Years ago, I received an Ask Design Mom question about street furniture. A reader named Valerie asked:
I found a cabinet at the side of the road with a “free” sign next to it, and was delighted to heft it into my station wagon. I just moved to rural Pennsylvania, and am so charmed by the air of history here.
She was writing to ask advice about refinishing it, and I remember giving her a few suggestions, but I also used her question as an excuse to talk about found furniture. Growing up in the west, I don’t remember much found furniture at all — I think that perhaps my community was too new. But when we lived in New York, it was like found furniture Mecca. On Wednesday nights, before garbage pick up the next morning, residents would set out on the curb, pieces of furniture they no longer needed, that anyone could take for free.
I swear, you could drive through Scarsdale on that night and find enough pieces to practically open your own antiques shop. And I can only imagine that Valerie’s experience in historic Pennsylvania was even better. My friend Kathryn, was a total pro at finding good street furniture and would sometimes call me and tell me to hurry to a certain address with our old VW van to pick something awesome up before it was gone.
And it’s not just me, New York magazine did a writeup all about it.
I had a ton of great found pieces in our New York homes. I remember a sturdy green bench — sort of shabby chic, a side table I repainted in a soft pink for the girls room, a bookshelf I found curbside in Manhattan and brought home on the train, a stack of four modern red chairs, and my all-time favorite street furniture find: a wooden by crib in excellent condition. It was hotel size — about half the size of a regular crib, and the small footprint was perfect for the small bedroom that little Maude, Olive and Baby Betty shared. Plus, you could collapse it almost flat for easy storage. (You can see it here, if you’re curious.)
I loved that crib! We brought it with us to Colorado, and Baby June slept in it too.
Here in Oakland, I rarely see furniture out on the street, and there’s no regular night for setting it out that I know of. But I wish there were. It’s such a great way to pass along a still useful piece of furniture without having to haul it to Goodwill or list it on CraigsList. It’s like having access to a community swap once a week, instead of having to wait for a yearly event.
And now I’m wondering, how common is street furniture in your community? And what’s your take on it personally? Have you ever picked something up on the side of the road and brought it into your home? Or does the whole idea sound awful to you (germs! or bugs! gross!)? And do you have any good stories about street furniture? Any favorite pieces? I’d love to hear.
P.S. — I still remember this vintage suitcase vanity I saw on Etsy in 2010. Such a cool reuse project. Is anyone out there still selling these?