A good plan to make any thrift store trip less disappointing and more fruitful is to go in with a general idea of what you want (pants) rather than being set on a specific item (vintage Levi's 501s). The same applies to shopping for building and decor supplies at the Habitat for Humanity Outlet Store. If you're set on travertine tiles or a particular light fixture, go retail. But if you're a little more flexible (and on a tight budget), the donated items at HH can be spectacular deals. We saw laminate flooring and tile for about $1 per square foot and chandeliers for $100. It may take a little creativity to put together the odds and ends you can find here, but at prices like this (and since it benefits Habitat), playing Changing Rooms at home is a whole lot more affordable.
So it's not really a store. After owning retail shops in East Dallas and Plano for more than 25 years, Harry Walker has been there, done that. But his well-earned retirement lasted only a couple of weeks. Now Walker's "showroom" is a barebones warehouse space in northeast Dallas, where he offers antique English pine furniture to designers and the public at the same price. In addition to imported furniture, Walker now indulges his love of woodworking by crafting pine pieces to order: TV cabinets, armoires, beds, tables, bookshelves and china cabinets in styles that might be found in an old English country home. The showroom is not fancy--he just got air-conditioning--but the quality and prices are unbeatable. His hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (He's closed on Sunday, when Walker visits his mother.) But it's a good idea to call ahead and make sure he hasn't dashed out on an errand. It's that kind of place.

Readers' Pick
IKEA Frisco 7171 IKEA Drive, Frisco 972-712-4532
Yeah, yeah, we're just as excited about IKEA's opening as anyone else in North Texas. Woo-hoo, now we can have the same spindly bookcase and desk lamp that millions of other people have. We prefer our furniture handmade by hardworking people who appreciate quality and abhor vanity--and drive slow-moving, horse-powered buggies. We wouldn't seek out the Amish for a home theater system, but we do love their furniture. Amish Furniture Showcase offers pieces "built by hand without the use of electricity" by craftsmen in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The rocking chairs, especially the bentwood ones, are beautifully simple. Almost any piece in the store (maybe the 14-seat dining table?) could become a family heirloom.
IKEA
What can we say? For years people have made road trips to Houston just to hit the big IKEA. Now we don't have to rely on the catalog or spend a night in the stinkhole of Texas for a little Scandinavian love. A tour through this expansive store proves that, yes, they did think of everything. Not only can customers peruse the four furnished example homes inside, they can buy almost everything they see, from furniture and appliances (OK, computers and televisions don't count) to décor and lingonberry punch. The upstairs area is a complete showroom of items in various settings and downstairs is everything you saw upstairs--only ready for purchase. They even provide tape measures, shopping lists and pencils so you can write down items, sizes and where to find them. Despite the crowds, IKEA had us covered. We saw a lamp and a cool frame in the showroom and headed downstairs to grab them. We left with the lamp, the frame, light bulbs and a small tool kit. Back home, we could turn on the lamp and hang the frame. No muss, no fuss, no extra trips. Very nice.

Readers' Pick
IKEA Frisco
We just had our kitchen done, which essentially meant repainting old cabinets and replacing old appliances--fancy, huh? Best part of designing on the proverbial dime was going to the Ace Mart to replace old utensils. This monstrous store has everything you'd ever need, from tiny spoons to bowls the size of King Kong's left paw. They even have deep fryers big enough to cook a whole human, which isn't our idea of lean cuisine, but who are we to judge? The store's actually for, ya know, restaurants (hence the name, duh), but the general public's welcome, too. Never know when a dinner party for 10 will blossom into a shindig for 100 at the last sec. Turns out you need that 500-cup coffeemaker after all. We've spent days in here, admiring the 20-foot-wide stove tops we'll never need and the retro diner seating we'll never use and the cook's garb we'll never buy and the two-story-tall fridge we'll never want. But it sure is fun to daydream about that deep fryer.
A container from the Zheijiang province of China had just come in the last time we visited Jaya, bringing a huge shipment of village artifacts and unusual antique furniture. The geometric shapes and clean lines make it easy to incorporate Jaya's tables, china cabinets, desks and bookcases into any décor. But it's the unexpected one-of-a-kind pieces that keep collectors coming: an antique tea chest, Indonesian tribal carvings, a painted ceremonial wedding bed, hand-woven baskets and even bold contemporary paintings by Chinese or Indonesian artists. Manager Linden Alexander often unveils new shipments with wine-and-hors d'oeuvres evenings. Oohing and aahing over her latest discoveries is not a bad way to start a night out.
Shopping at the Salvation Army is usually a hit-or-miss proposition. Those not too picky about the condition of their housewares will almost always find what they need, but shoppers hunting for hip, retro clothes often find plenty of retro with very little hip. Yet the Salvation Army store on Garland Road is a sure bet in one respect: For college students, young families and new arrivals on a budget, it's got the best selection of used furniture in town. And we're not talking cat-peed couches and three-legged tables either. The furniture is generally solid, comfortable and clean, and the selection changes every week. The prices are high by thrift store standards but so is the quality. You can't really expect them to just give the good stuff away.
For collectors of antique Mission-style furniture and accessories, this new store in Munger Place goes on the once-a-week, must-browse circuit. In addition to unique tables, settees and chairs, the Quaint Home Gallery offers lamps and other accessories in the Arts and Crafts style not seen everywhere else. In addition, they have a large selection of Arroyo Craftsman lighting fixtures, samples of Arts and Crafts fabrics that can be made into pillows or table runners and Porteus art nouveau tiles handmade in New Zealand--great for that fireplace surround in your East Dallas bungalow. Open Wednesday through Saturday. Make a morning of it: Next door is the Garden Café, which serves breakfast until 3 p.m.

Best Person to Put the Feng Back in Your Shui

Linda Pennington

Before we met Linda Pennington, we thought we had style, class, sophistication--all the things you think you have till you meet someone who actually has those things. After we had our kitchen updated, we quickly came to realize the rest of the house wasn't quite right--something about milk crates and cinder blocks and dorm-room living came to mind. So we called a friend who knew a friend who had used Linda Pennington's Redecorating with Style services to give their domicile an extreme makeover--using the furniture that was already in the house, for a real redesign on a dime. Pennington comes to your house, takes a bunch of pictures and measurements, disappears for about a week, then swoops into your home for an entire day, demanding your immediate departure. Then she works her voodoo, and, presto, about eight hours later, your study's where your living room used to be, your living room's livable and your dining room actually looks like a room in which you want to dine. She ain't cheap--Pennington will go out and buy some stuff, which you keep only if you like--but her service is not unreasonable at all, which is why we hired her to redesign our office. And you know you gotta like somebody's work if you use them for the workplace. It's not like you can get fired from your house, know what we're saying?
We love Elliott's as much as the next handyman. If only we were handy, but still. Yet it's almost too much of a good thing, a hardware store in which the hardware's getting short shrift. Around the time they started selling make-yer-own fudge, well, we decided we'd best look elsewhere for our everyday nail-hittin', pliers-pullin' needs. We love the Westlake Ace because it's as old school as a one-room junior high, a place where they sell nothing but paint and nails and hammers and light bulbs and garden hoses and soil and tape and all other things hard and ware. And it's easy to find a guy to help you with all your needs. We had one dude spend 30 minutes with us not long ago discussing the finer points of sandpaper and which grain we really needed for refinishing that coffee table we rescued from a garage sale down the street. Take that, Home Depot.

Readers' Pick
Elliott's Hardware 4901 Maple Ave. 214-634-9900 2049 Coit Road, #300, Plano 972-312-0700

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