One gal’s trash is another gal’s favorite end table.
Nine furniture items in my apartment are from the curb or the alley. These include items I found as a teenager and things I’ve acquired since. They include items I’ve spruced up and items that are as-is.
This post is in defense of trash. I say “in defense of” because I definitely still meet those of little faith. One of my favorite finds was the retro three shade multi-directional floor lamp that you see in the header. My ex was with me when I swooped on it, and pleaded with me not to bring it in. “It’s trash, don’t. Please don’t bring that in.” (And no, we didn’t live together, so wtf, right?!) Once it was upstairs in MY apartment (fully functional), he had to admit it looked good. But his admission won’t stop me from smugly pointing out that I recently saw the very same lamp in a Highland Park vintage shop for $250! He wasn’t the first or the last to scoff at my instincts.
Swerving to the side of the road to investigate something is the instinct part. From there, the intake process is a little more thorough, so here’s my mental worksheet:
NO upholstered pieces – When I see anything upholstered on the street I can only think of bedbugs and rain. There are probably exceptions, but they are few.
Do I have to rewire it? Y/N
– Sometimes you can’t know this until you get it inside, which leads to our next question: – Is it worth my time to rewire it? Y/N
Does it need refinishing? Y/N
– Like, how much refinishing are we talking? Just some spray paint? Or days of sanding, staining and sealing? Are the bones worth the commitment?
Do I have a space/need for it? Y/N – Can it replace something that isn’t as nice?
How the f*** am I going to get this home?
Without further ado, here’s a lifetime of finds:
Found: In my current apartment’s alley. Condition: As-is!
Found: Back in high school, in Phoenix, my friend Paul and I would scour the alleys near my house on un-contained trash days. This table was a piece that he claimed on one of our hunts and I was secretly super jealous. Years later he gave it to me before moving to Portland (How did he know?!) Condition: I think he spray painted it? Good color choice, Paul! Very Urban Outfitters.
Found: In that same alley-scouting day with Paul. I had already found this sweet lamp, which is why I didn’t fight over the table.
Condition: No rewiring required. The orange was yellow originally and for many years I affectionately called it my banana lamp. I only recently painted it orange, but the spray paint I used was low quality–What color should I repaint it?!
Found: Curbside in a suburb.
Condition: It was blonde, which isn’t my thing. This one was a lot of work. I stripped it and sanded it and tried about a dozen stains. Each part of it took stain a little differently, but the sliding doors came out beautifully, therefore, I might someday paint the exterior white, leaving only the doors and the inside of the hutch stained.
Found: There are two items here–a cart that the desk is built around and my office chair. Both were found at different times in my old alley.
Condition: The cart is just one of those sturdy metal storage shelf units, but on casters. It was mint. You can’t really see it because I’ve strapped the pegboard and desktop to it, but it’s been a great utilitarian item. The chair was just a nondescript, brown dining room chair. I upholstered its seat and painted it a glossy white. It has served me for nearly a decade now as a faithful, functional and weirdly comfortable desk chair.
Found: By my dad! In AZ. Condition: It had a past life as a built-in unit, so the outer box didn’t have a finished edge or surfaces. My dad helped me out but cutting out some oak veneers and trim for it. I took the “kit” home, assembled and stained.
Found: In the alley behind my old apartment. Condition: I sanded and re-stained it.
Found: In that trusty alley at my old apartment. Condition: I sanded and stained the faces of the drawers and used a black lacquer for the top and sides. I was going to replace the knobs, but they grew on me, even though they come loose (which is totally visible here, haha, whoops!)
For all the naysaying dorks, there have been double the compliments on a lot of these pieces. And most of the naysayers end up bashfully taking it back once they actually see what I’ve done with the pieces.
In conclusion: Get scouting!