You could buy recycled furniture (new or second-hand). But another idea to avoid the mass market is to make your own furniture, if you have some DIY skills and recycled wood from local community outlets. Of course, building furniture is not for everyone, but you’d be surprised at how simple it is to make a few base choices. But if you want to give it a go, here are some good books to get you started. Also see how to polish your furniture (naturally).
You do of course have to consider safety like proper tools and goggles, and ensure rusty nails and toxic varnishes are removed.
Building with Secondhand Stuff shows how to salvage all kinds of junk, then build tables, install vintage hardwood floors and salvaged windows, and mason-reclaimed stone walls. Make a pallet chair, pallet table, chalkboard message door, door-backed island and reclaimed greenhouse.
The London School of Furniture Making offers lots of classes, including taster sessions. And Good Life Centre (primarily geared to women) offers simple courses for the terrified (you can also take shorter courses to make one item, like this wood chair).
If varnishing your furniture, LifeTime Wood Treatment is the nontoxic alternative to creosote that can be used on furniture and outdoor furniture (sold as a powder to mix with water, so leftovers can be safely kept in the garage, for future use. If painting your furniture, Little Knight Exterior Metal Paint is good for furniture. Also see the best brands of natural house paint.
- Made with Salvaged Wood offers tutorials for desks, shelving units, side tables and storage ideas. There is a side table made from the slice of an old tree trunk, on-trend air plant holders (see toxic houseplants to keep away from pets) and a table made from scrap wood.
- Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects is by carpenter Spike, who shows you how to make easy items (similar to IKEA) using a few simple tools.
- The Reclaimed Woodworker offers 21 projects including a sliding barn door, a modern desk and more upcycled building projects. Learn how to source eco-conscious wood to build your own furniture.
- Pallet Style includes instructions to deconstruct a pallet before use. Find projects to make a display shelf, a herb box planter (see toxic herbs to avoid near pets), a log ‘basket’, a kitchen recycling centre, key hooks and a breakfast tray. Old wooden pallets are free so great to make furniture. Make sure they are free from chemical treatments and sand/remove rusty nails, for safety.
The Handbuilt Home is by Ana White, an Alaskan wife and mother who wanted IKEA furniture, but could not afford it. So she learned to make things herself, and now runs an empire: this book and her website packed with simple projects. There are 34 versatile projects from beginner-friendly tables and media centres to storage solutions. All you need is some off-the-shelf lumber, a drill, a saw and some hand tools.