I confess to being one of those folks who stop and check out curb furniture. I bought a very small house and none of the furniture I already owned fit inside. If you are open to it, the universe will suddenly throw a lot of choices in your path, not just from thrift stores but free things and curb rescues will appear everywhere. I had to make some ‘rules’ about what I absolutely needed and what I am allowed to drag home.
Here are some rules of thumbs for curb shopping.
- Keep a list of what you are actually looking for. Just because it’s on the curb doesn’t mean YOU need to take it home. Unless you are rehabbing items for resale or donation to those in need; if you don’t need it, leave it for someone else who may. This isn’t just good karma… but it is VERY easy to end up with a lot of collected items and no homes for them. If I pick up something for someone else, I don’t even remove it from the car, I take it straight to their home as soon as I can.
- Make a thorough examination ON the spot. Unless there is dangerous traffic, take a good look at the piece, open it up, flip it over, check it’s sturdiness. Most of the time it will need SOME repair, otherwise it wouldn’t be on the curb. But know what you are getting into before you make a commitment to it. Look for infestation or mildew…take a sniff.
- Be prepared to properly dispose of it. Which means don’t drag home something that you are going to have to pay to get rid of. You may discover it’s bigger than you thought, or it has more unseen problems. If it is still a usable item you can donate it. If it is NOT…..as in the case of a leather chair I tried to drag home and discovered it was the ‘dog chair’ and had to sneak it back in front of the house in the dead of night…or early sunday morning when no one is awake yet and aren’t likely to call the cops.
- Have a suitable place to rehab things. In good weather, you can just do it outside before you bring it into your home. Sanding and painting is not something you want to do in the living room….you can get away with it in a larger kitchen because it’s easier to clean the surfaces. Spray painting should not be done in living spaces, trust me on this.
- Hoard hardware like a crazy person. Any time you see something actually IN the trash or before you put something out for collection, strip it of hinges, handles, knobs, casters and gliders from the bottoms of the feet. Replacing handles and a coat of paint can transform most pieces and give it another career.
- Keep a collection of paints, primers and finishes at hand. You may not want to invest a lot of time and effort into renewing a piece if you have to spend a lot of money on materials. But if you have stuff already purchased then it’s an easy decision. It will also help keeps you from putting a piece aside for rehabilitation “when I get around to it.” This way madness lies.
- Be prepared to undo other people’s repairs. This may sometimes be worse than starting with a damaged item. Usually it’s a brush coat of latex that needs to be sanded, or a sloppy glue repair. Remember this is on the curb which means it started IN the house and worked its way down to the basement and then probably to the garage before all the way out to the curb. Watch out for water damage, check the bottoms. Standing water will make plywood and fiberboard swell and break down and actual wood will warp.
I just adopted another small curb item. I am always looking for vintage children’s sized furniture, which will be smaller than adult sized and made of solid wood so it will be repairable. I regret not taking more before pictures or lousy pictures entirely but I hadn’t realized I was going to share this project I just wanted to get it into service as quick as possible.
It is solid hardwood, not a high-grade piece, just something from a department store from mid 20th century. Age and atmospheric moisture caused the plywood back to break down, but that’s an easy fix. Nearly anything can be used for the back, even a piece of paneling. but you DO need the back to keep the item square, without it, the corners stress and get loose. I just happened to have a bundle of cheap pine wainscoting I picked up Goodwill for $2 without an immediate use. I cut the pieces to fit and used a plastic mallet to assemble it. I didn’t even glue it but I may throw a brad or two on the edges.
My personal aesthetic is to paint all my mismatched pieces with White Gloss paint. This helps unify them in my cluttered tiny house and makes them easy to wipe down and touch up when then need it. First I sanded down someone elses paint job which had a lot of brush texture. Since it was originally sold painted and I was going to spray it, there was no reason to strip it. Pieces originally sold painted, look like crap when you strip them, the wood grains don’t match. Two cans of paint with primer should cover most things up to a large bureau. Rustoleum also makes a paint line that will cover metals and plastics. My personal preference is for 1 light spray coat, then a second thicker coat, a light sand with 1200 grit then a final gloss coat. If the piece isn’t that bad you may get away with just washing the paint job it already has.
It dried pretty quickly and I moved it into place on the same day. The top is smooth and white, but I have cats, so I threw a piece of oak on top to protect it. (the piece of oak was a pristine sewing machine top I found at the dump) the only thing that is making my teeth grate, are the handles. Those are the handles it came with, I don’t have 8 replacements yet. My personal choice are vintage bin pulls which I also paint with white enamel. Because the vintage ones screw in from the front, they will cover the holes from previous handles. But that’s something I will fix later.
With minimal investment in curb found furniture, you can have pieces to use until you find something you really love. No one needs to know you got it off a curb unless you tell them. Me? I tell everybody. Because my house is so small, sometimes you gotta make do. I put this bookcase on top of this half size dresser to give me a make shift hutch. Which works perfectly for my purposes. I have only seen one REAL vintage hutch in this half size…and that’s now in my kitchen. Overall I think the pieces I have collected are pretty good and anything I that didn’t work out I put on my own curb.