Well, would you? Or does the very question cause you to wrinkle your nose in disgust? Rescuing ‘pre-loved’ items from the street certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of Earl Grey but I read this week that in these hard-pressed times it’s becoming an increasingly common way for young first-time homeowners to furnish their flats.
I don’t see anything wrong with it at all. Though we never see Carrie Bradshaw picking up a little bedside table from the sidewalk, I’d argue that if she was starting out in 2013. These days there’s nothing wrong with picking up a discarded piece of furniture from the side of the road and taking it home to love.
Does the very thought of finding furniture on the street make you go yeeuugh? You wouldn’t be alone – whilst most people will now happily visit charity shops, the idea of picking something off the street, or worse, out of a skip, still seems like a step too far, but this is changing fast. In a recent episode of Kirstie’s Homemade Homes, I saw Kirstie Allsop dive into a skip to rescue a lamp, and where Kirstie goes, other chichi types are sure to follow.
In other countries ‘street shopping’ quite the norm, and indeed it was living in Barcelona for a couple of years that opened my eyes to this way of finding new stuff. There it’s a very acceptable social pastime. Nearly the whole population lives in apartments, and each area has a designated day for people to put bulky items out on the street. And lots of furniture on the street means lots of people sniffing round it. In Barcelona, people will talk openly at the office about street hunting, and make plans to go together to help each other lug home heavy items.
After hearing people bragging about their street finds, my pal Claire and I were keen to see what the buzz was about, so we secured a list of each barrio’s rubbish days from the town hall and formed our plan of action: focusing on the city’s poshest areas.
And there couldn’t have been a better time to hunt. It was only two or three years after the Barcelona Olympics, and with the poverty of the Franco years in the past and the future looking shiny, the chicest thing was to ditch the old memories and buy new, which meant that all over the city people were throwing out beautiful, well-built old Spanish furniture and replacing it with modern, flatpack stuff: great news for bargainistas. I lived in a titchy attic flat with hardly any furniture, so I was well open to making it prettier any way I could – and it turned out that the street way was fantastic.
On my first trip out with Claire I was slightly dubious about the whole thing – till I spotted the most gorgeous bedside table with little Art Nouveau carved legs. Carrying it up four flights of stairs to an attic flat was a bit of a marathon – street finds don’t come with delivery – but once installed in my titchy bedroom it transformed the space. Oh, and Claire and I once jostled an enormous dining table back to her flat, then had to get her boyfriend out of bed to help us up the stairs with it. But boy was it worth it when a couple of months later ten of us ate Christmas dinner around it.
In Barcelona, we would often come across not just other young people but older couples or even families all out scouting for goods. In the UK, however, it’s still not really the done thing. With acceptance growing though, and the trend for upcyclinggaining steamI don’t think it will be long before picking up bargains from the street marks you is seen as the smart thing to do. Meantime, look upon the ick factor as a positive – the fewer people doing it, the better pickings for you.
- Ask your local council for the collection dates in posh neighbourhoods near you, then trawl those streets the night before.
- For maximum fun take a friend or two with you and compete to see who can eye the best bargain: you’ll need the combined muscle power when it comes to hauling home your loot.
- Get over the shame. With a couple of exceptions, finds from the street are as good as you’ll get anywhere. You’re going to clean the stuff immediately, aren’t you? Look at it this way: fifteen minutes ago the item was inside someone’s living room, possibly someone with more money and better hygiene than you. Then they threw it out to make room for their new purchase and you’re the lucky winner – what’s dirty about that?
- Stick to hard furnishings like desks and chairs, bedside tables and bathroom cabinets. Avoid anything porous like sofas, mattresses (yuk!) or rugs – you never know where the cats have been.
- Steer clear of electrical goods – just too risky.
- Clean your goodies as soon as you get home, wiping down surfaces, table legs and undersides with a cleaner appropriate to the furniture type.
Then have tons of fun arranging your free treasures, in the knowledge that you’ve kept stuff out of landfill and grabbed yourself the most super-skint bargains possible.
Convinced? Or still find the whole business way too distasteful? Go on, if you’re a street scavenger, please out yourself now – I’d be delighted to make your acquaintance! xx
Photo credit: Sofa bath courtesy of Home to Life