Tips for Buying Thrift Store Frames

Tips for Buying Thrift Store Frames

Buying frames from thrift stores started as an act of necessity and now it’s my default when it comes to framing artwork or photos.  It’s not only the prices, but the beauty of unique, vintage and hard to find pieces.  Even if you love Ikea frames (and I do too) adding a vintage frame here and there adds a lot of interest to your walls.

But, maybe you don’t want to collect frames so that you have a ready supply for any and every size of art.  You just want one or two frames for a project.  Here are some tips on finding the right frame at a thrift store.  The only tools you need are screwdrivers and a measuring tape.  I have used light wire cutters for removing picture hanging wire but usually heavy duty scissors will work for this also.

Before you head out, measure your artwork or your photo, whatever you are planning to frame.  If you want to mat your art (and don’t have a mat), you will need the measurements for a mat opening.  Write your measurements down.

Take a measuring tape with you to the thrift store.  It’s the only way to be sure your picture will fit.  If the frame has a mat, measure the opening around the art to see if it is the right size for your project.

 Once you have found a frame that might work, look it over carefully for any nicks, dents, scratches.  Inspect the corners where the frame is joined.  Then check the back to see how easily it can be taken apart.  Even if this is your first experience with dismantling a frame you will be able to tell the easy ones apart from the more difficult.  These two are easy.


I try to find framed pictures that come with a mat, especially a white or cream colored mat.  That cuts down on many other steps like getting a mat that is the right size for the frame and the art.  A custom cut mat can add to your cost.

This is the front of the black frame pictured above.  It is an 11×14 frame with a mat that has an 8×10 opening.  The photo is one I took of the ocean on one of our beach vacations.  I edited it to make it seem a little more artsy, then had it printed at Walgreens.  The frame was about $4, printing was about the same so for under $10 you have something for your walls.  I did this one for my son who is setting up an apartment.  More to come on that later.

The gold color and ridged texture on this tabletop frame attracted me.  It had no mat but I knew with it’s standard size I could buy one very inexpensively.

Of course, tabletop frames are made for easily inserting photos or art.

Sometimes I violate my own rules and buy a frame that does not have a mat.  This frame was perfect for some art I had purchased online.  Read this post about finding inexpensive art online.

‘Not so great, is it?  Frame shops will custom cut a mat for you and it is not prohibitively expensive.  I recommend taking the frame and picture in to be sure the cut is accurate.  That is my plan for this picture.

Lately I have been gravitating to these modern black frames.  Notice the one above has a square mat opening.  It measures 9×9, and it is brown.  So that mat probably won’t work for me.  However, since the frame is 11×14, I can easily get a mat to fit.  I will return the art to the thrift store since it won’t work for me, but may for someone else.

I bought this artwork on Minted and to my mind it works beautifully with this vintage frame.  The soft colors in the artwork meld with the mat and the frame.  The dings and nicks on the frame are part of the charm.  I’ve had this frame for so long that I can’t remember the cost.  But I do remember it was a chore to get the previous artwork out, professionally and thoroughly installed as it was.  Then placing my art and making sure it was centered was not at all easy.  I saved a lot of money but it took some time to get it done correctly.  All worth it to me.

Sometimes the art and the framing go so well together that I cannot dismantle them, like the one above.  Can you see the blue in the frame which picks up on the blue in the picture?  Luckily I liked the art and had a place for it.  Which brings me to another point.

I try not to buy frames and pictures that go together so well that it’s a shame to rip them apart.  Usually the prices are higher on those items anyway.

While I have had a few mishaps in my framing adventures I recommend it as a great way to get unique and inexpensive frames for your art.

So, are you ready to try your hand at framing with a thrift store frame?  Start small and maybe you will become hooked as I have.

New Gallery Wall Around the TV

Sometimes you change things up and for awhile the change is good.  Whatever you have done seems like such an improvement.  Such was the case with my gallery wall around the TV.
Not so long ago, this is how this wall looked.  The minimal look isn’t always a good thing.

The absolutely best thing you can do to motivate yourself to do something about a room is take a picture of it.  Then you will think to yourself, “oh no, that is what this room looks like?!”  Pictures help you see the room as visitors do.

The above is a very timid attempt at some decoration on the wall around the TV.  At least the rug is a better color and size for the room.  No comment on the table.  I knew it was a temporary stand-in.

Much improved with a more interesting gallery wall.  But, I didn’t feel all happy to see it.  It was just okay, an improvement, nothing to write home about.  Read about the coffee table here.

I finally recognized that the old wall had evolved into a rustic look that wasn’t what I was going for.  I kept scanning Pinterest and blogs for gallery walls in my spare time.  This one really got my attention.

I like the simplicity and the symmetry of this arrangement. Also, it’s interesting with an updated but traditional vibe. 
 I spent a couple of weeks looking for frames in thrift stores.  Yep, I started with the frame, not the art.  I found some, but ultimately I had to go to Ikea for the larger one.  Also, I am loving the modern simplicity of white frames and just could not find that at a thrift store.
I used newspaper (are we the last people in America to read the physical newspaper?) to make templates the size of my frames to see if my plan would work.
‘Looks pretty good!

I enlarged a couple of photos I had taken at the beach last summer to 8 x10. This is a good standard size and the mat is a standard size too.

Then, I tried my hand at watercolor.  See my post about that here.
Of the smaller art, one is a card and the other I found, framed, at a thrift store.

For me, finding an arrangement that I liked, then finding the frames, then the art to go in them was the way to go.  Standard sizes for the picture frames and mats are the most inexpensive options. 
I also changed out the coffee table.  But more on that next week.
One more before and after.

Before: Picture taken February, 2015

After: Picture taken March 31, 2016

Decorating is such a process.  Try this, try that, no, that isn’t right, until you find what feels right.  You have to be either gifted or obsessed.  I’m the latter.
There are still a few tweaks to go on this room. Sigh.