.
Image source: Second hand counter, posted on Bloesem Travel blog.
Image source: Brass corners by Sarah Jean Shelton on