I just have to riff on CityMom's bit about biodegradable furniture, because I find the notion completely idiotic. Factor in the cost of labor, shipping and construction, and I think that's waste on a grand scale.I have a better solution for furnishing your home with unique environmentally sound pieces, and they're a great bargain right now: Antiques. I have antique dealers in my family, so I grew up with old stuff, and my house is 60 percent flea-market furnished.
When you buy an antique you'll get a piece of real wood furniture, usually cheaper than retail. Stuff older than 100 years was made way before pressed wood, formaldehyde and vinyl finishes, so unless it's painted with old leaded paint, it'll be as green as they come. Further, a fine piece of furniture appreciates. Unlike a piece from a big-box store, which depreciates the moment it leaves the warehouse, an antique will grow in value as you pass it along from generation to generation.
You don't need to be an expert to buy, either. Here's a short list on how to shop for antiques smartly, straight from my anonymous source, a top East Coast dealer.
- Look for solid construction. Is the piece wobbly? Is all the wood sound? Is it complete, or is it missing pieces? Repaired furniture is fine, though if a repair affects the furniture’s “face” — the front legs, doors, drawer fronts or cornices — it will decrease the value of a piece.
- Buy what you like. Buying something only to resell it is generally a bad idea, unless you are a proven expert in the type and period of furniture you are acquiring. There are few surprises; the $10 flea market find that’s actually worth $1,000 is rare. But if the item fits your home and lifestyle, and you’re comfortable with the price tag, go for it.
- Check the maker. A good piece will be worth even more if it has the original maker’s signature or tag on it. A paper trail of “provenance” — a list of the piece’s previous owners — increases its value even more.
- Find a good dealer. If you are searching for a particular kind of antique or expect to purchase a number of items, find a local dealer you like and trust, and buy through him or her. Registered dealers generally guarantee their claims of provenance and authenticity. Look for sellers who are members of their local, state or national association, such as the National Art and Antiques Dealers, and don’t be afraid to haggle when you’re in their shop. A discount of 20 percent off the asking price these days is not uncommon.
- Maintain with care. Old furniture does not take well to excessive light, heat or humidity, which can cause fading or warping. Also, overpolishing a piece harms its finish. Polish or wax your piece once a year with furniture oil; otherwise, use a dry or slightly damp cloth. Painting it will greatly decrease its value as an investment, too.
- You should, however, feel free to repair it as needed, but avoid drilling new holes or cutting wood; instead, use a dissolvable glue, to keep your remodeled piece as close to original as possible.