Let’s be honest here. You’ve been used to luxury bedroom furnishings from Pier 1 Imports, Ikea, Crate & Barrel, and the like, paid for by Mom and Dad. However, when you arrive at your new dorm home, you will almost instantly become aware of three things.
One, unless you’re an interior design major, you’ll have no idea how to decorate a space without Mom and Dad (or Trading Spaces). Two, you can’t decorate said space without Mom and Dad’s money. Three, and most importantly, you don’t have any of Mom and Dad’s money.
There, there, it’s OK. New York City is rife with thrift stores and flea markets filled with wonderful little knickknacks and stuff other people don’t want. This means that you lucky little frosh can pick up unique items for next to nothing. (You already know that Gustav Klimt posters and black lights are not unique, right?) It takes a while to sift through everything, but hidden treasures abound. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll only be watching Queer Eye for the fashion tips.
Apartment dwellers would do well to begin with the three-story Salvation Army Donation Center (436 West 46th Street), which has an entire floor dedicated to furniture and bedding. Another good starting point is Housing Works (143 West 17th Street), where a beautiful black love seat with pink and green zigzag stripes was recently priced at a mere $15. (Yes, I read the tag twice.) A teal love seat with a pink and turquoise paisley floral design was on sale for an only slightly more realistic $75. The Angel Street Thrift Shop down the block at 118 West 17th Street is undergoing renovations, but should reopen just in time for the start of the school year.
If you feel so inclined, head over to Brooklyn and check out the Care Partners Charity Thrift Shop, at 475 Atlantic Avenue. Although it is one of over a dozen stops for home furnishings on Atlantic, this may be the only one you can actually afford. (Sorry, but anyone who can spend $200 on one silk throw pillow needs to stop reading this right now.) Recently, the stock included a beautiful expandable cherry-wood dining room table for $195, and a selection of end tables ranging from $65 to $95. You could also find a lovely wooden reclining futon, complete with green cushion, for only $50, which certainly beats a beanbag chair any day. (You also know that beanbag chairs aren’t unique either, right?) The jewel of the lot, however, is a white three-piece sectional couch, which, at $100, would be a steal anywhere.
A 10-minute ride from the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Smith Street on the B61 bus will land you in Fort Greene, one of the few truly bohemian nabes left in the city. Walk a block up to Myrtle Avenue and check out Furniture and More, at 387 Myrtle. The place, frankly, resembles a hole in the wall, with myriad cardboard boxes of books and handmade tapes stacked on old wooden desks interrupting the flow of traffic outside. Don’t pass it by, though: There are some great deals here and at its sister store across the street at 388 Myrtle. A lovely black-and-gold two-pronged floor lamp was marked $20; a 78-inch periwinkle corduroy couch was an unbelievable $75. You can find kitschier fare at Thrifts Plus, at 668 Fulton Street, where hand-drawn prints of the Islanders winning the Stanley Cup go for $5 and a composite drawing of Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan will set you back $25.
Even if you don’t find much for your dorm room, you can definitely find entertainment for yourself and your roomies at the 26th Street flea market, which
is really a series of markets between 24th and 27th streets and Sixth Avenue. Be sure to visit the lot on 25th between Broadway and Sixth, where you’ll find stack upon stack of CDs and clothing, jewelry, and a host of designer handbags of dubious authenticity. A recent foray unearthed several golden and jade statues of Buddha for $5; a pair of turquoise and gold elephant candleholders for $35; and a practically limitless array of African masks, statues, and drums. (Drums: one more thing for the R.A. to love about you.) You could also find some, um, saucier entertainment—porn DVDs are available for a paltry $6.
If you head over to Alphabet City, take a peek inside the M.H.C. Flea Market, on the corner of Avenue A and East 11th Street, where recent cool scores include a maple art deco shelf with cubbyholes to hold keys, CDs, floppy disks, pencils, lipsticks, small notebooks, and pretty much anything else you can think of ($40), and a vintage school desk with a wood top from the 1970s that can comfortably hold a laptop, dictionary, thesaurus, and Starbucks coffee thermos; you can tuck all your dreaded Norton Anthologies into the roomy inside ($5). That, fine frosh, is truly unique and cheap.