Beware of Pretty Things: 4 Reasons I’m Keeping My Ugly, Old Stuff

By Linsey Knerl on 2 March 2009 55 comments
Photo: eliandric

I hadn’t been out shopping at a furniture mega-store in over 6 months. I just didn’t have the money to buy anything, and to be honest, I was way too busy to shop. Last night, however, I strolled through the furniture showroom with my jaw unhinged and my heart thumping: “Look at all this good-looking stuff!”

My husband, who is unusually thrifty, wasn’t immune, either. He started pondering where the cherry-finished dresser could go in our room, what kind of storage the under-bed cabinets could provide, and how a smallish, 5-drawer dresser could keep the kids’ clothes under control. “$187 is actually a steal,” we both thought at the same time.

Wait. What was happening? We had scrimped and saved through years of lay-offs, the start of a home business, and four closely-spaced children. We were looking at ways to save money with our own cows, chickens, and a spacious garden. Why would we so carelessly consider jumping on this “gotta have it” bandwagon? After some careful consideration, we left the store empty-handed. They didn’t have the exact item we came for, but there were other reasons for keeping our heads on our shoulders (and our money in our pockets).

My stuff is better

Sure, my dresser had crayon scribbles on the side, sported a horrible pink trim, and was given to me by my mom (who had gotten it from her mom 20 years before). It was ugly to look at, but it did the job just fine. (In fact, after regularly abusing the drawers on my 1950s dresser, I was disgusted at the cheap particle-board and plastic rails that most of the “new” showroom dressers were made of. Thank goodness for solid hardwood and indestructible steel riveting.)


My stuff isn’t noticed

Why did I need beautiful, matching furniture? Part of the allure was to be able to show it off when people came to visit. I often cringed a bit when guests would stay over, explaining to them that the mismatched, second-hand guest bedroom set was “temporary” (although I doubt they even noticed). As I’ve grown more comfortable with my lifestyle, I’ve found ways to work around the magazine chic that seems to impress others. I can keep my junk looking smart by refinishing wooden furniture, throwing matching slip-covers over faded couches, and keeping a nice fabric tablecloth on hand for when guests arrive. The other furniture (like that in my bedroom), won’t be seen by anyone but my husband and myself, anyway.

My stuff is paid for

When it all comes down to it, I wasn’t comfortable charging any of the furniture on my credit card (not that I’m anti-credit). I thought about how hard I worked, and it wasn’t in me to write extra articles or take more time away from my kids to have matching chairs in the dining room. Most of my furniture, in fact, was not only paid for, but it was paid for by previous generations and set out on the curb (where I so kindly took it off their hands).

My stuff is mine

Sometimes, when no one is looking, I admire the way my nightstand holds my favorite book, some cough drops, and a few scented candles so perfectly. It fits just right alongside my bed, and it reminds me of the nights spent comforting a sick child, while the rest of the world was fast asleep. There is a kind of romance that can develop between an ugly piece of furniture and its owner. (My favorite dresser from high school still features a few bumper stickers from concerts that my parents wouldn’t let me attend.)

The next time you start to get a little impatient with your current décor, remember that function trumps fashion. Some furniture can bring an aesthetic beauty to your home that may well be worth the investment. If it doesn’t meet your needs, however, it was worthless from the moment you bought it.

So what are your thoughts on old, ugly furniture? Do you love it? Hate it? Live with it because you have to?

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55 discussions

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Guest's picture

I grew up in a poor family where hand-me-downs were normal. I still remember the furniture and how I even knew exactly where to sleep on that old mattress I was given when I was 5 (kept until I was 24). Everything was comforting and mine. That is why it was a special treat when my dad surprised me during my 16th Christmas with a platform bed that looking showcase new. It was new alright but not from a store - my dad made it. The white finish gleamed and the drawers under slid perfectly. My dad was a carpenter by trade and although kitchen cabinets were his specialty, he worked at the shop on his free time to make this perfect bed for me and I loved it!

What is ironic is that when I left my family back on the east coast, I also left the realm of being "poor". With my first paycheck in hand, I started to spend like there is no tomorrow. Everything had to be new - no hand-me-downs! That was, until only a couple of years later I found myself having to replace these new but cheaply replaced items ever couple of years.

With my credit cards heavy and my heart empty, I began to get sick whenever I looked at these "new" items and found myself, one again, longing for the day where we had little and the things we cherished were the things that our loved ones would make for us. That, my friends, was the day that I knew what would fill my heart could not be bought in any store.

Guest's picture

I know this is an old post but I just stumbled upon it. It's a very beautiful comment, Shannon and I was moved by it.

Guest's picture

My living room is furnished with a coffee table and a side table that we had as our family room furniture in the. It's really good, solid furniture and always in style. In the early 80's. I actually sanded both pieces down and refinished them because I liked them so much.

My mother loves antiques, so my bedroom furniture was always old--like 1800's old. But the great thing about pieces like that is the craftsmanship. All you have to do is look at the side of a dresser drawer and see the dove-tail method of assembly and you know you have some good quality furniture.

Guest's picture

My previous comment got messed up, the first paragraph should read:

My living room is furnished with a coffee table and a side table that we had as our family room furniture in the early 80's. It's really good, solid furniture and always in style. I actually sanded both pieces down and refinished them because I liked them so much.

Guest's picture

My stuff has a story to tell. My experiences are built into each scrape, stain, or chip.

Of course those experiences are exactly why my fiance says my stuff is ugly!

Guest's picture

Linsey I completely agree with the new stuff being so much cheaper. I love old furniture because it was made to last.


Guest's picture

I love our old mismatched furniture for its character, its sturdy solid wood, and for the fact that it will never wear out the way newer veneered pieces will. It's paid for, mostly acquired secondhand. Even our kitchen cabinets are old and unfashionable. I agree that new items are very beautiful and tempting, so we usually avoid window shopping.

By not spending to follow styles and fashions, we are debt-free, and that is definitely a better feeling than having fancy new stuff to show off to visitors. I'm sure people think we are really poor, when they see our decor. They can think whatever they like! I hope to refinish some of our furniture, so that it will look a bit better. It's amazing how old wood can be cleaned up and restored...

Guest's picture

Older, quality pieces of furniture are absolutely terrific. We have some newer things in our home that affect our quality of life (sofa, mattress) but pieces that aren't functionally affected by years of wear like dressers and bookshelves are still around.

Plus, have you noticed that on all the design websites and blogs, the "in" look features lots of distressed, vintage furniture? People pay a fortune to get that feel, and you're on the cutting edge for free. :-) It's all about perspective.

Guest's picture

Linsey,darling, your ugly, old, stuff has a much prettier, french name- antique! I wish I had more ugly, old stuff from my family. You are right, older furniture is much better made, and can so easily be stripped, refinished, re-upholstered. My favorite "ugly old stuff" goes by the name "the hog table" because when my grandmother found it, a man was slaughtering hogs on it. She recognized it as a solid cherry gate leg dining table and bought it for a song. Refinished, it is absolutely gorgeous and is one of my favorite pieces of furniture.

So,when you are ready to get rid of those concert stickers, start by going to the hardware store and purchasing some furniture stripper and have at it!

Guest's picture

I find that every time I get one new piece, it stands out among the other new pieces, and then I feel like the old pieces need to be replaced to "match" the new one. This happens with furniture, clothing, or anything else where items are viewed as part of a set.

Guest's picture

of the furniture in my house is inherited and I wouldn't change a thing. I have pieces that belonged to my great grandmother, grandmothers, grandfathers, great aunts, great cousins and parents. They are gorgeous and I wouldn't change or exchange them for anything. A new cheaply made dresser cannot be compared to a dresser that belonged to my great grandmother and is mahogany and lovely and reminds me of her.

Guest's picture

I completely agree!

First, at my parent's, they bought a kitchen set, a living room set and a bedroom set when they married and built the house about 25 years ago. That is the only new stuff that ever went into their house. And it was very good quality I guess because years and 4 kids later, everything is still there in good shape. Everything else comes from church basements and garage sales. Our basement is entirely furnished in used stuff, including 2 couches, and 3 armchairs, a used tv stand, used computer desk, used chairs, etc. Also, all of the kid's bedroom were furnished with used stuff. The only thing that we had that was new was those plastic drawer units and wal-mart bookshelves because those are cheaper to buy new. I never felt that I was missing out on anything because I grew up in a house like that. My parents aren't poor. Instead of throwing money away on stuff, they set up college savings account for all 4 of us that amounted to close to 50K each by the time we finished high school.

At my apartment, almost everything is used. We have a really cool, retro kitchen table with four matching chairs in light blue patent leather!! We also have a used couch, armchair, tv stand, used desks, used mattresses, etc. Honestly, I feel happier with my 'old junk' anyways; and I don't have to worry about damaging it.

Guest's picture

I have to tell you, I've been a slave to those magazines and stores for too long. I've called quite a few to get OFF their list....I don't need to be spending money that we've worked so hard to save (or more importantly..NOT SPEND!) on things I don't need.

I can look over my past credit card statements and think 'What did I get here?'..or I can look at my free wicker bedroom set in our guest room and be happy to have friends and family who have donated such nice stuff to our first house.

Guest's picture

My Grandmother had this enormous chair (the seat is the width of 2 armchairs, and it is incredibly overstuffed). I have a lot of childhood memories of Grandma sitting in the middle of the chair and than all of us grandkids piling around her on the seat and the wide arms of the chair as she would read to us. When she died the family got together to divide her stuff and I was sad at the fact that I knew that someone with more seniority than me would get this great chair, but it turned out that no one wanted it for the simple reason that the fabric was bright pink with lopsided squares all over it. All of these memories, and everyone kept saying how ugly and tacky it was. When I spoke up that I would like to have it people seemed relieved because "now we don't have to pay to haul it to the dump". I love this chair - it is the most comfortable thing I own, and after almost 70 years of constant use it still has all of its plushness. I finally made a cover for it a few years ago when my husband wouldn't stop complaining about the horrible color (our house has lots of blues, greens, and the pink does stand out a bit) but the chair is as wonderful as it ever was and I still can't believe my luck that no one else could see beyond its pink color. Even finding a chair this wide would be a challenge, but no new chair in the world would ever be as wonderful as the one I already have.

Guest's picture

I love this post. Too often I think we are swayed by the beauty of new things, or the desire to impress others, but when we take the time to step back from the situation, as you have, then we realize we don't honestly need anything new at all. I wrote a similar post about my own experience with furniture a few months back. The sentiment is very similar.

Guest's picture
Debbie M

I like my old, ugly furniture. Some of it is well made (mostly bookshelves, including the kind made with wood boards and cinder blocks). Some is mediocre (stereo cabinet and deacon's bench made by parents, who are not carpenters, and bookshelves made by a friend who is not carpenter). Some of it is just crap that still works (cardboard drawers that hold my undies, particle-board desk that is still pretty--no I do not have any pets or kids!). I also have a well-made useless bench/coffee table (made by carpenter friend, but doesn't fit in house!) that I can't give up.

They have stories. And once I put my pretty and/or interesting things them, they're better.

I have sanded down and re-stained or re-painted some things. I have switched out some door knobs and drawer pulls.

Guests are unimpressed (except for my huge shelves in the living room made by a carpenter). But they do find things to look at (books and knickknacks). And they don't come to look at my stuff anyway; they come to carve pumpkins or watch a movie or play games or whatever. So long as things are clean and neat, I'm happy.

Guest's picture

For years, I had a horrible nightstand. It was made of particle board and cheap peeling veneer, and it was really ugly. Why did I keep it for so long? Because a replacement would have cost quite a lot, and the ugly one held up my lamp just fine.

Then I married a man who had his own horrible nightstand. They didn't match, but we had only one (regular) income when we first got married, so we didn't have money for new furniture.

A year after that, my dad moved out of his house. He had a set of nightstands that he wasn't going to take with him, and both of us liked them.

Most of our furniture is hand-me-downs from family, pieces that we bought at thrift stores and refinished, and an amazing solid-wood headboard and footboard that I got on eBay for under $300 shipped.

I have bought a few new pieces. However, when I do, I'm willing to spend what it costs to get a quality piece that will last a long time. And if I need something urgently but it doesn't have to last forever, there is always the horror that is the Ikea shopping experience.

Guest's picture

But, I do like antique furniture that other people have found ugly. Ugliness in my home detracts from my ability to enjoy it and stay peaceful and joyful enough to blog efficiently -- or at all. But, I definitely agree with the spirit an underlying message of your post! : )

Guest's picture

I agree. Life is too short to "make do" with things that you don't love. I'd rather not have something at all than have something cluttering my life that I don't really enjoy looking at and using. That being said, I also don't buy things I can't afford. If I really want something -- and let's face it, pretty much everything we own we don't really NEED, we WANT. I don't NEED a mattress. I WANT it because it makes my life better by allowing me to have a better night's sleep -- I buy the best quality I can afford. If at any time I want something but I can only afford one of low quality, then I won't buy it until I've saved up enough to buy something of quality.

If you are more into functionality than form, then an old ugly dresser will do you just fine. I personally need both and if I can't get both then I'll just do without. That's why there are no ugly dressers in my house -- free or otherwise. I'll stack my clothes in a closet before accepting a free dresser that I can't stand to use or look at.

Guest's picture

Functional and paid for works in my house too.

Guest's picture

There are chairs/sofas that I some day plan to have reupholstered, but not until the rowdy kids are gone. Why would I pay $ to do it and I then have vomit/spit up/scratches, etc., on my new furniture? That would be nuts. I'll wait. I don't want to have to nag, Watch out for the new chair-sofa-bookcase-table.... Having old stuff with kids around gives a certain peace of mind. This does remind me of a story. When a certain sister, whose house looks like it could be featured in House Beautiful, came to visit once she commented on the state of things in my house. She bought something nice/neew for me and said that while it didn't match anything I had, it didn't appear that I cared whether things matched in my house.

Guest's picture

Call me crazy but I prefer all that old furniture. Well at least the items that are sturdy and long lasting. I lost me love of shiny new furniture. I saw one of those huge 4 poster beds at Marshal Fields. It was some huge dollar amount, about enough to buy a decent used car. A few weeks later we were looking through a furniture liquidation warehouse. I saw the identical bed there. But it had a chunk taken out of the headboard. You could see the construction. It was MDF board inside with a very nice plastic veneer that was the wood finish. It was an amazing fake, it really did look like wood. But it was an expensive piece of throw away furniture. That totally turned me off to most of the new furniture out there even if I really like the style. Instead we look for older pieces with real construction that we like the style of and fix them to fit what we need. Between thrift stores and antique stores we find quite a bit. Oh and our $2000 brand new Lane leather sofa we bought had vinyl on the sides of the cushions. It started disintegrating right after the 1 year warranty on the coverings expired. The vinyl was a great fake too.

Guest's picture

I remember as a small child my mother would lament the "old" furniture that we had. When my parents got married (and I came along within the year) they had no money and furnished their home with things from their parents basement.

Well, you know what, those "old" pieces of furniture have been refinished by my mom and are now very valuable antiques. There was some very beautiful furniture under all those layers of ugly paint.

Guest's picture

I have a sofa-bed that I bought at Salvation Army for $20, I love it and my 6'5" cousin can sleep on it comfortably. It has a slipcover but I proudly tell people what I paid for it.

Guest's picture

I don't know why you have to call it ugly. You could call it "antique" or even "shabby chic" although I hate that term also.

All of my furniture is second-hand, some of it found on the street. I think it is beautiful. My point is that you shouldn't think of yourself as sacrificing something you want, like "nice" furniture, because you can easily find well-made furniture at thrift stores and on ebay, or inherited, it only takes a little love to make them look great.

Guest's picture

This is why I love older cars!

When we got a "new to us" car with some dings and dents already in it, yeah I was a bit irked when my partner hit a pillar in the Target parking lot, but now I think "meh, whatever." It's paid for, it runs, and I care a lot less about that "new" ding because it fits in with all the others. :-)

Linsey Knerl's picture

Shanel #17 - You do make a valid point.  I agree that having very ugly furniture can detract from living in your home peacefully.  (Which is why I'm 100% for refurnishing and covering things up)  I always love when home decor magazines give you ideas for a facelift rather than reinvesting in new.  (Country Living was good at this before they went under... )

Margaret #23 - No offense on calling them "ugly", but in my case, there are a few pieces that are just that!  I am so excited to finally have some time to refinish the older, more horrid pieces.  Many of them have so much potential (but a few are currently covered in tacky layers of latex paint.)  I guess we should be careful in judging a wonderful piece based on its outside appearance alone. 


Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I would keep it ;) No sense in buying new stuff. If it breaks, then maybe.

Money is better saved.

Guest's picture

It's funny, but I've found over the years that if I really like something, even if I pick it off the curb, it all goes together. It might be a color or shape or time period, but it "works". Even things we purchase second hand (or the two things bought new) are comfortable with one another. Peacefully eclectic is much more fun than matched sets.

Guest's picture

BTW - My "I agree. Life is too short" post was in Reply to Shanel Yang's post: "If it's really ugly to me, then, sorry, but I don't agree." I clicked "Reply" to her post but this blog doesn't list it as a reply....

Guest's picture

I agree whole heartedly about really ugly furniture. I aslo will go without until I can afford what I want. I do have quite a few antique pieces: great grandma's mirrored dresser, grandma's bedroom set. I also have a nightstand my hubby made in 1976 woodshop class. When we were first married and he was finishing up school we could not afford new furniture, and all I waited for was the time I could replace that nightstand. Guess what, I love that thing now. We bought a bedroom set 10 years ago, I made sure it went with the nightstand. The nightstand that came with the set is in our guest bedroom. I guess after 25 years I am attached to it, just like I am to him.

I do have to say, I could never, ever have furniture that was put out on someone's curb left for free. I guess I have a phobia about bugs, smells etc. Sorry, that is too nasty to me. I could never sit on it or lay on it. I have a friend who does this and if I go to her house I sit on the floor.

Linsey Knerl's picture

You make a valid point about 2nd-hand furniture.  Most interior designers swear by the rule that you should never buy or take a 2nd-hand mattress.  Others claim that anything upoholstered (sofa, couch) is too nasty to consider getting used.  While I think it depends on the circumstances (most of my "second-hand" furniture is actually from the "curb" of family members), you need to stay safe from things like bed bugs and foul odors.

Wood furniture is almost always safe (but check for things like termites, first!)

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I guess when people say curbside I think of stuff that has been sitting in the rain that has been put out for garbage pickup. I do have allergies and molds are a killer.

You are right with most wood items, they can be stripped, sanded and stained. I did have an old chest of drawers once that I had inherited and had to get rid of. They had used mothballs in it. I tried every concoction known to man to get rid of the smell and it still reeked. But for the most part good, sturdy wooden items are salvageable.

Guest's picture

I love looking around my house and knowing that each piece of furniture has a story. I love when someone comments on my rocking chair and I can tell the story of my grandma rocking my dad in it. And the office chair that my old old pastor used to sit and, and that he inscribed underneath. And the trunk I got for college- everything has a history and brings me a smile when I look at it.

Guest's picture

I have young kids (1 and 4), and I love my hand-me-down furniture right now because it's OK if it gets destroyed. Sure, I'm less than thrilled when my son colors the sofa cushions with a dry-erase marker...but they're so stained and faded anyway, I just flipped them over and called it a day.

When my kids get older, however -- and we've got our debt paid off (last payment is planned for Dec 1 2009!) -- I do plan to replace the furniture we've got. I'm not the most fashionable or stylish person in the world, and I do have some pieces I really love. But the furniture I have is all someone else's style...some of it is fussy and Victorian, others are modern and streamlined. They don't match each other and they don't match my lifestyle, so when I can afford to replace them, they're gone.

So I plan to keep some of the really precious pieces -- my grandmother's vintage side table where she kept her yarn, my queen bedframe that my parents bought me when I was sixteen -- and gradually replace the rest as I can afford it, with cash.

Guest's picture

Hi all
I'm so old now :-) I remember when my old stuff was still new... I still have furniture from student days more than 30 years ago. Like the lady above says, it's still got concert stickers, and other cosmetic modifications made during particular "episodes", they all tell a story. I've never bought a new car, I'm still rolling iron (bought second-hand) from the 70s and 80s. It was good then, it's getting classic now, it fits me, spares are cheap. My two favourite motorbikes (both with my wife's portrait painted in classic aviation art style) are late 80s tech. My beloved was always relaxed about the kids scrawling on the walls as they grew up, - only our walls :-) , and she taught me to be as well. She was right. They're living memories of days now gone. We buy new furniture when something breaks... but mostly it will be used=new-to-us furniture, just seems sensible. In my observation, a man who always buys new stuff, won't / can't keep the same wife.

Torley Wong's picture

it comes around in circles. And what's not chic today may very well be tomorrow. Look at all the youth who weren't alive in the 70s, yet who shop at Value Village or Hot Topic to appropriate those styles. The same is true for non-clothes stuff which isn't so portable... like your furniture.

If your friends pressure you to get rid of something which is fully functional and serves its purpose without inducing health hazards (e.g., a 100-year old chair full of splinters), then these are apparently not the sagest friends to have when it comes to making something last and saving your nickels.

Thankyou for sharing, Linsey!

Linsey Knerl's picture

I have four of my own, but somehow this valid point escaped me!  Yes, it is pointless to invest in new, shiny things when you have 3 of your brood under age 5.  If there is a permanent marker within 6 acres, they'll surely find it -- and your furniture will tell the tale.

Yes, I sometimes long for a day when I can use cash to buy something a bit more stylish, but then I remember that this will mean all my babies are grown up and gone!  I'll appreciate what I have while they are here with me.  :)

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I have a dresser that my boyfriends parents were just going to put on the curb because they had two kids moving out and no need for it anymore. When I started stripping it, I found out this thing had at least 6 coats of paint on it. My boyfriend kept saying "I remember when it was yellow" and "It was pink when my sister had it" until there were layers of paint even he couldn't remember. Once I got it down to the wood, I sanded it and painted it with a beautiful cherrywood finish. It is the most beautiful dresser I own.

Guest's picture

I've graduated from dumpster diving to Craigslisting and thus have slowly been acquiring a better quality of other people's old crap. But there is still not a single stick of new furniture in the house except a few pieces from IKEA. When the kids are gone I may move on up the junk ladder to genuine "antiquing," but major furniture is like cars to me--I can never envision myself buying something brand-spanking new from a showroom.

So in your case of your truly ugly stuff--just keep your eye open for a better class of junk. I've had 6 dining room tables in the past 20 years--some hand-me-downs, some curbside finds, and some $10 garage-sale items. Most rather small, and almost all of which needed to be covered up with a tablecloth. The most recent one, though, is a gorgeous birds-eye-maple veneer with carved detailing that seats 10, and 6 matching upholstered chairs. And I paid the princely sum of $78 for the set on eBay.

Guest's picture

My wife and I went out shopping for a desk a few months ago. She wanted to go to IKA and several other stores. It took a bit of energy but I convinced her to let us stop at the local Goodwill first. We found a nice cherry wood desk with every joint dovetailed and handcrafted. We didn't buy it. First we went to the other stores to see what they had. Every desk in IKA was made of poor quality wood and one comparable, in style alone, to the Goodwill desk was over $350. We went back to GW and bought the desk for only a mere $25. It was way nicer than anything we saw that day. I have my wife convinced, I'm the bargain hunter.

Guest's picture

Actually, I don't think you have to necessarily sacrifice style or beauty for price. In fact many of my treasured pieces are handmedowns, the most prized being my collection of antiques and teacups passed down from my grandmother. But I also enjoy my eclectic collection of dishes, plates, and mugs - an amalgamation of vintage stuff from my grandmother and cast-offs from my sister and mother. I don't care of these things match - they have their own charm.

I think a good eye and the ability to visualize what the piece will look like with some TLC is very useful when seeking used furniture, but patience is also a virtue when bargain hunting. You have to be able to wait for the right deal to come along, and make peace with living with less than the best.

Guest's picture

We bought a $1500 entertainment center when we first graduated college, it was our "Congrats to us, we have real jobs and can afford real furniture" present. Well, 6 years and 3 kids later, it looks like we got it off the curb! Between dings, fingerprints, crayon and permanent marker, it just looks horrid! But since it's particle board, we can't even refinish it. That $1500 would have been better spent getting my husband a woodworking bench so he could have made us one that we could at least paint or refinish after a few years of kid abuse!!

We learned our lesson though, our oldest daughter is ready to move into a loft bed with her sister underneath. We spent $200 on lumber and supplies, and are almost done with it! And it's much sturdier than all of the bunk beds we looked at for $500 or more! Give me handmade furniture any day over just about anything else! And the two nightstands we bought at a craft fair from an Amish man for $80 each, they don't show a scratch!

Guest's picture

I have 2 favourite pieces of furniture:

1. The foot stool my grandad made. I have recovered it a few times and stained and varnished the legs. It's sturdy enough to climb on to replace a light bulb and just the right height to rest my feet on. Plus it reminds me of Christmas' at my grandparents house. He loved that foot stool as much as I do.

2. My parents old sectional couch. It was too big for their living room when they moved so they left it behind for me (I'm currently renting their house from them). They bought it from Sears about 30 years ago and it's been through several long distance moves and many a make-shift forts between my brother and I. I told my dad if he ever got rid of that couch without giving me dibs I'd disown him! I'll replace some of the foam and recover it when I can afford too, but right now it's just perfect as it is. We probably spend more hours on this couch that any other piece of furniture.

Guest's picture

Try searching the web for the free online video named "The Story of Stuff". I feel that it fits in very well with this post. One of the points made in the video is that since shortly after WWII, manufacturers have greatly pushed both planned and perceived obsolescence with their products. That's to say that they have been increasingly building furniture, appliances, etc. to wear out quickly (yet slowly enough that most people see no fault in buying new ones) and, through advertising, pushing this "gotta have new" feeling in people to keep money rolling in through "growth economy" ideals.

"Old" and "ugly" are often as much figments of our imagination and of advertising as they are of actual age. Don't let yourself be fooled! There's a good reason that that "old" furniture has lasted this long. It was built to last!

Guest's picture

My wife's aunt's family is passing along some furniture from their parents generation. It is very good quality wood, not plastic or veneer or particleboard. When they asked us to keep it in the family, please, I said of course we will. I wish I could get such old "hand-me-downs" from my family, but I cannot. My parents were immigrants from Europe, so we have practically nothing from my grandparents. I wish I could get some...

I did buy some refinished wood furniture from a consignment store about 15 years ago. It is solid furniture, with a very pretty stain, dating from the 1930's (roughly). I also bought new furniture that same year. The 'old stuff' has held up so much better than the new, that their ages now look reversed. That ex-new furniture is destined for the dump soon.

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As young newlyweds in 1981-82, we had a mattress, card table and 4 folding chairs. Our first Thanksgiving together, my parents came for the long weekend, and my folks gave us $500 to buy something more suitable for houseguests! We went down to the "antique store" -- a polite way to say used old brown furniture no longer fashionable -- and bought a lovely 1920s Duncan Phyfe dining room set with buffett, table & 4 chairs, a sofa and 2 classic side chairs, side tables, etc. etc. A few years later we lived in St. Louis and had a strict rule: no purchase over $25.00 for any household item. We stripped and refinished, recovered and sewed, and saved lots of money while having very nice furniture. I still have many of the pieces, and have sold or given many away over the years due to changing space, needs and so on. At age 46, I did buy a brand new sofa and a brand new chair & ottoman! But I cherish my old stuff for many of the reasons noted above -- well built, carefully crafted, I'm unable to afford the same quality new, and perhaps most importantly, the treasured memories accumulated in these old things.

Guest's picture

I too wish I had more of the old ugly stuff! I grew up the grandaughter of a carpenter/antique refinisher. He would go to auctions and find peices to refinish. He had soooo many antiques, although he would resell most. My parents house is full of old things like an old ice box that they use for storage in their living room, and a huge, I mean HUGE wardrobe made out of beautiful dark wood. They aren't in perfect condition as they have been actually used for the last 40+ years but they are so wonderful. I just can't bear to pay the outrageous prices for new furniture peices that are sure to not last long with the abuse 3 kids can dish out, when you compare them to the real furniture that used to be made.

I have the most comfortable chaise lounge that was given to me for free! But it is a 70's burnt orange color ;) The couch and loveseat we bought new 8 years ago, and they already look like crap. I am not buying a new set again. When I can't take looking at these anymore I am going to refinish/recover them.

I just think that most times that "ugly" stuff has so much more character than the is filled with life, love, can't buy that!

Guest's picture

Once the kids scorn Crayola, start trading up, one moving sale at a time. Go for good antiques at reasonable prices or for classic reproductions with no particle board anywhere in them and with mortised or dovetailed joints instead of staples.

On second thought, if your family has secure employment, buy it soon. Financially distressed families are selling stuff cheap so they can relocate or make house payments. Be picky and cheap but don't bargain down folks in trouble--just say that the item does not fit your budget.

Replace one item, then sell the old one. Someone will pay you something for any furniture that is not made of particle board.
If you are in healthy financial shape, you may want to give the old furniture to people graduating from a recovery program, to battered women's shelters, or merely put a "Free" sign on it and stack it by the sidewalk.

Guest's picture

"My stuff isn’t noticed."
If its for utility only and not a major piece of furniture is really...
there's ways to get your older stuff noticed even if its older or not particularly the best looking.
With the right accessories and dressing, you can MAKE someone notice them to the point of making them wish they owned "that ugly end table that mom got rid of."

This is one of my favorite challenges actually. Find something extremely ugly that no one would get instantly and make them say that.

You can do alot for a cheap and/or free piece with a little hard work (it's relatively inexpensive to reupholster something for example)and it's also a fun project you can do with the family.

Objects are like people in a way.. if packaged properly you can make most anything desirable.

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I love my old stuff. I chose it carefully from antique stores, thrift stores, yard sales, and some from the street side while waiting for the trash truck. Some of it is new only because my home flooding in Katrina and necessity forced me to purchase some new furniture, but I also learned to appreciate the practicality of the well built, recycled piece.

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pam munro

If you hate your old furniture so much (I agree the dresser in the pic isn't pretty) - then redo it - paint it, refinish it - or something. I like my old solid-wood furniture! Who can afford the new stuff? & I think Ikea is mostly overpriced for the quality - (We found an Ikea-type computer desk in a thrift shop for $30!)
That dresser would probably look good if painted with a country-antique finish to make it "shabby chic." The dings etc. are called patina - & you get points knocked off on desirability for re-finishing really good pieces. Have you seem the "distressed" pine imported from Ireland? Those dings = patina! & so do mine. And besides, matching pieces is so passe - all the decorators say so!

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Guy G.

Hey Lindsey,


It's so scary how many of my coaching clients have a hart time not having the nicest or newest furniture.

The ones who find it the hardest are those who've just bought a new house. The house is shiny and new and they feel everything else should be too.

My pearents on the other hand, and many others of their generation, still have my grandmother's reapolstered furniture.


Thanks Lindsey,



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When I was 10 years old, I got a handed down a white dresser. On it, I had small tv and all my stuffed animals. Now 30 years later, my 6 year old daughter has it. It was sanded down & painted black with pink flowers.My daughter keeps her tv with and computer on it. The dresser is still in great shape.

I wish they stil made furniture like they used to.


Guest's picture

Ugly furniture reminds me of ugly days when I had no choice. Some of us need to have beauty around us. For you, your children are your beauty. Me, I need objects. Artwork. Beautiful pottery. No, I'm not rich, just particular. The items don't have to be new, but they do have to be beautiful. To some of us, surroundings are very, very important. Ugly surroundings can lead to depression.

If it's ugly, as soon as possible, it goes.

Life's too short. Enjoy your kids. Me, honestly, I'd rather have good-looking furniture. I'm really not joking, but I don't question your choices.

Guest's picture

I STRONGLY DISAGREE WITH YOU. you can refurbish old furniture for a little amount of money. i do it for a living. Then you can have that Fasion chic and spend hardly any more than 20 or thirty dollars. i sell the peices I create for the minimum of 200 dollars when it costed me hardly anything.