Green Furniture

Green Furniture

What a wonderfully descriptive word … green. To be “green with envy”, to smell green grass, to hold green money and eat green eggs and ham are all wonderful. Reduce, reuse, recycle are all based on being green. The challenge to keep the Earth green translates to reclaiming and reinventing the unwanted disposables of the world.  The cultural transition to furnish a “green” home starts with a creative mind and a cautious approach … and green furniture.

A Simple Plan

I was forced to do a reality check the summer of 2005. The opportunity to spend a summer with my kids outweighed the rising price of daycare with a stagnant paycheck.  Things would be tight financially, but the benefits of seeing my children grow would be worth it.

It was tight, a little too tight. I decided to research opportunities to work at home. Unwilling to invest in the latest work-from-home infomercial, my husband shared a thought to make additional income by selling refinished furniture at the occasional stores in town. He had researched the sales and in his eyes, refinishing furniture was nothing more than light sand and little paint. In my eyes it was a fantastic opportunity to spend time with our young children, save gas money, and do my part to recycle waste from others unwanted items. Plus, who doesn’t like taking an old item and revamping it to work as a statement piece in a newly decorated room?

With our partnership in place, my husband scooped up a free curbside nine drawer dresser while I inquired to available vendor space at a local store. The owner of the store was a family friend that graciously showed available space to begin our new business venture. Immediately we sprang into action and successfully transformed two dressers in our driveway while our kids ran through the sprinkler.

At the end our first four-day sale, our dressers were still in the store. Like the twenty-three vendors selling at the store that weekend, I worried my invested time and money would be lost. The seasoned vendors reassured me the right product, for the right person; at the right time and for the right price required patience and a little more creativity. Intrigued by their suggestion to be creative, I realized saving the landfills and putting green in my pocket would be more than a simple sand and paint. The information shared with us is as beneficial in the business world, as in the home.

A Little Advice

Between sales, the store teetered between chaos and calm while vendors transitioned old product to new in their rented spot. With every turn in the two story store, another vendor shared helpful hints and how-to’s from refinishing to display to storage. After searching online, we found quite a few businesses that would fit our strategy and we bookmarked their site to return to easily. Eager to try their suggestions, we set out looking for the right venue to expand our inventory.

Where to Buy

Estate Sales

While researching the local paper and websites, estate sales take place every weekend. The growing trend is to have an estate sale company oversee the sale. Whether sales by a company or an individual, here are some things to consider:

  •         Estate sales are popular for downsizing, moving or liquidating an estate
  •         Sales typically run two days, longer for larger or higher end inventory.
  •         Presale numbers are given about half an hour before the sale. This limits the number of buyers allowed in the sales at the start.
  •         Some sales begin the last day with 50% off sale on items under $50, and 20% off everything over $50.
  •         Waiting for the last few hours provides an opportunity to fill a paper bag for a set amount, usually starts at $10 then goes to $5.
  •         Items without scratches, blemishes or smells sell higher.
  •         Items located in the garage, basement or attic provides greater opportunity for return on investment.
  •         At individual sales, price negotiations are more difficult due to sentimental value.
  •         Individual sales prefer cash transactions only.
  •         History of the items are a benefit at individual sales
  •         Company sales provide information about the manufacturer history or antique value
  •         Companies generally offer sales when estate valued in excess of $5,000.
  •         A pickers paradise — do not be afraid to get dirty. Some of the best items are covered in gunk from who knows where.


An auction is a location, either a residence or an auction house, where items are sold to the highest bidder. Majority of auctions include a buyer’s premium and/or sales tax that are added to the winning bid. Items are sold as is and the removal is the buyers’ responsibility, unless shipping is available from auction house. Before signing a transportation agreement, verify who is responsible for products damaged in transit. There are three types of auctions; live, silent and online. Here is what sets them apart:


An auctioneer, professional preferred, is the director of the event. The inspection time of the items may occur anywhere from half an hour to several days in advance of the sale. Registration at the event will produce a bidder number that will be used to identify your interest in an item. At the conclusion of the auction, all winning items are combined and payment must be made before removal.

Helpful Hints: Set a limit before placing a bid to not become an impulse buyer. Know how much time and money to invest to renovate a piece when setting that limit. Verify with Auction house what forms of payment are accepted. Some are cash only, some do not accept cash.


Bid sheets or bid boxes are placed next to the items up for auction. Bidding generally requires name, phone number and the amount of the bid. There is a time frame the auction will be open which allows participants to check back on items they are interested in and adjust their bid. At the end of the auction, winners are announced and payment is required before removal of the item(s).

Helpful Hints: Silent Auctions are commonly used for fundraising. Items may already be refinished; therefore setting a higher limit might be necessary.


Online Auctions are available for a set timeframe, usually one to three weeks. During the auction, some auction hosts offer inspection times to see what inventory is available. Bidders will register online, including credit card information, and sales are final at the conclusion of the auction. Be aware that some online auctions may extend the close time if a bid is placed within the last few moments.

Isn’t EBay the same thing as an online auction? EBay is an online auction, however, the closing time does not extend and payment is due after the end of the auction.

Helpful Hint:When entering your bid, place the minimum amount and the maximum amount for the item you are interested in. The online bidder will automatically increase the bids at minimum increments up to your maximum bid entered, if needed.

Thrift Stores

Majority of Thrift stores operate on behalf of a non-profit organization. Items are donated to the store and sold as is. The profits are then returned back into the community for those in need. Occasionally there are exceptional furniture pieces, but most are in need of TLC. The tried and true finds in thrift stores is the unique blending of eras at low prices.

Helpful Hint: Inquire at desk for special promotions in the store. Even a thrift store has a tag sale! Look for accent pieces such as wall art, table top and lighting.

Garage/Yard/Rummage Sales

Personal or commercial items that are outdated, outgrown or lack lustered out for sale to recoup some of the replacement cost.

Helpful Hint: Look for Citywide or Neighborhood sales to condense shopping area.


Flea Market An outdoor venue usually rented to vendors seeking sales or bartering of second-hand merchandise.

Helpful Hint: Always make the seller give the first price of the item, they may undervalue the item. Even so, always offer less than suggested or request something else added in.

Farmers Market A farmers’ market is defined as a multi-stall market at which farmer-producers sell agricultural products directly to the general public at a central or fixed location.

Helpful Hint: There is an increase of homemade crafts at farmers markets. They tend to be pricey for resale, but excellent idea generators or for use in the home.


An online classified website, offering advertisements including garage and estate sales, items for sale and items wanted. The website narrows searches by geographic location which makes the hunt closer to home.

Helpful Hint: Use the search bar at the top to narrow results. The category “Items for sale-dealer” usually means the product has been revamped. Also, if an item is relisted, offer a lower price. Chances are the seller is getting a little eager to sell. Communicate with sellers first through the anonymous email forum. The emails are scrambled which makes identity theft less likely. When a sale is pending, plan a public meeting location during daylight and let someone know where you are going.

Dumpster Diving

Dumpster Diving is the physical act of removing unwanted items in and around a dumpster. This is one way to reduce landfill from obviously unwanted items.

Helpful Hint: Look for items set out by dumpster the day before the truck is to arrive. Also, apartments, condos and dorms are excellent sources at the end of the month or school year. Always cover your body, including a mask and leather gloves. Not all the refuse should be brought home.

What to Buy

With so many avenues available to reduce our landfill, no job is too complex to pass on. It does require extra tools and knowledge on how to rejuvenate the items for your home, for resale, but most important, to stay healthy. When contemplating a purchase to rehabilitate, learn about the history and inspect the condition.

Dating back to 3000BC, coincidentally, government transitions reflect changes in structure and appearance of furnishings. Of course you would be hard pressed to find something from 3000BC that is not in a museum. However, it is important to recognize when the piece was created. Deciphering the era will lead to the proper care and rejuvenation. If the lines, curves or decorations are not recognizable, look for a mark from the manufacturer. Regardless of era, here are some things to look for:

Construction type – Wood, Laminate, Particle board, Plastic, Metal, Upholstered

Wood Imperfections – Splinters, Warping, Water stains, Chipped, Cracked, Peeling

Metal Imperfections – Rust, Pitting, Patina, Tarnish

Finish – Stain, Paint, Fabric, Masonry

Smells – Mold, Mothballs, Pets

If history of a piece is available, inquire as to where was it used, how was it used and any exposure to animals.

Health Risks

When selecting a piece to rejuvenate, there are health concerns that are associated with the business. Breathing clean air every day is the reward for anyone attempting to “go green”. Many paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which refers to a class of chemicals that evaporate readily at room temperature.  If a painted piece was created before 1978, extra precautions need to be taken. The number one air pollutant with antique furniture is lead paint. Lead paint continually produces a thin layer of the dust that can be ingested or inhaled causing serious health problems. A fellow repurposer recently had a portion of a lung removed due to the presence of carcinogens, a complexity of working with the lead dust. Adult symptoms may include, but are not limited to:

  •         High blood pressure
  •         Constipation
  •         Joint pains
  •         Muscle pain
  •         Declines in mental functioning
  •         Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities
  •         Headache
  •         Memory loss
  •         Mood disorders
  •         Reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm
  •         Miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women

Like paints, stains can also contain high levels of biocides, fungicides, and VOCs, which pose the same problems outlined in the paint sections above.

To further ensure fresh air, furniture in need of reupholstering may have a set of unsuspecting dangers as well.

  •         Toxic flame-retardant chemicals (polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs) are widely used in foam furniture cushions, carpets, textiles, foam insulation, children’s products and more, despite research showing they may cause neurodevelopmental delays, cancer, and fertility and thyroid problems.
  •         Ironically, the chemicals also do little to actually suppress flames compared to non-treated items, and some may even increase the release of toxic gases released into the air during a fire.
  •         Following an outpouring of consumer feedback, Gatorade said it would be removing brominated vegetable oil (BVO), which was first patented as a flame retardant, from their products.
  •         PBDEs are often found in household dust, so clean up with a HEPA-filter vacuum and/or a wet mop often.

Tool Box for Success

Creating a green home, or providing items to furnish one, requires the right tools to get started. Find a well ventilated area, preferably outdoors and prepare the following:

The Do-it-yourself Kit

(Hammer, Screwdriver, Socket set, Wrench, Level, Drill, Ruler, Hew Key, sandpaper)

To be used for basic drawer pull removal to replacing a screw.

Repurpose kit

(Goggles face mask, lint free fabric, sticky cloth, gloves, mineral spirits, paint brushes, spray paint, water, detergent, fabric softener, household ingredients).

There are commercial cleaners, strippers and paints on the market that over promise and under deliver removal with harmful chemicals.  If this route is chosen, please protect your skin, protect your eyes and protect your lungs. Remember household ingredients may be just as useful, they can even strip paint with less toxicity.

Insurance policy

Check with your local insurance agent for coverage options relating to a Small Business Insurance, Homeowners Green Endorsement and Personal Health care resulting from Antique modifications. The insurance value of antiques, and/or refinished pieces, differs between Insurance Companies, and year to year depending on the market.

Show It Off

Refinished furniture intertwined with multi-genre wall art, table decor and linens highlights the first weekend of the month at Occasional Sales in Minnesota. When travel is not in your future, share your experience on Pinterest, offer it on Etsy or sell on eBay. Consulting online forums, blogs or a local junk bonanza may answer questions while inspiring creativity. The more creative a transformation is, the better the opportunity to increase green in the pocket and where you live.

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Enhanced Insurance is not written by attorneys. If you’re looking for legal advice, you need to contact a lawyer. Further, insurance practices and forms change constantly and are varied from state to state. For definitive answers in your area, contact a local agent.

While the majority of people want an agent involved in their purchase of insurance, many people want to see if they can save money by buying direct from the insurance company. Others want to try a direct quote to make sure the premium they’re now paying through their local agent is fair. If you want a quote for your coverage, click on the competitive quote button on the right side of this page.

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