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Shop Like an Expert at Discount Home Goods Stores

From checking a lampshade’s sturdiness to counting a rug’s knots, here are tips to bring home high-quality goods at low prices       

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Rugs a little ratty? Throw pillows pilling? Bedding that says ick instead of ahhhh? There are smart ways to style up your décor without breaking the bank. A good place to start: discount home goods stores.

You can shop for stylish items at the big-name retail outlets — think HomeGoods, T.J.Maxx, Marshalls, etc. — without making a large investment, says Karen Otto, chief staging officer for Home Star Staging in Plano, Texas, who redecorates homes for sale to increase their appeal.

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Although there are plenty of cheap prices at discount home goods stores, a mix of high- and low-quality items means not everything is a bargain.

How do you figure out when it’s worth opening your wallet and what’s best left on the shelf? We asked interior designers and home stagers what they look for when shopping for top-notch items on the cheap.

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Lamps that light up your life — and won’t wobble or crack

You can instantly and inexpensively update a room with new lamps. But before you buy, take a minute to evaluate their construction, says Artem Kropovinsky, founder of Arsight, an interior design studio in New York City.

Make sure a lamp is sturdy with a solid switch and a securely attached cord, Kropovinsky says. If any part of a lamp seems loose or wobbly, he says, it’s not worth it, whatever the cost.

That goes for the lampshade too, he adds. It needs to be “well-stitched and made of durable material to withstand heat from the bulb.”

Steer clear of lampshades with glue drippings or plastic liners that have chips or dents, says Diana Hathaway, founder of the interior design firm in San Francisco.  

If you absolutely love a lamp base, but the shade is poorly made or damaged, you can always purchase a shade separately, Hathaway says. Just be sure that it is a third of the base’s height and covers the electrical elements, says Debbe Daley of Debbe Daley Designs.

Pro styling tip: “Budget lamps look more expensive in muted colors and natural materials like wrought iron, wood, linen, glass or rattan,” says Vannessa Rhoades, founder of Three Bears Home Staging in Katy, Texas, and the author of Just Right! Easy DIY Home Staging.  

Look closely at the finish, Hathaway adds. Metal that’s been painted to look distressed or aged can look cheap in your home when surrounded by higher-quality furnishings. Opt for a solid color instead.

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Rugs that refresh your room — and won’t curl or fray

Rugs can transform any room by adding new colors and patterns, Hathaway says, but you want to inspect the quality before you roll it up and take it home.

First thing: Check the corners. Though it can be hard to get a complete look at a rug in a home store, Hathaway says, the corners of a rug tell you if it’s very lightweight and prone to curling or wrinkling.

A rug’s binding can be another good giveaway when it comes to quality, Hathaway says. Run your hand along the edge to see if there are spots where it is already unraveling or missing completely. That’s a clue that it’s not well-made.

Density is another way to check a rug’s structural quality. You do that by counting the knots or loops on the back of the rug — the higher the number of knots, the better the quality because the rug will be stronger, Kropovinsky says. Decent rugs should have 150 knots per square inch.

Look carefully at the fibers or strands of the carpet; they should be thick and plush.

“If you can see a backing through them, it’s a cheap rug, and when it mats down, it will not look great,” says Lisa M. Cini, president of Mosaic Design Studio in Columbus, Ohio. “Look for a good edge binding that won’t pull off and check for shedding; if it’s shedding now, it will continue to shed.”

Pro styling tip: Be sure to buy a good-quality rug pad, which can enhance the look of an inexpensive rug that lacks weight while guarding against wear, Hathaway says.

Bedding that’s beautiful and comfy — and won’t bunch or scratch

Swapping out your tired sheets and duvet is one of the easiest ways to update your bedroom.

Designers recommend feeling the bedding fabric before buying. Generally, Kropovinsky says, a softer fabric means a higher thread count and more durable fabric.

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Daley says a thread count anywhere from 400 to 1,000 is a good bet — stay toward the 400 end of that thread count if you’re trying to spend less.

Spend a bit of time giving stitching and quilting on comforters and duvet covers a once-over for loose threads or irregularities that could indicate poor quality — any incomplete stitching means the lining will bunch up, Hathaway says.

Go for a bedding set for the biggest bang for your buck. Though sets definitely cost more, they often include items you’d spend money on anyway such as a bed skirt and pillow covers — and they end up being more cost-effective, Cini says.

Pro styling tip: Want a more luxurious looking bed? Buy extra pillows and put plain pillowcases on them, Cini advises.

Pillows and throws that perk up a room — and won’t pill or lose shape

Accent pillows and throws are easy and affordable ways to add pops of color and texture to a drab or worn sofa, Rhoades says.

If your existing pillows are in good shape, refresh them with new zippered covers, but be sure to inspect the seams and zippers for durability, suggests Kropovinsky. If they look cheap, they likely won’t last, he says.

Give pillows or inserts a squeeze to check their firmness and how quickly they regain their shape, he adds. A good-quality pillow will spring right back to its original shape.

As for throws, they are a home stager favorite. They not only add pattern and texture but can also make rooms feel welcoming and warm, Otto says.

Just make sure throws are machine-washable, especially if you have pets or children around.

“Look carefully at the fringe or edging of throws and blankets; if the fringe is not property secured, it will unravel pretty quickly with use,” cautions Hathaway. 

Daley opts for throws that don’t pill and woven yarns that aren’t loosely stitched. 

“These can catch on your clothing’s buttons and zippers when using them for warmth,” she explains.

Pro styling tip: It’s usually less expensive to purchase pillow covers and inserts separately, Cini says. Don’t stress about matching everything perfectly, she adds. Instead have fun coordinating different pillow sizes and patterns.

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Bins that corral clutter — and won’t warp with use

Decorative storage solutions add visual interest and texture to your space, plus they’re an attractive way to stash magazines, remotes, toys and other things that pile up in busy homes.

Rhoades says stagers grab woven jute storage baskets, glass apothecary jars and pretty trays at affordable home stores because they’re budget-friendly and versatile. Hathaway looks for storage boxes and bins covered in neutral fabrics so they’re less visible. 

But the biggest thing to look for: sturdiness.

“Baskets should hold their shape when empty, and trays or bins should not warp or buckle under the weight. Check for smooth finishes to avoid snags or scratches on other surfaces,” advises Kropovinsky.

Be on the lookout for bins made of cardboard. They may hold their shape at first, Daley says, but she avoids them because they won’t last long. The same goes for wire-framed containers.

“Look for a metal frame, not a wire frame that tends to become loose over time and with the weight of the items inside,” she says. 

Your best bets are seagrass or rope baskets, she says, because the thickness of the natural material won’t deteriorate.

Cini suggests buying nesting bins. “When you take them apart, they can cover a lot of ground when accessorizing,” she says.

Pro styling tip: “I love using trays on ottomans, beds and end tables. They add wonderful dimension and relegate books and candles to a confined space that can be easily accessed and moved,” Cini says. 

What items should generally be avoided?

Otto doesn’t recommend purchasing furniture at discount stores, because the manufacturer’s warranty may not be in effect.  

If you see a large item you really want to buy, be sure to check the construction — especially if it has legs, Cini says. A lot of the leg construction is glued, not screwed. Screws prevent cracking at the leg joints.

And consider color if matching is important. “Fabric dye lots can differ if items are manufactured on different days, weeks or seasons, so be sure you can find a match if you do buy furniture,” Otto says. 

The matching rule goes for smaller items as well, such as drapes. It’s fine if you find enough in stock for the windows in your room. But don’t depend on finding another set, Cini says. They may be discontinued.

“You’d be surprised how some of the same manufacturers you’d find in a higher-end store are found at discount home stores in smaller and more affordable quantities. But when you see it, get it — their stock is ever-changing, and once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Otto says.

Most important: Show up with a plan

To make sure you will still love what you buy after you bring it home, Hathaway says, have an idea of what you are looking for before you go into the store.

“It’s so easy to get carried away by great prices,” she says, “only to come home with more than you can possibly style attractively. Shopping with a plan and a color palette in mind will help you find the best items and leave with excitement instead of regret.”

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