Thrift Chic Portland

liz kamarul

written by Mackenzie Wilsonphotos by Shauna Intelisano | video by McKenzie Wilson

liz kamarul The home Liz Kamarul shares with her husband, Tim, in Northeast Portland looks straight out of a glossy interior design magazine. Mid-century modern leather chairs are tucked against the side wall in the living room where eclectic artwork flows from floor to ceiling. Rugs on top of rugs provide the perfect spot for her dogs, Bo and Cudi, to lounge while Kamarul, 32, snaps photos to put on Instagram. The fifty-eight houseplants she has in every nook inspired her to paint by hand an entire wall with jungle leaves—in seven hours. If you didn’t know any better you’d think Kamarul, a home-stager by trade, spent thousands of dollars decorating with the latest in bohemian trends from big-box stores. In reality, almost every piece in the home has been carefully curated from thrift shops, mainly in the Pacific Northwest. A vintage Army cot she bought from Re-Store in Beaverton cost only $2.50 and a little bit of ingenuity to fix its broken leg. The statement chairs any Mid-century modern enthusiast would die for? Kamarul paid $15 for the pair at a thrift store in her hometown, Sandpoint, Idaho.

She started thrifting out of necessity. “We were so broke when we moved to Portland,” she said. Over the last ten years she’s fallen in love with the originality of decorating with second-hand finds. Through social media, she’s inspired tens of thousands of others to feel the same.

The Couch

liz kamarul

They say material things don’t define us, but a vintage couch quite literally changed the course of Kamarul’s life. Before snagging it for free from a staging consultation, she was cautious with her décor choices. “I was just really safe about every decision I made in our house,” Kamarul said. “Everything had to be grays and neutrals, and then I saw this couch and my gut was like, ‘Oh my god, I love this thing.’” She wasn’t convinced her home could handle the bold, upholstered fabric. One word to describe the couch: loud. At the time, only a couple hundred people followed her on Instagram, and she mainly posted photos from her work. The formula for staging is ingrained in her—draw out the home’s positive features and disguise the negatives with neutral furniture and décor. Before she took home the couch, which she thinks is from the ’60s or ’70s, she snapped a photo of it for Instagram to see what people thought. Within a minute she had fifty responses encouraging her it belonged in her living room. “Before, Instagram was no big deal, then all of a sudden this couch just changed everything. People freak out about it,” Kamarul said. The couch brought her a wave of new followers on Instagram and evolved a change of style, inspiring every purchase she’s made since. “I can’t do anything wrong in my house after the couch. It can’t get crazier than that,” Kamarul said.

Thrift Shopping 101

The hashtag Kamarul uses on most of her Instagram postings is one she created: #thisiswhyihavetothriftshopeveryday. Long but meaningful, it highlights the fact that getting her home to a place where thousands of people “like” photos of it hasn’t been a brief streak of luck in thrift shops. It’s required visiting them consistently, even constantly. Her thrifting process is deliberate. “I usually go in with something in mind of what I’m looking for because I think it can be manifested,” Kamarul said. She starts in her favorite aisles first, wood items and baskets, then moves to paintings, wire items, dishes, outdoor pots and finally, fabrics. Each aisle gets a quick scan for items that catch her eye, then she’ll go back through all the aisles again until she’s satisfied she hasn’t missed anything. She admits it’s easy to get competitive. “I immediately feel like, ‘Everyone in here is going to get all the good stuff!’” she said.

liz kamarul

Her tips for thrifting? Look for something specific and manage expectations. “You won’t find something every time,”  she said. “Thrifting takes dedication.” Being able to tell if something is of good quality or vintage can be difficult, but you start to figure it out over time, she said. Pottery is usually easy. She prefers handmade one-of-a-kind pieces with signatures on the bottom. Google is her best friend when she’s thrifting because she can look up paintings to see if the artwork is more than just eye candy. “That’s the joy of having the internet on hand at all times,” Kamarul said. Her husband can only put up with so many “must-have” pieces piling up in their home, so she started selling some of them through her Instagram account, with listings such as a pair of hand-carved besmo gazelles and a small wall hanging from Peru. “It’s hard to let those things go, so I usually end up keeping it for a little while before selling,” she said.

Open Doors

liz kamarul

Now that she has tens of thousands of followers on Instagram, opportunities to be an influencer for companies have come her way. Rejuvenation, a hardware and lighting company with a location in Portland, gave Kamarul a $1,300 light fixture to feature in her home, and while she gives in to new items every once in a while, thrifting is something she won’t be giving up anytime soon. “If I go to a big-box store and buy an item, then I’m going to see it a hundred times in other people’s houses,” Kamarul said. She likes thrifting’s unique items, or taking an old piece and making it new somehow. Her next project is renovating a camper to take traveling with her husband in the spring. They plan to put their home on Airbnb and hit the road for at least six months to see the United States. The main goal is simply to experience more. “Tim is from Australia, and he hasn’t seen much of the States,´ Kamarul said. “I want to go to flea markets all over the country and meet people who I’ve connected with on Instagram.”

A Thousand Holes in the Wall

Most people shy away from putting holes in their walls, whether they rent or own. Not Kamarul. When she wanted to add dimension to her already dramatic black wall in the living room, she went big. The accent had to be cheap, but it also needed to have a wow factor. “We had tons of sheets of wood in the backyard left over from a different project, and I asked Tim to cut me a hundred thousand triangles,” Kamarul laughed. An affinity for anything geometric gave her the idea to add texture to the wall by spray-painting the triangles black and nailing them up. The result is a stunning illusion of depth. It’s a good thing it turned out as she imagined, because there’s not enough stucco to fill the holes now covering the wall. Kamarul hasn’t always been one to follow the rules too closely and hopes that rubs off on the people who follow her creative process through Instagram. “I’m so sick of people saying crap like, ‘Oh, you can’t do that,’ or, ‘That’s not supposed to be used in that way,’” she said. “It’s annoying that people feel confined by rules, because there really shouldn’t be any.”



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