THE plastic kiwi tarts were hot-glued onto dessert plates. An ornate -- some might say gaudy -- bar cabinet had Old World maps lacquered across the top. And piles of overstuffed quilts and comforters that would roast all but the most thin-blooded Southern Californian.
But Veronica Olien of Murrieta didn’t mind the eclectic mix. Sifting through the odds and ends that once filled model homes, Olien knew bargains were there. Somewhere. And sure enough, on the showroom floor of Just Like the Model in Fountain Valley, she discovered a pair of Ballard Designs wall letters for $5 each, a fraction of the catalog company’s $25 regular price.
“My son’s initials,” she said, showing off the “C” and “O” slung over her arm.
Such are the treasures stacked, crammed and wedged into three Orange County stores that have become a clearinghouse for furnishings used to decorate model homes. Tables, chairs, artwork, linens, lamps, plants -- they’re all here in their slightly imperfect, not-quite-new and, occasionally, just-plain-strange glory (more on that glued plastic fruit in a bit).
Supported by the Southern California and Las Vegas homebuilding boom, RUF Inc. opened first, in 1995 in Irvine. When new owners took over, employees figured the market could support more of the same. One launched Just Like the Model in Fountain Valley. Another started Three’s Company in Tustin.
Homebuilders say it’s an efficient way to liquidate model home decor because they can turn over the removal, pricing and resale furnishings to the liquidators. For shoppers, a bargain is a bargain.
“It’s like a really, really good garage sale, but you don’t have to get up early,” said Kristie Webster, Olien’s shopping companion.
On a previous trip she bought a kitchen table and chairs, a sectional and an end table. She came back to scout for more things to furnish her new house in Murrieta.
“There are definitely finds,” says Yolanda Flanders, partner and design director for Town & Country Design Studio in Sierra Madre, which specializes in decorating model homes. She cites antiques, original art and high-end furnishings used in the most expensive models.
Shoppers should remember, though, that chair legs might be slightly scuffed, or a sofa might have faded after sitting in front of a sunny window for a year. Most decorators use sturdy furniture, but some will meet tight budgets by substituting flimsy pieces produced just for the model-home market. Such furniture looks nice but can be moved around with one hand, Flanders says.
At Three’s Company, a huge 11-drawer pine dresser recently was selling for $550. At Just Like the Model, a king bedding set, including a tailored duster, striped cotton comforter and four custom-made throw pillows was priced at $150. But in general, bed linens and pillows may be the best buys. Flanders says decorators will often spend $250 a yard for fabric plus extra for custom trims and detailing to finish off those lush beds and cozy-looking sofas.
“There aren’t ways to scale back there,” Flanders says. “You either pay the money for the look and the quality, or you don’t.”
As for the puffed-up bedding? She recommends pulling out the fiberfill and replacing it with more breathable material. Don’t write off those staged place settings with the glued-on food, either. A product called Goo Gone, and sometimes a razor blade or a hair dryer, can help peel the glue away.
Do-it-yourself repairs aren’t the only drawbacks to model home hand-me-downs. The stock can be unpredictable. If, say, tropical themes have been trendy, someone shopping for mission oak may not find anything. Frames on artwork often suffer dings and scratches in the move from model to warehouse. Everything is sold as is, and stores have limited return policies.
But none of this seems to deter bargain hunters. One might maneuver across the overstuffed main floor of RUF, climb the slightly scary creaky staircase leading to a second floor and, tucked among the rows of bar stools, dusty jars filled with coffee beans and countless picture frames of smiling but unknown people, discover an imported Italian Calligaris chair, normally at least $200, here $75. But such is the lot of a model home has-been: one day a hot shot, the next just a warehouse markdown, waiting to be taken to a real home.
Dawn Bonker can be reached at email@example.com.
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Inventory changes frequently at stores specializing in model home furniture. Call ahead and ask when new shipments are expected.
Just Like the Model: 18428 Pacific St., Fountain Valley, (714) 968-9888. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; www.justlikethemodel.com.
RUF: 17791 Sky Park Circle, Suite J, Irvine, (949) 250-4196. Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; www.showroomfinder.com/ca/oc/ruf/about.lasso.
Three’s Company: 3002 Dow Ave., No. 138, Tustin, (714) 665-3322. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; www.modelfurnishings.com.
-- Dawn Bonker