Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Couch Potato

I was driving home the other day, passing through town and noticing it was Bulk Pick Up day in my district. I have a reasonably environmentally responsible municipality. We have to recycle. The township has made it very simple. we don't even have to separate paper from glass or aluminum. One day a month we are able to put out bulk trash. So I got thinking about how much waste accumulates in landfills from bulk waste,all of those couches, wall units, and mattresses. I was surprised at what I found out.

Furniture accounts for 9 million tons of landfill trash annually.

Although the life of furniture is long compared to other sources of waste like paper, furniture companies have started to use less expensive materials for construction shortening the furnitures overall life.

Many furniture pieces, especially those used in offices, are assembled using plywood or MDF, an inexpensive alternative to solid wood. These materials use formaldehyde to bond the wood together. By itself the formaldehyde releases gases into the air that are toxic and dangerous. It can lead to serious respiratory problems like asthma. Finishes on these pieces prevent the toxic gas release but wear and tear, refinishing, cutting, damage, or simply banging it around in a rehab project cause a high level of gases to be released.

Population between 1960 and 2008 has increased 69%. Households have increased by 94% because families as a whole are smaller.

The amount of upholstered furniture has increased by 6 times since 1960 with a substantial spike at the beginning of the 80's. The reason for the increase? 

Furniture in the 1960's that was discarded had probably lasted and been kept for over 20 years lessening the amount being tossed out.

Furniture at the time was made using solid woods, or at very least, plywood. Pieces were constructed using mortise and tendon joints dovetail joints,wood corner blocks, and wood glue. In the 80's furniture companies, started using cheaper materials for construction resulting in a lower quality product that needed replacement more frequently.

What can we do?

Well, I guess the first and most obvious answer is don't buy inexpensive furniture assembled using cheap materials. This actually is a win win solution. It decreases our impact on the environment both in terms of landfill space and air quality AND you have a beautiful piece of furniture that will last a lifetime. Make sure that when you choose furniture, you choose classic timeless looks for the big pieces in your home. Things like couches, hutches, bookcases, dining sets should translate through many years of changing trends. Trends can be displayed in smaller accent pieces such as occasional tables, accent chairs, and smaller shelving units. Make sure when purchasing any furniture that you check it's bones. Make sure joints on the back or bottom of the piece are made of wood, not plastic. Check for particle board or Masonite in the backs of pieces or inside the drawers. These are indicators of not so high quality furniture.

If you are like most, most very high quality furniture is out of reach financially especially in this economy. Myself included. My solution is second hand! There are tremendous stigmas about used furniture but in this challenged economy minds are changing. Great pieces of gently used furniture can be hunted down in Consignment Stores, Thrift Stores, yard sales and yes I'll say it, off of the curb.Another amazing source (my favorite, in fact) is Estate Sales. These are usually whole contents of house sales because the owner has passed away. They have them all year and you can find some AMAZING bargains at these sales! I found this120 year old grandfather clock for $75 and this table from the original Waldorf Astoria Hotel for $40.

 These are just a couple of pieces that I got for free off the curb or next to nothing at yard sales  and brought back to life with a little elbow grease. Just makes sure that you check it the same way you check the quality of new furniture. I find it a super fun challenge. I love to hunt yard sales for hidden treasures. These are some of the finds that live in my house. Reupholstering gives new life to upholstered furniture. Some is easy. Some is very challenging. Start small by picking up some great fabric and reupholstering dining chair seats. They usually come off with the removal of a couple of screws so it's an easy first project. 

Don't limit your hunt to just the type of piece you want. Be open minded and creative in your hunt.

Think outside the box about the purpose of the things you find. Repurposing furniture can make for absolutely fabulous expensive looking trendy pieces. And if you're like me, you could even start a trend with your wild creativity. These are some amazing pieces repurposed from previously owned furniture. 

Jewelry artist, KimWilhoyte ( ) came up with a creative solution when she needed a display case for her jewelry. This is  an oak medicine cabinet that has been altered slightly and painted with new glass in place of the mirrors. A leather piece from a repurposed belt makes the handle. Now she has a portable way to display her awesome jewelry.

Finally, let's talk briefly about just keeping the furniture we have a little longer. I mean, I understand that it has to be replaced when it is broken beyond repair but let's face it, the reason we replace furniture pieces so often these days is because we grow bored or tired of our decor. We have become a society of immediate gratification. I think we need to start thinking in a way that embraces a satisfaction with the things that we have as long as they are still usable. Don't be afraid to grab a book and some clamps and wood glue ( yes, has to be wood glue so it is flexible and will tolerating wood shrinking and expanding.) and do some repair work to extend the life of your furniture.

So, that all being said, we are going to have to replace our furniture pieces eventually. So what to do with the pieces that are going to be replaced? Consider donating them to a youth club, church or fire house or rescue squad. All of these places have common areas where people gather. I can tell you after being involved in rescue work for 20 years, decent couches and tables are really appreciated. 

Ask your friends and family if they could use it. My best friend is a decorator. She gets her hands on great pieces for next to nothing.She always asks me if I have a need for any of it. I now have a beautiful couch and love seat in my family room that otherwise would have gone into the trash.

I hope this inspires people to be resourceful and creative when it comes to their home decor. 

To see some really creative products for you and your home go to:


To see all of my environmentally friendly products and great high quality fine art go to:


To see the really cool upcycling by Kim Wilhoyte go to her blog at:


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  1. Lots of great ideas! We do many of these already, but there is always room for improvement!

  2. Sheesh! Who knew?! Now I REALLY love that we bought vintage couches for our house! I love "real" plywood for us ~ yuck!

  3. Lots of great info. That is so true about cheap furniture -- might look good but sometimes you can smell the chemicals used. I so need to re-cover my dining rm chairs!

  4. Great advice. Thanks! We always buy solid wood.

  5. Great post! I like real wood furniture because you can refinish it a lot easier than plywood if it gets damaged. And yes, you can find a lot of salvageable items on the curb or thrift stores.

  6. Plus, then they are your own! One of a kind!

  7. This is a fantastic post! I love the idea of refinishing old furniture. As it is, we buy most of ours from antique shops (old furniture is far prettier and of a much higher quality!) or from thrift shops. I had no idea about those statistics though, that is crazy!