Ellen Silverman

Over the years,  I’ve furnished my living spaces with second-hand furniture, scavenged from flea markets, thrift stores, Ebay, and occasionally, found on the street. Early on, I didn’t really know what I was doing; I just bought stuff whose look I liked, that I could use, that seemed well-made. I’d clean the wood with Briwax, or lightly rub some stain into worn spots…add a brush of paint..I’d figure out ways to bring my purchase back to life. Then I found George Grotz’s classic book The Furniture Doctor and used his brilliant, tried-and-true techniques for repairing veneer, or masking scratches.

In the process of scouting second-hand furniture, “my eye” and understanding inadvertently developed. I discovered that I’d unknowingly bought some treasures: a Cherner chair for $15, now going for hundreds on Ebay and even more, new, at Design Within Reach.

…a Robsjohn-Gibbings coffee table for $40, worth a fortune (a pair went for $5,600 at 1st Dibs, YIKES!)…

After many years, I “outgrew” some of the pieces I acquired and sold them, passing them on to someone else, to become their “second-hand” find. Other pieces seem to work with whatever my life and style was taking. The lesson:  second-hand, and less-than-perfect, can mean wonderful things at bargain prices, with at least nine lives.

Recently, FreshHome posted a really useful list of 20 tips for buying second-hand furniture which got me thinking about the whole thing, although I disagree with one:

“Wrought iron or aluminum furniture is beautiful when it’s been refurbished.  When you find second hand metal furniture think of the potential as opposed to how it looks.  Remove rust and repaint with a durable powder coat of outdoor paint especially made for covering metal furniture.”

Rust and wear can be really beautiful, and make an amazing contrast to more finished pieces indoors…Add a slate top to a weathered iron table base, and you have something…

Signs of age can be really beautiful.

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4 replies on “‘the furniture doctor’ and other hot tips for second-hand

  1. The “thrill of the find” is really the best high, in my opinion. Nice to know others share the same drug and great to see some of your “high” moments. As you know, I’m even a fan of your $1 wire waste baskets – yet another good score on your part.

  2. Thanks for the post. A question: where did you find the desk in the top photo, and do you have any information on it? I have one exactly like it that I found at my local Salvation Army.

  3. I’ve lived by a copy of The Furniture Doctor for years that was a hand-me-down from my grandmother – an edition from the 60’s I believe. Some of the glues/finishes are a bit hard to come by now – perhaps they’re not enviro friendly…

  4. Margaret, So-o-o- sorry to take so long to get back to you. I found the desk fifteen years ago at the now-defunct flea market at 26th and Sixth AVenues in Manhattan. Inside the drawer was an old ad featuring it. It is called “The Organizer”. I imagine it’s from the sixties. Sorry I don’t have any other info…
    I have seen it in some pretty chic places, like the Nicole Farhy store in the Meat-Packing district etc. It’s a beautiful thing: a really modern take on the old roll-top desk.

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