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Cari Cucksey’s Rules
The host of HGTV’s Cash & Cari shares her cheat sheet on scoring antiques on a budget.
Cari Cucksey didn’t set out to become a TV star. The professional estate liquidator simply knew she had a lifelong passion for antiques, and that her business sense was deeply rooted.
“I’ve been entrepreneur my entire life,” says the star of HGTV’s “Cash and Cari.” “It’s in my blood.” Growing up, she spent a great deal of time at her grandparent’s house, where frugality and an appreciation for good deals were family values. “My grandparents went through the Depression,” she explains. “My grandpa was a picker before picking and salvaging was cool and hip. A word that was thrown out around my house a kit was ‘gratitude’…They were very grateful for everything they had.” Along with her mother, a teacher, Cucksey spent summer days browsing tag sales and rummage sales.
Today, she not only hosts the successful HGTV show “Cash & Cari,” she has expanded beyond your estate-liquidation business and open RePurpose, a retail shop. Here, she offers novice antiques buyers a few guidelines.
1. If you’re going to bargain, open the conversation right. Antiques buying can intimidating, especially when you’re in a surrounded by professional buyers and dealers. To feel confident in your negotiation, it helps to speak like the pros, Cucksey says. “Don’t be rude, but the best way to start is to say ‘What’s your best price?’” Even if you love a piece, she advises, “keep your poker face!”
2. Repeat this mantra: “It’s all about luck.”
When browsing antiques stores and markets, serendipity is the rule. Maybe you’ll stumble on that mint-condition Herman Miller chair you’ve been coveting for years, but there’s always a chance you’ll go home empty handed. Just enjoy the search, she says–it’s part of the fun.
3. Looking for something specific? Speak up.
“Dealers are a wealth of info,” Cucksey notes. If you’re looking for an étagère but aren’t seeing anything that piques your interest, ask the store owner if they’ve seen anything recently that might fit the bill. “Dealers tend to be very passionate about antiques, and they enjoy tracking down hard-to-find items. They help each other, so they can put the word out in case anyone has what you’re looking for.
4. Come prepared with pictures and measurements.
It’s easy to get enchanted with vignettes you see while wandering flea markets and tag sales, says Cucksey. If it helps you stay focused, take measurements and pictures of the rooms you’re shopping for, and bring a list of the types of pieces you need f you have trouble remembering them. (Of course, be ready to throw your design scheme out the window if you stumble across something that makes your heart patter. “I have changed an entire room to fit one piece I fell in love with!” she admits.)
5. If your goal is to make money on your finds, you can’t go wrong with art and silver.
“Artwork is always a fantastic investment, because you will typically not lose money,” Cucksey advises. Right now, “the more psychedelic and crazy and modern, the better.” Sterling silver is a great investment, she says, and she currently considers needlepoint samplers (intricate hand-stitched works that display the variety of needlepoint techniques a student had mastered) very good bets. In furniture, she says, “the chaise lounge is the most classic piece that will never go out of style.” What’s not hot? China. “There’s lot of it flooding the market these days.”
Look for “good bones,” Cucksey asserts. “Look for pieces that are not cracked, not warped, and aren’t being eaten by bugs.” Not sure if you’re looking at a solid piece? Do what you can to find out. “Don’t be afraid to flip it over, and look for marks and maker’s signatures. Sit on it, wiggle it, and see if it’s going to stand up.”
7. Get to know your local fix-it pros.
Though it can cost several hundred dollars to reupholster a club chair or repair and rewire a non-functioning chandelier that you found at a flea market, doing so is well worth the investment, Cucksey believes. “You’re creating a custom piece that’s exactly what you’ve been looking for.” Refinishing furniture, on the other hand, can be prohibitively expensive. is very expensive. Which leads us to…
8. A coat of paint goes a long way.
If you encounter a piece that’s got a great shape but a less-than-pristine finish, you can either embrace its shabby-chic character or choose a great color and paint it. “I get a lot of flak from purists for painting pieces,” Cucksey admits. The bottom line, she says, is not whether you’ve “devalued” the piece with paint, but whether you’re able to turn it into a piece you’ll use and cherish.
9. If you’re looking for steals, head to estate sales.
At outdoor markets and retail shop, your bargaining power can be limited. “When sellers have to make an initial investment – they put their own money into buying inventory for their store, or they have to pack up the merchandise and bring it to a fair, they have a certain bottom line,” Cucksey explains. At estate sales, rummage sales for charity, or tag sales, she on the other hand, you have a lot of negotiating power. “Their goal is to get as much money as possible for their cause by selling as many items as they can. There’s less worry about each item being precious,” she says.
10. Buy what you love, and you’ll have no regrets.
“Very rarely do I have a regret about a vintage item I fell for,” Cucksey says. “There was a piece I overpaid for, and I did feel a little bad, but I loved it!” Of course, being in the business gives her a nice fallback plan. “If ever there were a piece that wasn’t right, I could always just turn around and resell it!”