As earthly creatures, we all seem to have this innate drive to create comfortable living environments for ourselves. While acquiring furniture can be an integral and satisfying part of “feathering our nests,” we need to be mindful of both acquiring and discarding furniture—especially in a throw-a-way culture like ours. Furniture represents a large percentage of the 200 million tons of garbage that gets hauled to American landfills each year… and yet we barely give it a second thought. Time to move? Let’s get rid of the old stuff and buy new stuff! But this kind of thinking just isn’t sustainable in the long-run, nor is it necessarily the most savvy or aesthetically pleasing way to go. Once upon a time furniture was made well, using wood joinery and utilizing hand carving and finishes. It was made to last a lifetime, or even multiple lifetimes. Today’s furniture, in comparison, is generally held together with glues that not only emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds), but are also just not made to last (so, of course, you end up buying more and more).
Before heading down to the new furniture store, consider rethinking your strategy. First, look at what you have. Have you inherited some older pieces that might have great lines but are scratched and worn? Think about refinishing the wood to bring back its natural beauty or reupholstering to update the outdated fabrics. Secondly, if it’s time to buy, buy used. I myself am a huge treasure-hunter. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. I recently purchased two mid-century Homecrest wire chairs that have that 1950’s space-age look. While they wouldn’t be my usual pick, they look great next to my turn-of-the-century sideboard and other vintage pieces. And the eclectic mix is sure a lot more interesting than a bland matching set of contemporary showroom furniture. Shop estate sales, auction houses and consignment shops—you’ll be amazed at the number of fun and exciting items out there, generally costing a fraction of what you’d spend for new items. And finally, if you are determined to buy new, be aware that the industry has been changing as the demand for sustainable furniture has been growing. There are now quite a few environmentally sensitive furniture manufacturers, so be sure to inquire about who made the furniture as well as what products went into them and where the wood came from. Today’s furniture retailers should be able to provide you with this information.