When I am looking for a new piece of furniture, I usually try thrift stores and consignment shops first. I would rather have something that shows a little love than something made of particleboard that I have to assemble with a hex key.
Plastic pieces can be repurposed fairly easily, depending on the condition. Often all it will need is a good washing and you’re done. However, if the plastic is really shiny and you want to repaint it, use a fine grit sandpaper to take the gloss off. That will help the paint stick better. Give it a really good wash and dry, then use a spraypaint designed for plastics. Follow the instructions on the can, work in a well-ventilated area, and you should be good to go!
Metal is a little more challenging, especially if it has been outdoors. However, as long as it hasn’t been eaten completely through, a little work is all you need. A wire brush will help you remove any loose bits of rust. If it’s super rusty, sand it down. You can use a palm sander if you are cool with tools.Depending on the design of your find, you might have to get in there by hand for the hard to reach spots. Once that’s done, you need to clean it with a solvent designed for metal (acetone should do the trick). Next, give it a good going over with a rust-preventing primer. Finally, do a few light coats of paint that’s designed for metal. Then enjoy your new-to-you item!
A lot of the pieces you’ll find will be wood. With a little work, you can really make a quality piece look new again. The first thing you’ll need to do is apply paint stripper and use a scraper tool to remove the old finish. Once you have the old finish off, wipe the whole thing down with mineral spirits to get rid of any remaining stripper. Next it’s time to sand it down—start with something at a medium coarseness to help you get down to the bare wood. Then use a lighttexture sandpaper to even out the surface and smooth down those nicks and dings. Wipe it all down again to get any dust off. Now you can apply something like a paint or a stain. I recommend also applying a clear coat on top of that to help protect the wood and give it a little shine. Let it dry for about a day and then you’re done.
I hope this gives you the confidence to go out there and find yourself a really interesting piece that you can add your own flair to. You’ll likely save yourself some money and have a one-of-a-kind item to show for it.