Buying secondhand furniture for your home isn't just a win for the environment. Sure, used pieces are spared from landfills and no additional natural resources are wasted to create something new for your space. But when you incorporate design elements from different eras, “it brings layers and integrity to the space,” says Jacquie Denny, the founder of Everything But the House (EBTH), an online marketplace for pre-owned goods. “People want to feel as though their spaces are their own, so they are looking for more unique, one-of-a kind pieces to decorate with.”
Ahead of Earth Day, Denny, who stars on Everything But the House on HGTV, shares with House Beautiful the five furniture items and accessories you should be buying secondhand for your home. These pieces can make a big design statement with a low carbon footprint.
Pottery and Ceramics
From gourd-shaped terracotta vases to ceramic pots for your houseplants, these artisan-made classics instantly infuse your home’s nooks and crannies with dimension and color. But there's another reason to go vintage: Shopping for antique ceramics can turn you into a regular Indiana Jones as you scour store after store in search of that one-of-a-kind, highly collectible piece, says Denny. Gather clues by looking for artists’ names, initials, or maker’s marks on the pieces, she suggests. “We love to learn about the artist who made the piece or the time period it came from,” Denny says. The best part? You can find unique pieces at price points as low as $5, though they can go up to $5,000.
It's a simple fact that yesteryear's solid wood furniture is better made than the contemporary composite and wood veneer pieces found in big box stores today. As boomers begin to downsize, there’s an abundance of it for the taking, Denny says. Keep your eyes peeled for beautiful mid-century pieces in durable hardwoods, including maple, cherry, and oak. You can incorporate them as is or transform them into modern masterpieces with a few coats of paint and some brass hardware.
Leather Chairs and Sofas
When you buy leather secondhand, you’re circumventing the modern-day manufacturing process that relies on toxic chemicals like chromium, which is used to tan and dye its surface, Denny says. “The nice thing about leather furniture is that it ages and looks better as it’s distressed,” she says. Denny associates vintage hides with rich wine colors and deep browns, but offerings from the 1970s and '80s include funkier dyed leather in shades of blue, green, yellow, and red.
When it comes to rugs, the old sayings are true: They just don’t make them like they used to. Textile dyes and modern fabrication techniques can be harmful to the environment, and the final product still isn’t as durable as handwoven, vintage models, Denny says. Antique rugs have rich depth and color, thanks in part to the vegetable dyes and more natural pigmentation methods that were once used. But buyer beware: They may hang on to smoke or pet residue that can irritate allergies even after a professional cleaning, so inspect them well, Denny says.
Frames and Mirrors
The beauty of shopping secondhand is that it isn’t about instant gratification; it’s a much slower pace that requires some focus, Denny says. “I think it makes us browsers and curators and keeps us from compulsively shopping,” she says. With that mantra in mind, you can shop for vintage frames and mirrors like a collector, looking for quality pieces made of carved wood or featuring gilding and inlays to add texture and patina, Denny says. Any mirror will give the illusion of more space in a room, but a vintage one will impart age and depth and, maybe, an interesting backstory—and what design connoisseur doesn't want that?
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