Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Roadside Gems

     Old furniture, placed roadside for bulky items pickup, are not always garbage.  Seven total pieces, all solid wood, destined for the landfill, instead grace our house, beautiful and functional.  Restoration costs totaled under thirty dollars.  Buying these new would have cost perhaps thousands.  Our finds include a pair of matching oriental display platforms, a child's table and mini-desk (a hobbyist's handiwork), a small oval table with magazine rack beneath, a steel twin size platform bed with four corner posts, and a chest of drawers.
     The oval table, which became my nightstand, was in the recycle area of our former apartment building.  All it needed was a bit of cleaning, polish, and sunning.
     The two children's pieces, discovered roadside, were not much to look at—paint stained, scarred, and dirty.  It became a family project to clean, sand, and finish with two coats of combo urethane/stain.  The wood grain (one mahogany, the other pine) showed beautifully after that, though pitted with minor imperfections.  The two older kids, having worked on them, love them for their displays and storage.
     The oriental pieces—after a bit of polish and sunlight—became stands for my youngest child's toy storage bin (one of three), plus a catch—all for all his other soft toys, knick-knacks, and play things.  He doesn't notice them much except as the boundaries within which his things must be stored during clean-up time.
     We had been looking for awhile for a replacement twin-size platform bed for our daughter, who'd been sleeping since our move to a house in a separate room from my sons—the oldest in a matching twin size platform bed (it and my daughter's stackable into a bunk) and the youngest, then age four, who slept on his crib mattress laid out on the floor (safe if he fell out at night).  As the latter was about to enter school, we wanted him to be in the lower level bunk to match his big boy status.  But months of looking produced only one reasonable platform bed option which was still overpriced and army-barracks ugly.
     Then, just up the street, a dusty disassembled black metal bed frame and four wooden posts—scarred and pitted—appeared a few months later.  I asked our daughter did she like it?  Her eyes lit up and she said yes, nodding.  An elderly man came out and said we could have it.  I asked if he had the nuts and bolts that went with it—I could find replacements, I was sure, but they'd look ugly (and be a hassle to shop for and modify, if necessary).  He said he'd ask his daughter, so I gave him my number.  Later that night, he called, my oldest son and I drove over, and his son passed on a baggie full of all the hardware.  We packed up, but the main platform didn't fit in our family sedan, so my son and I walked it down the street to our house.
     The four corner posts took the most work—sanding, staining, and varnishing as before, but the kids did much of the sanding (even the four year old).  The steel frames needed cleaning, lubricating, insecticide spraying, sealing of holes, and polishing—lots of elbow grease.  But the end product and seeing my daughter lying on it (using her same bed mattress) the first time, smiling, made it all worth it.  The country-style black metal head and footboards add character to her otherwise drab, white walled room.
     The creamy white, heavy construction chest of drawers, covered in scores of stickers, appeared curbside at the same neighbor's house a year later.  My oldest son and I borrowed a neighbor's hand trolley to haul it back.  Then everyone got involved in removing the stickers using rags, water, soap, detergent, fingernails, furniture polish, and tons of rubbing.  A drawer's bent guides needed replacing and additional wood supports—a fun project for me.  Perfect-sized replacement guides were available at the local hardware store.  Leftover white touch-up paint covered the more obvious outside scrapes and inside speckled stains.  It's still not perfect, but nonetheless a fine addition to my daughter's room to replace her old make-shift cabinet (a gutted and shelved RCA console) which went to my oldest son to supplement his stacks of second-hand plastic storage drawers and wire frame cubes.
     Since writing this piece a year ago, we've also acquired a solid wood foldable corner display shelves unit for the kitchen; three laminated particle board pieces including a desk organizer for my daughter's dresser, a CD storage tower, and a fold-down shoe storage cabinet; and an adult mountain bike that Braden requested we donate to his orchestra for its white elephant sale, but which, once I started fixing up and my daughter rode, she requested we keep.
     It required thirty dollars’ worth of brake parts, bolts, a shifter, and a tire repair kit; lots of cleaning and lubricating; disassembly, reassembly, and adjustment of brakes and derailers; and greasy fingers that all-too-often got pinched and cut, to finally get fully functional, but it was worth it showing the kids just how much fun doing dirty mechanical work can be.  So we'll donate Penelope's Sea Princess bike (that we purchased new and that she hardly rode, preferring big brother's old second-hand Mongoose bike after awhile) to the orchestra.
     I love that we gave second lives to these quality pieces otherwise destined for the landfill, that they were free and fun to work with without shopping hassles or outrageous retail prices, and that they all came with little stories and pleasant memories.  We even made a low puzzle table (for a two thousand piece Da Vinci's Last Supper jigsaw puzzle my mom gave us) from a large, round, outdoor plastic table top I recovered.  Spare one-by-four inch lumber (also found) cut to eight-inch lengths; sanded, stained and varnished; and bolted beneath serve as legs.  Light weight and durable, the unit now serves as Penelope's private study desk and slides neatly hidden beneath her bed when not in use.
     Caveat:  The key to successful roadside acquisitions are thorough inspections—especially for water or termite damage; prompt removal from the elements; a wipe-down and reinspection; a few hours of direct sunlight (to kill hidden bed bugs); a wait period in an outdoor covered area (carport/garage/patio) of at least three weeks—the approximate time it takes for minuscule hidden bed bug eggs to hatch (see related article “TV-less Bliss” for our family's experience with bed bugs); spot insecticide spraying; and furniture polish application before bringing indoors.  Frankly, I'd give the same advice for any used furniture purchase, whether from a garage or estate sale, or Goodwill or antique store.  By the way, our used furniture purchases have included a solid wood chest of drawers, a solid wood dining room set, stainless steel storage shelves, pressboard wood veneer book shelves, a designer leather-on-steel director's chair, and a multiple surface, movable, adjustable, personal reading table of solid wood-on-steel construction.  All were priced at ten to thirty percent the cost of buying new.  The pleasant, engaging owners, some of whom were neighbors, and the smooth, relaxed atmosphere attached their own feel-good memories to the articles purchased.  The amazing thing is it's been decades since I've gone out-of-the-way looking to buy used furniture.  All such recent acquisitions have been serendipitous—same's true with all our roadside finds, too.  We just happened to notice a posted sign, a garage sale in progress, or an abandoned item in passing, which made them all the more delightful.

No comments:

Post a Comment