Saturday, August 22, 2009

Used = Green

My wife and I stumbled upon an amazing fact up in Oregon: It is saturated with beautiful antique quality furniture. When we moved up at the beginning of the summer, we didn't want to bring all of our old baggage with us. We got rid of as much as we possibly could, including most of our furniture.

In looking for new furniture, we found that what worked in LA did not necessarily work in Eugene. Craigslist had some decent stuff, but it was pretty bleak compared to SoCal. Then we wandered into a St. Vincent de Paul, which I didn't know was a thing before we moved. We were both amazed, the thrift stores in Eugene are all packed with beautiful furniture. Stuff that would go for thousands of dollars in vintage shops on Melrose Blvd. was more like $100 bucks there.

Then, because Craigslist had to redeem itself, we came across a promising post. I believe all it said was "modern sofa," or something to that effect, and when my wife called, he said he had "s0me more modern stuff." When we arrived, there was a garage full of mid century modern furniture which this guy had culled from all over the Pacific North West. He also knew everything about modern design, and knew the designer of most of the pieces that he was offering. We furnished most of our living room out of his garage. Here are a few of the pieces that we got:

Dining set by Paul McCobb

Sofa by Umanoff, end table by Keal

Don't know designer, if you have any ideas please post in comments

I would be lying if I said that I was thinking about this at the time, but in retrospect this is the most sustainable way we could have furnished our new place, and it is also an excellent example of how you can save money being green. In the past, I have furnished apartments with a bunch of nice looking but really low quality cookie cutter furniture from Ikea and Target, and most of it eventually ended up in the trash.

Cheap furniture is really disposable furniture. When particle board warps, chips, cracks or breaks, it cannot really be repaired, and once it starts down that path it is not long before it ends its life in the landfill. It is usually designed to be put together only once, as well. Pre-drilled holes in the particle board and cam locks made of weak metal ensure that if you disassemble your Ikea desk, it will lose most of its structural integrity when you put it back together.

In the long run, cheap furniture ends up costing you more money, because you have to replace it more frequently. But unless you are paying more in taxes than I make in a year, antique quality furniture is way too expensive, and there isn't really much of an in between.

One great way to get around this dilemma is to buy used furniture. You can tell if it is well made pretty easily: if it is still solid after years of use it will probably be good for many more. Also, solid wood is really easy to repair. With a very small investment in wood glue, a few clamps, and maybe a power drill, you can keep solid wood pieces alive for decades.

Buying used stuff is more sustainable in two ways: first it reduces demand for more new stuff, which means that there is less energy being consumed to produce that new stuff, and second it keeps old stuff out of the waste stream. But more than being green, when you buy used you can afford to get better quality stuff; beautiful, well designed stuff that you will love. And if you love it, you will take care of it: fix it when it breaks and find a good h0me for it when it no longer fits in your life.

Different cities have different channels for finding good used stuff. The thrift stores in Eugene, for example, are a great resource, where in LA they have been completely picked over by people who buy the good stuff, fix it up, and sell it for 10 times as much out of little boutique shops. But, in Los Angeles, the stuff available on Craigslist and at yard sales can be amazing. One way or another, people are always changing their surroundings, and high quality used furniture is available for those who seek it.

1 comment:

  1. St. Vincent de Paul's up in Eugene also has WAY more cheap good used clothes than any "thrift" store we ever went to in LA!