Shop for bargains at HomeGoods like an interior designer
Annie Elliott has gained a huge social media following with her advice on scouring discount stores for decor that only looks expensive. So, we took her shopping.
By Michelle Brunner
February 2, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EST
Who better to help you shop for home furnishings than someone who does it professionally? Enter D.C. interior designer Annie Elliott, whose TikTok videos traversing the aisles of big-box stores dispensing design advice have made her a Gen Z sensation — her first HomeGoods video racked up 4 million views. (She’s also taken her followers along to Ikea, Target and HomeSense.)
We recently went with Elliott to a Maryland HomeGoods to learn how the designer looks for quality amid the store’s discounted decor. “That’s one thing about HomeGoods: You have to really inspect things, because they’ve been bounced around a lot,” she says. “Just because something’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s a bargain.”
So which items are worthy of a place in your home and which are better left on the shelves? Here, Elliott shares her tips for spending wisely at the decor superstore.
Elliott generally advises against splurging on large upholstered pieces at the retailer. Should you see something you like, she suggests inspecting the fabric closely. “Heavier, textured woven fabrics are good, but if the pattern is printed on, it can look cheap and may not wear as well,” she says.
She also recommends trying out the merchandise: Take a seat to make sure it’s actually comfortable, and then check the frame. No one wants a rickety chair, so Elliott suggests giving it a good shake to make sure it feels stable and solidly made. “When you grab the armrests, you shouldn't be able to feel the piece of wood that is forming the arm,” she says.
Finally, consider the cost. During our shopping trip, most living room chairs cost about $500 — not bad, but as Elliott points out, “Once you get to that price point, you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this better than Crate & Barrel, which has really good quality?’” The verdict: Proceed only if the price is right and it appears well made. Otherwise, you might want to invest in better pieces elsewhere.
Carefully examine case goods
Make sure that doors align on sideboards and cabinets, and that all drawers open and close smoothly. While shopping, Elliot stopped to give a trendy cabinet a second glance only to discover that its facade showed visible paint drips in the finish and that its doors were crooked. “If you’re handy, I suppose you could fiddle around with the hinges and make the doors even, but if you have to take it home and fix it, it may not be worthwhile,” she says.
When asked if trendier furniture pieces are a good investment at HomeGoods, she advises, “If the price is super-low, and you know it’s not going to last forever, by all means go ahead.” However, she does offer a more sustainable alternative: vintage. “You could paint a wooden piece that you find at a vintage store, and the quality is better 9 times out of 10,” she says.
Elliot says the retailer is a great source for inexpensive, stylish side tables. A wood mid-century-inspired end table that cost $130 caught her eye, as did a petite rattan table for $60 that could double as a plant stand. She also liked a small live-edge occasional table for $100. “You can’t really fake live-edge, so something like this is a good buy,” she says, inspecting the wood. “It’s a little worn, but because that’s the look of the piece, it feels intentional and works.”
Not all tables were winners, though. She pointed out ones with flimsy or cheap-looking metal legs and joints that appeared to be shoddily welded. “The thing that I advise people to stay away from the most are things that look cheap or poorly put together,” she says.
Load up on lighting
HomeGoods is a windfall for well-priced designer-looking lamps, and you can often score an identical pair. Elliott says to always look for ceramic styles, and flagged several designs that were a steal with price tags in the $35-to-$50 range. What to skip: lamps with full-metal bases, “because when there’s so much metal in one place, it just doesn’t look expensive and the finish may not wear as well,” she says.
Consider the mirrors, but pass on art
Elliott recommends checking out the mirror section because you can often score hard-to-find smaller sizes that measure 24 inches or less — perfect for petite powder rooms. However, when it comes to wall decor, the designer treads carefully. “Art is highly subjective; I would prefer people buy art from a local art school, or vintage store, or get a print from Etsy rather than buy something really generic,” she says.
Make a beeline for the baskets
Elliott’s a big fan of the many organizational solutions at HomeGoods, with rope and straw woven baskets topping the list. Many of the styles rival Moroccan-inspired versions from higher-end retailers like Serena & Lily, but at a fraction of the cost. “The big ones are especially great for stashing firewood or blankets in a family room,” she says.
Check out the accessories
With everything from hourglasses to obelisks, the decorative objects section of the store is a treasure hunt all on its own. What made Elliott’s cut? “Animal figurines, because they come in interesting shapes and are a noncontroversial way to fill a hole on a bookshelf,” she says. Another endorsement: decorative trays. “If you’re trying to corral clutter, just put it in a tray and all of a sudden it looks intentional,” she says.
Grab inexpensive glass
Many designers and stylists — not just Elliott — will tell you that HomeGoods is their go-to source for oversize glass vessels to display artfully arranged branches. “Most of the glassware says it’s made in Spain and the quality is great for the price,” says Elliott, who used several of the glass bottles to line her own nonworking fireplace.
Stock up on sheets
Elliott says the store can be a reliable place to pick up extra sets of sheets — just read the label to make sure they’re 100 percent cotton, linen or bamboo, and steer clear of man-made materials such as polyester or microfiber. “I don’t worry too much about thread count, but look for the words ‘percale,’ if you want a cool, crisp finish to your sheets, or ‘Egyptian,’ if you want a fuzzier, softer feel — both are cotton,” she says.
Pick up pillows and throws
According to Elliott, no trip to HomeGoods is complete without a stroll down the pillow aisle — high praise coming from a designer who’s used to custom-made creations in luxury fabrics. She suggests looking for pillows with zippered, removable covers (because they can be easily cleaned) and avoiding ones that are sewn shut. Her one pillow peeve: Stiff, overstuffed cushions with no give. "I really object to polyfill when the pillow bounces right back into shape,” she says. Her preference: a mix of polyfill and down feathers.
When buying throws, Elliott says to look for natural fibers. And she believes the more realistic-looking faux fur throws will have a longer life than shaggier options, which already appeared to be shedding and unraveling on the shelf. “You have to think that if it doesn’t look good now, once you get it home and use it for a while, it’s really not going to look good,” she says.
Michelle Brunner is a writer in D.C., who covers interior design and culture.
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