I’ve always had a random fascination with Charleston, South Carolina (beyond wondering “What exactly is a Charleston Chew?”), so my recent Secondhand Roadshow conversation with interior and lifestyle photographer Margaret Wright only validated my strong desire to visit her charming city.
Margaret’s home was recently featured in Apartment Therapy (where she’s a regular contributor) as well as in Domino (for a DIY headboard she made from pool noodles!). Brands she’s worked with include Anthopologie, Chairish and West Elm, so it’s no surprise that her home is beautifully styled with secondhand treasures she’s patiently acquired.
For the full recording of our conversation, watch it here as part of my Secondhand Roadshow IGTV Series.
You shoot these stunning spaces for your clients. How did you get started with a career like this?
I was always interested in interior design. In high school I imagined becoming a designer. I did not grow up in that world, so I tried to figure out what that would mean. I got a job in high school at Pier 1 Imports. I thought, “This is interior design, I’ve made it!” That was obviously not interior design, and working in retail is not my thing.
I went to college and studied journalism because writing and photography were always things I was interested in. I got a job shooting for a home decor company and photographing products for several years. It was in a home setting so we did all of our own styling and created these faux home vignettes to show off the product. I did that for a number of years, and it was really fun. I loved that job.
We were living in Nashville at the time, and I really wanted to move back home to Charleston where I grew up. We decided to make the move in 2016, but there weren’t any large companies in town where I could do the same sort of work with studio or product photography for a brand.
I always wondered if I would do freelance and start my own business. It wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do at the time. But it was that or nothing. And so I started shooting homes for interior designers, and I haven’t looked back since. It’s my dream job, and it’s a new adventure everyday. I love it.
You’ve been working so hard on your home, including doing your own bathroom renovations. Aside from budget restraints, what was the impetus to getting your hands dirty?
My dad was always your typical do-everything-yourself dad, a Jack of all trades. He could fix cars, homes – literally everything that was broken. He actually built our house from the ground up when I was in fourth grade.
I always knew it was possible to do things yourself and to save money that way. We didn’t have a huge budget after we bought the house. With what we had left, we thought what are we going to do? There were three things we considered doing: scraping the popcorn ceilings, refinishing the wood floors (which are in good shape, but the stain has yellowed a bit with time) or renovating the master bathroom.
We were lucky our house from the ‘60s even had a master bathroom, but it was only a toilet and sink. There was no shower, and it was literally just four feet by four feet – it was so small! So we added a shower to it, and I’m really glad we did that. It’s made a huge difference in our daily lives. That’s one thing that benefited us and added value to our home.
Sometimes I’m sad we didn’t do the other two things, but it’s impossible to do them once your stuff is in the house. But those things are aesthetic whereas the bathroom is something we use everyday.
What is one design rule you swear by when you’re choosing things for your space?
My biggest rule is being patient. Wait for what you want. It’s a really hard rule to live by because we bought our house in 2017, and I feel only in the past year it’s gotten to the point where I’m pleased with a lot of the rooms and they’re filling out more.
I’ve always been very particular and specific in my taste. A lot of my friends will buy a house, buy all the stuff that goes in it, and it looks great. It’s stylish and they’re done immediately. I’m like, “Dang, I wish my house was more full.” I wish I could allow myself to buy everything from one store and it looks amazing.
If you are very particular and you’re looking for a specific item, and if you want to create a collected, timeless space, you have to take the pressure off of yourself to immediately finish. Learn to live with things that aren’t quite what you want until you can find what you want. The downside of finding everything so quickly is you may choose something that in a year or two you might not love. If you buy everything that’s in style right now and very current, in five years, it might all go out of style.
If you can let yourself be patient and collect, and choose things that have a story or things that you’ve always loved, or things that are extremely unique, you will never tire of these pieces as quickly. And they won’t look dated.
Were you always interested in secondhand items as a child, or is this something you developed as an adult?
Growing up, I learned how to stretch a dollar. My mom and dad were super frugal. We didn’t have a ton, we figured out how to get what we wanted in the most budget friendly way. Thrifting was not a foreign concept to me.
As I got older, in high school and definitely in college, I did a ton of thrifting. It was more for fashion, I always loved fashion. When I graduated from college and got my first apartment, it was just natural to furnish it from secondhand shops.
My first furniture piece I got from Craigslist was a jewelry armoire. It reminded me of my Pier 1 days because they would have jewelry chests and lingerie chests. I thought it was the coolest idea to have a piece of furniture that holds my jewelry because I’m a huge jewelry collector. So I got this armoire for $40 from Craigslist, and I still have it.
The first piece that I fell in love with was a vintage yellow velvet tufted sofa. I visualized it in my mind, if I could dream up a sofa, it would be tufted mustard yellow. I found it, I bought it. It came with a chair and it was probably like $70, maybe $100. But I loved that sofa, it was gorgeous. Sadly, it didn’t last into my marriage because it wasn’t comfortable.
But I was able to sell it for three times what I paid for. And that’s one of the fun things of thrifting. If you have an eye for it, you can find something that someone else may not know is cool right now, and then if you get tired of it, you can sell it for at least what you paid for it, sometimes more, and then get the next thing.
That’s how I started furnishing my home, and then it became an addiction from there.
What’s something in your house right now that’s a favorite secondhand find?
I love this lamp that’s one of my most recent secondhand finds. It’s a vintage pole lamp – it goes all the way to the ceiling with tension rods and has two scalloped cane shades. I got it during COVID and it’s just a fun memento of a weird time.
I have a book on lighting and I recently learned that the pole lamp was invented by the same person who invented track lighting. So he invented this and thought, “What would happen if you turned this sideways and put that on a ceiling?” That’s a weird, fun fact.
My dining room table is definitely my favorite piece that I have found secondhand.
I read your Apartment Therapy feature, and you got that for something stupid like $75, right?
Yes, I think so. I’m always looking, and I wasn’t looking for a table because I had already found a great table (also secondhand) that expanded to a huge size or it could fold back to a small circle. I had put a lot of love into that table – I refinished it, it took a lot of love. It was a great piece that I found for $20, and then saw on Chairish for $6,000. So I felt really good about that dining table.
Then I was on Facebook Marketplace and this one popped up. And I thought, “I want that table…” But I already had an amazing dining table that I put so much work into, and I shouldn’t buy a second dining room table.
I posted it on my Stories and I got all these messages, “Are you kidding? If you don’t buy that table, I’m gonna buy it.” And I thought, “I’m buying it.” As soon as someone said that, I thought, “But I want it!”
I went and got it, and we still have the original dining table. I had it in the office for a little while and now it’s in the attic. At some point we may end up in a home with a breakfast area and a dining area. I’m glad I have both. No regrets on buying this other dining table, I’m so happy that I bought it.
Do you have any unicorn pieces you’ve been looking for or any pieces that got away?
I have the same answer for both questions. I’ve been on the hunt for an antique sofa. We got married, moved here, bought a new sofa, and we’re both not happy with it. I like the way it looks, I love the legs and the lines on it. But when you buy a new sofa, it doesn’t hold up super well if we sit on it for too long, and we’ve been doing a lot of that in 2020 and 2021.
It’s just not the same quality as an older piece. Katie Saro is always preaching the quality of an antique sofa. I have to find a high quality piece that I can reupholster that will last us a lifetime without getting saggy or hurting our backs
To that answer, I also found an incredible one. It was a serpentine one, gorgeous and sexy and a good price. You know that moment when you find something and your heart starts racing? My heart was pounding and I thought, “This is the one!”
But it’s huge. My house is not huge, and it wouldn’t fit. I measured every which way. It came in two or three pieces. I thought maybe I could just use two pieces for now and save the third for later. But my house just can’t support a sofa like that.
So I shared it and someone I know bought it. I’m glad it went to a good home and to someone who appreciates design. I always like to share things that I find for someone else to love and appreciate the way that I would. It’s the one that got away, but it got away for a good reason and to a good home.
Is there anything crazy or ridiculous that you’ve had to do to bring something into your house?
Yes: the table that’s in my bedroom with the fluted legs and brass trim around the top with a brass mirror over it. I found it online and it was pretty far away, maybe a 45-minute drive. I messaged the guy, got the address, started driving.
I pulled up to the address and it looked like the cover of a horror movie. It was just woods surrounding an empty field. In the middle of the field was an abandoned old church that was falling down with “Keep out” signs. It was scary, you just expected the Blair Witch to come running out of it.
I thought, “Why would he tell me to meet him here? Are we going inside this building? I don’t think so.” I deliberated and decided to ask him to meet me at a gas station instead. And he did, he was nice about it, and I came home and everything was fine.
I wondered why was I even afraid to ask him to meet me somewhere better? I guess I didn’t want to offend the seller and make him think I didn’t trust him. But at the end of the day, always trust your instincts and it doesn’t hurt to tell someone you’re not comfortable meeting them somewhere. If they do get offended and they say “no,” then you don’t need to be meeting up with them anyway. That was a good lesson for me to trust your instincts, and f*ck politeness, as they say.
Unfortunately, this is something we have to consider when we meet with buyers or sellers on Marketplace. One of my earlier blog posts offers recommendations on how to buy and sell safely on Marketplace.
A silver lining of the pandemic is now when I’m meeting with a seller, I can ask them to bring the item outside on their front porch without worrying about offending them. It’s not a safe time for me to go into a stranger’s home or anyone’s home. You can now look at things outside of someone’s home without any of those awkward moments, and hopefully that continues even after the pandemic.
When I’m not meeting someone in a grocery store parking lot, I always tell a friend where I’m going and share my location.
I always do that, too. I send my address and say, “10 minutes from now, I’m gonna text you, and if I don’t, come find me.”
Where do you like to go shopping in Charleston aside from Facebook Marketplace?
There’s one in my neighborhood that I love called The Station. It’s one of those antique marts that has different vendors and booths in it. It has really good prices and a fun variety.
One of my friends on Instagram, Homesick Housewares, curates an amazing collection. A lot of my pieces are from her. Oyster White Interiors is another great resource in South Carolina. There’s also a ton of higher end antique shops downtown with old, old amazing antiques. It doesn’t matter what your budget is or what you’re looking for, you can probably find it here.
I usually like digging through the lower end shops, but the higher end ones are definitely aspirational.
That reminds me of a unicorn I just thought of. I did a shoot a few years ago for a woman in town who collects oyster plates. She had hundreds of them, and we photographed the whole collection. She was telling me how this one was this many years old or from this part of Europe or worth this much money.
I had no idea prior that this was even a thing or that they could be worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars. So now, this is something I would like to start collecting because oysters are such a Charleston thing, and I love eating them. Those plates are so beautiful and detailed, and I love how they celebrate one of my favorite things. So that is something I’m on the hunt for, but on the hunt for cheap!
What is something you’re proud of about Charleston?
It’s hard to have just one thing. Charleston is really special to me. I moved back here after moving away. A lot of people, if they leave their hometown, they don’t always come back.
It’s a really unique place and has so much going for it. For me, it’s almost impossible to choose between the food scene, the beaches and the history. The architecture is another thing that’s subconsciously given me a creative leaning and a mind for design. I didn’t grow up downtown but walking downtown and experiencing the beauty: everywhere you look is beauty, intentional design and details. It’s just incredible, it never gets old.
We were voted, I think eight years in a row, by Travel + Leisure “The Best City in the US.” So I feel pretty proud of our town, and you should come visit!