5 Designer-Approved Tricks to Make Thrift Store Art Look Better

living room with framed art

Tyler Karu

If you're looking to add great art to your home while sticking to a budget, don't forget to browse the thrift store. While not every piece you come across will be ready to hang immediately, there are many clever ways to transform secondhand works so that they better suit your style. Below, designers share tips for how to make the most of thrifted art so that it looks top-notch in your space.

1. Note That You Can Reframe Fabulous Art

Find an art piece that you love but feel like it could pop a bit more? Place it in a new frame when you get home! "A thrifted art piece that might look outdated or cheap can be instantly transformed with a more modern or elegant frame," Chelsey Brown, of City Chic Decor, says. Not sure where to begin when choosing a style? Kate DeWitt of Kate DeWitt Design says to pair a textured oil painting with a simple floater frame or to make a matte print pop more by pairing it with a more detailed, ornate frame for some contrast.

framed art of cows in field

Mary Patton Design

2. And in Other Cases, Focus on the Frames

Maybe none of the actual art pieces you spot at the thrift store speak to you but you're coming across some pretty excellent frames— go ahead and place them in your shopping cart! "Custom framing can be expensive, so if you find something that's not to your taste or style, consider repurposing the frame," Shannon Claire Smith, of Shannon Claire Interiors, says. "This is especially true with smaller, glass or matted pieces—you can never have too many of these on hand when you need them in a pinch!"

Don't be daunted by well-framed works, either. "Look for frames that are easy to take apart or remind yourself that even if it’s a professionally framed piece, you can almost always cut open the paper backing and undo what’s there," Emily Starr Alfano, of mStarr Design, says.

3. Opt to Paint Old Frames or Mats

Keep in mind that the frames you pick up while thrifting are easy to paint as you wish. "My latest obsession is painting old frames the same color as the wall behind it," Alfano says. "It’s a great way to use frames when you don’t like the color but love the shape or design."

Why not give the matting a bit of a revamp while you're at it? "Vintage matting can often turn yellow over time," Nicole Arruda, of Nicole Alexandra Design Studio, says. "Freshen things up by carefully removing the backing and removing the mat so you can work your magic! You’ll need to staple or glue the backing back in place, but it's worth the extra steps!"

4. Hang a Gallery Wall

Maybe that thrifted art piece looks a little lonely hanging all by itself but would shine as part of a gallery wall. "By grouping pieces together, they can have a more cohesive and polished look," Brown says. Arruda advises being bold when mixing and matching thrift store art pieces with other artwork or decor styles that you may already have in your home. "If you find that perfect vintage piece, it may not need any altering! Sometimes the quirks are what makes it special," she says. "In this case, I love mixing old and new, try layering it with a more modern piece. This can be with another piece of art, a mirror, sculptures, vases, et. cetera. The newer pieces will make the older ones feel a little more modern and intentional."

gallery wall in corner of room

Erin Williamson Design

5. Add Your Own Flair to Existing Art

Feel like enhancing an existing piece of art with some additional paint or maybe even some glitter? Go for it! "If you're creative or artistic in your own right, don't feel bad about adding your own touch to an existing piece that you find," Smith says. "Perhaps it's a poster or a print of something you like, but it's just not personal enough—take a paintbrush to it, and add some highlights, or pops of color! This is also especially handy if you're into mixed media and collage—the possibilities are endless, and you will have a completely custom and special piece when you're finished." If the artwork you've picked up at the thrift is just a regular print that you want to add some pizazz to, Krista Wells of Georgestown on My Mind suggests using clear Mod Podge over the print to give it a painted sheen making it look more like an original, authentic piece of art.