Preloved furniture appeals to me far more than the mass-produced furniture typically found in stores today. Favouring second hand is the easiest way to reduce the environmental impact of your furniture. There are no new resources used and no waste going into landfill. You get a perfectly good piece of furniture without having to wear the environmental costs.
Environmental benefits aside, there’s many reasons to love second hand furniture. It’s typically far more durable than modern furniture and usually has a whole lot more character. It also costs considerably less and is more likely to ride-out fashions and fads. I particularly love the sense of nostalgia that a piece of vintage furniture can create, reminding me of people, places and times. I also like the idea of rescuing and looking after something that has been loved and treasured by others.
Second hand furniture also tends to be less toxic. New furniture can be laden with flame retardants, formaldehyde and other chemicals that are released into the air as volatile organic compounds or VOCs. When buying pre-loved, the VOCs are long gone.
Tips for buying preloved furniture
1. Be patient
Buying pre-loved can have its challenges. You are unlikely to find what you want straight away. Searching takes time and patience. Thankfully, the search is part of the fun and provides an excuse to regularly browse second hand and antique stores. I’ve been looking for a larger desk for my daughter for over a year. We recently popped into a deceased estate auction and found the exact desk we’d had in mind. The search and anticipation increased the joy of finally finding what we were after. My daughter sat at her long-awaited desk and declared "this is heaven". We ended up with something far more meaningful than an impulse purchase from a department store could ever be.
2. Ignore the dust, clutter and minor faults
A willingness to see past dust, clutter and minor scratches helps when buying preloved. I’ve been searching for folding outdoor chairs for ages and spotted a pile at the auction. They were tossed in a corner looking old and grubby. But after a discrete peek, I learnt that they were actually in great condition. I’d been tempted by similar chairs at antique stores numerous times – but was determined to find them at op-shop prices rather than antique store prices. My patience paid off. I managed to pick up nine chairs for $20 “job lot”.
3. Browse regularly
It helps to regularly pop in to your favourite second hand stores to browse new stock. The good buys usually disappear quickly. It’s also worth asking when new stock is likely to arrive. My favourite second hand store gets a truck load of fresh stock every Friday, so Friday and Saturday mornings are my favourite time to visit.
4. Buy only what you need
Regularly visiting second hand stores can be dangerous if you are trying to simplify your home and decrease clutter. I keep a mental list of things I need and stick to it. I leave the tempting bargains for someone else to enjoy.
For me, when it comes down to it, furnishing my home with preloved furniture makes me smile. My daughter’s desk conjures up memories of us searching together and the joy on her face when we finally found it. I wonder who else has treasured this little desk.
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 14th April 2014.