Yard Sale Furniture, Diamonds in the Rough

You see it every day on HGTV, some new designer finds a 60’s era table or night stand at a yard sale and immediately thinks she has created a modern masterpiece by painting it black, silver, even gold. I cringe every time I see this, they’ve taken a perfectly good piece of furniture and ruined it.

A few years ago my wife and I moved back to our home town after being gone for almost ten years. We came with what we had in our Recreational Vehicle, as it had been our home for the past 3 years. We moved into an apartment, bringing with us a love seat sofa, a queen sized mattress, 27″ TV, and a stacked washer/dryer. That’s it, the sum total of our furniture. To make matters worse our budget wouldn’t allow us to make an emergency run to the nearest furniture outlet store.

Fortunately I stumbled across a way to fully furnish our apartment at a very low cost. It started when I took a summer job with the local sanitary district. With current EPA regulations we didn’t have a city dump, it is now a Transfer Station. People could bring their household discards and recyclables to a collection point. Any items that were deemed usable or reusable, as the case may be, were set aside for the public to take advantage of. This is an excellent program for college students in the area who may need temporary furniture for a school year apartment. It also provided a source of household items for anyone having a need, regardless of the reason. For a few months I was a regular there, looking for useful items that needed repair to fill out our new residence.

Other sources of useful furniture we took advantage of were rummage sales, yard sales, and thrift stores. Often just driving around the neighborhood we would find things, as people sometimes just set stuff on the curb with a FREE sign on them.

OK, now we’ve collected this eclectic pile of stuff, none of which was in any condition to bring in the house. Time to refinish and reupholster some furniture. First advice, just back away from the paint can, put it away, don’t even think about it. Painting furniture, almost always, is not the direction you want to take.

Our finds consisted of an old oak rocking chair with faded turquoise colored upholstery, a small round table, known as a snare drum table, which was painted antique white. We also had a 1939 Zenith console radio that had spent at least 25 years hidden in a garage, and two sets of dresser drawers.

Any big box discount store or home center will have everything you’ll need. Our list consisted of fabric, paint stripper, and satin finish polyurethane. Paint stripper is your friend. Many things that really look tacky the way they are found, when stripped, reveal the beauty of their natural woods. The snare drum table, in reality was beautifully constructed of a mellow mahogany wood. The taller of the two dressers was a combination of black walnut and birds eye maple. The dresser’s original varnish had darkened so deeply we had no idea how beautiful the wood really was.

My sister had a similar experience with a piano she purchased out of a garage sale for $25. It was painted a pea green, she was hoping to salvage some parts as she was restoring another piano that had some damaged keys. When she started stripping the green paint, she found the most beautiful inlaid wood designs with the main body being oak. She immediately restored that piano too, rather then stripping it for parts.

The oak rocking chair got some new fabric, a rich maroon tapestry, and new stuffing. The vintage radio was stripped and poly’d revealing another beauty of black walnut, mahogany, and burl wood. Now four years later, these salvaged items are still the main stay of our living room. We could afford to buy new furniture now, but see no need, and have no desire to do so. Our home is filled with an accumulation of treasured items that are going on to live a second life as proud possessions, echoing the statement: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

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