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In Decor, the Race Is to the Thrift

Whether you prefer garage sales or the Salvation Army, with a good eye and a few tricks, you can turn discards into the desirable, shabby to chic.


The antique oak table tucked into Debora Van Duren's breakfast nook was a desk in another life. Her ladder-back kitchen chairs once played host to El Torito restaurant diners. And the round wall mirror in her bedroom has an Andy Devine movie poster glued to its back.

To Van Duren, a decorator and dealer, the pieces are finds. She paid $195 for the desk with trestle table legs, $10 each for the chairs and $15 for the mirror. She bought them all at her favorite shop, the Salvation Army Thrift Store--"the Sally" to habitues.

Many other finds dot Van Duren's Belmont Shore duplex. There's the white wicker couch on her balcony ($80) and the small wrought-iron table and chairs ($145).

Then there's the Aldo Luongo charcoal sketch in her home office, the art glass vase on her dresser, the cat litter boxes on the balcony--it all came from the Sally.

"It amazes me what people give away," said Van Duren, one of the many antique dealers who scour Salvation Army and other thrift shops in Los Angeles and Orange counties for resale items.

Some of her best finds:

* A crystal chandelier she bought for $35 and sold for $350 to an antique dealer on his way to the tony Capistrano Gift Show.

* A $200 Prada handbag she bought for $2.95.

* An old mirror decorated with abalone shells she paid $15 for and resold at a garage sale for $80.

* A cherrywood dining table and eight intricately carved chairs made in China in the 1940s that she bought for $1,500. She believes they're worth five times that.

Van Duren, 50, was a single mother with three children when she started shopping at thrift stores more than 20 years ago. Last year, she opened her shop, Mood Swings, at 62nd Place and Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach. It features "Chic Revival" furniture, a la Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic stores and books.

Ashwell, who appears on the E! channel as an interior design expert, mixes flea-market finds with family heirlooms to create a look of rumpled luxury. Crystal chandeliers mingle with faded floral chintz and worn, painted furniture in a Shabby Chic treatment.

"She took away the stigma of 'Oh, my God! They got it at the Salvation Army!' " said Van Duren, who hand paints some of her furniture finds, adds crystal knobs to dresser drawers and leaves other items alone, such as a metal stand she'd prefer to see rust a bit more.

Not a morning person, Van Duren eschews garage sales and says she is willing to pay a little more for her stock at thrift stores. The Salvation Army, which has 15 stores in Orange County, is her favorite.

Proceeds from the stores benefit the Adult Rehabilitation Centers, which offer free counseling and work therapy to those dependent on alcohol and drugs. People close to her have gone through the program and turned their lives around, she said.

She frequents Salvation Army stores in Long Beach, Whittier, Westminster and Orange, and likes the boutique sections many of the stores have for brand-name clothing, antiques and collectibles. But her best finds have come from the main floor.

Van Duren claims anyone "with a good eye" can find treasures. The secret is frequent visits, patient digging and self-education, she says.

First thing each visit, Van Duren and her assistant, Sandy Wilson, scan the store, making one pass to see if something catches their collective eye. The next sweep involves time-consuming digging. Novices can educate themselves on what to look for by reading home-design magazines, she said.

When it comes to prices, Salvation Army workers now use antique price guides and can mark items as much as 75% of the listed price--giving customers a deal without giving away something for nothing, said Dawn Marks, director of marketing, Western Territory, ARC Command.

For Van Duren, who sees herself as a preservationist buying goods with a past and recycling them, the beauty of shopping at the Sally is that one day you won't find anything, but the next you'll discover a treasure.

* Mood Swings, 38 62nd Place, Long Beach. (562) 856-9190.


Here is a sampling of Orange County thrift stores:


* 1275 E. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim. (714) 774-0611

* 845 N. Euclid St., Anaheim. (714) 991-9134

* 2025 W. First St., Santa Ana. (714) 543-9289

* Gilded Treasures, 155 N. Glassell St., Orange. (714) 639-0494.



* 122 S. Euclid St., Anaheim. (714) 635-8035

* 620 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa. (949) 646-2479

* 333 S. Brookhurst, Fullerton. (714) 871-3181

* 9079 Adams St., Huntington Beach. (714) 963-4997

* 23740 El Toro Road, Suites A and E, Lake Forest. (949) 470-2040

* 849 S. Tustin Ave., Orange. (714) 538-0851

* 2702 W. 5th St., Santa Ana. (714) 543-9272

* 404 N. Fairview St., Santa Ana. (714) 541-0406

* 412 N. Fairview St., Santa Ana. (714) 541-0434

* 5948 Westminster Blvd., Westminster. (714) 891-4918



* 1100 N. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim. (714) 535-4631

* 7035 Stanton Ave., Buena Park. (714) 521-7390

* 2126 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa. (949) 642-3636

* 318 N. Raymond Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-2525

* 9866 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove. (714) 530-4350

* 12962 Main St., Garden Grove. (714) 638-3624

* 17362 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach. (714) 841-2896

* 23820 Mercury Road, Lake Forest. (949) 581-1605

* 180 S. Tustin Ave., Orange. (714) 532-2235

* 2727 Via Cascadita, San Clemente. (949) 492-0133

* 710 S. Main St., Santa Ana. (714) 547-3562

* 2603 W. First St., Santa Ana. (714) 541-6726

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