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  • Writer's pictureGina Gaurisas-Wilson

New Year's Resolutions: Embrace old furniture for responsible living

Period style chair with arms in washed finish and contemporary upholstered seat.
Photo: Gina Gaurisas-Wilson

Old furniture may not be a trend anymore but a necessity in the years to come. Furniture manufacturing is a big contributor of greenhouse gases that affect climate—it uses a staggering number of trees, toxic chemicals, and energy—energy to cut trees down, to produce furniture, to pack and store in warehouses, and to transport to retailers and consumers. 

The benefits of reusing old furniture are significant: Solid wood and good craftsmanship; it’s unique and less expensive than buying new that is comparable in quality to what you have. You will also be supporting the circular economy, a system that is more sustainable and friendly to the earth than our current wasteful and resource-intensive linear economy.

It’s not about quitting buying new furniture tomorrow, but taking ownership of what’s happening to us and to younger generations as we prepare for and adapt to the future. We are past the stage of feeling good about using energy-saving light bulbs. Those are good things, but not enough anymore. 

What if our new year’s resolutions went beyond our personal goals? 

As consumers, our choices can have a meaningful outcome for us, and hopefully the small actions of a few can lead to a following of many.

Reusing old furniture empowers ourselves to help the planet and can be a very rewarding experience.

When we reuse, we divert furniture from going to the landfill. We know Americans discard 12 million tons of furniture per year, and three quarters of that go to the landfill—that is 9 million tons! When a landfill reaches capacity, finding a site to build a new one is a long and arduous process for municipalities. No one wants to live near one; it’s smelly, costly; and taxpayers pay the bill. 

Discarded furniture
Discarded furniture at a municipal facility en route to the landfill | Photo: Gina Gaurisas-Wilson

Feeling good about donating old furniture when we want to buy new is like sweeping dirt under the rug. It’s important to consider the cost to the planet when we buy new—the trees that were cut down and the energy used to manufacture what we are about to purchase. The scale of manufacturing is enormous, and so is the devastation of the environment left behind.

“Sustainable” is a buzzword that makes consumers feel good about buying furniture made with wood from a sustainable forest. That usually means selective logging, where some trees are left. Unfortunately the logging compromises the health and longevity of the surviving trees because the forest biome is disrupted. It also drastically reduces the surrounding plant and animal biodiversity. Can we really trust where the wood comes from? This gets dark because money and power run the game in the timber industry. I write more about this in Furniture and deforestation.

Sometimes a fresh look at an old piece can make the difference. Here are some tips to find the potential in your old furniture based on what you would like in new furniture: 

  • Beds, tables and bookcases can be resized to make them more functional for the user.

  • Adding drawers, doors or bins to open shelves

  • A professional refinisher can give you durable and beautiful results.

  • Make a room more interesting by mixing old and new. In Mixing old and contemporary furniture I expand this subject including tips and beautiful solutions from renowned interior designers you can apply yourself. It’s about marrying old and new in a harmonious way.

  • If you are a DIY person who needs a little help with making the best of your project and feel confident, check my budget-friendly design advice for DIY’ers

Armoire before and after. From a Southwest style to contemporary.
Armoire by Furniture Restyler

When an old piece of furniture is transformed into something you couldn’t have imagined being possible, it sparkles. It looks beautiful. It’s a new beginning.

Armoire interior before and after
Armoire interior before and after by Furniture Restyler | Photo: Gina Gaurisas-Wilson

For your 2024 resolutions consider adding this: 

“I will do my best to embrace the furniture I have to help us, help our beautiful planet, and help all the life that depends on it.“

Keep it up every year. This is for the long haul, and it’s very worth our effort. 

Next time you think about new furniture, consider reusing what you have or buy from consignment stores or thrift stores. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find what you want on the first trip. There’s always more furniture coming in every day. Depending on your preferences, you can leave the piece as is if it’s in good shape or have it refinished for a shaper look. 

Thanks for reading.

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