How an Expert Buys Great Vintage Furniture

Dean Renaud, interior designer and local go-to-gal for the online design service Homepolish, shares her secrets on shopping and decorating with thrift store gems.

Dean Renaud, master thrifter and lover of all things brass.   Photo: Carolyn Purrnell

Los Angeles transplant Dean Renaud is probably wishing she’d never moved here, given the whole weather situation. But career-wise, she’s doing pretty great.  An alum of superstar designer Kelly Wearstler’s firm, Renaud now runs her own event planning and interior design company called South Social and Home

She was also just tapped to be the local designer for New York-based Homepolish, an online design service geared toward customers looking for expert advice and transparent pricing, which has just entered the Chicago market. Renaud’s style is eclectic, and little glam—exactly what you might expect from a West Coast girl.

When you go to a thrift shop, what do you look for and what do you stay away from?

I have a very serious addiction to thrifting. I thrift multiple times a week, sometimes daily. My vices are lamps, chairs, and rugs (and vintage maxi-dresses), but I look at absolutely everything. I’m not afraid of buying used rugs or textiles (and I’m not ashamed to give them the sniff-test, which you really must do) and I’ve never ended up with bedbugs or whatever else people expect to find. But I have finally forced myself to stay away from things that are badly damaged, stained, or need serious repair. You really have to consider whether it’s worth the time and money you’ll need to invest to fix it up. Often times it’s best to leave for someone else. 

If you are decorating on a budget, where should you splurge and where should you save?

I’m a big believer in waiting to spend your money on something you really love, and I’ll never push anyone to splurge on something that doesn’t make them swoon. That said, the focal pieces of a room are important and the sofa and the rug are often the big purchases. As a general rule, I say splurge on things that are antique, unique, and one of a kind. Wait a few months to buy anything trendy, because it’ll be reproduced a hundred times and eventually you’ll find it on sale at Cost Plus. Also, splurge on nice candles and fresh flowers. They really do make a difference.

What are your favorite design shops in Chicago?

Jayson Home, The Find, Mecox Gardens, Humboldt House, Asrai Garden, and thrift shops that I keep close to my chest.

Are there certain design rules that you always follow? And what are some that you break?

The saying that most rules are meant to be broken is true, but there are some that just make sense. Make sure your rugs are the right scale for the room (dinky rugs are just so sad), hang your curtains high, and hide electronic cords. Those are my non-negotiables. But I try to break rules, or at least get weird, with every project I do, whether this means wallpapering the ceiling, mixing metals, or getting bold with pattern. I will pretty much always want to paint wood trim white, which many consider sacrilege. Oh, and I will never ever use CFLs; good lighting is so important and they are the absolute worst.

What trends are you loving right now, and what are you hoping will go away soon?

I’ve always gravitated towards a 1970s/early 80s vibe and it’s happening all over the place right now, which I love. Shaggy Beni Ourain rugs are everywhere, fiber art is in high demand, wallpaper isn’t a bad word, and brass is totally back. I’m growing tired of cute gallery walls, framed silhouettes, and rustic/industrial. Not to say those things won’t occasionally find a place into my design boards, but I think we can all agree they’ve become a little ubiquitous. I’d also be happy if I never encountered another Pinterest-project: turning old drawers into wall boxes, painting anything turquoise… 

What is your favorite color combination?

My go-to palette includes shades of white and grey with color coming in as subtle accents. But I don’t shy away from dark colors. Our bedroom is painted a deep, sooty charcoal. More than color, I love layering natural textures, such as marble, sheepskin, leather, wool, woven chairs, and absolutely anything brass. 

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