Would you like to know where to find recycled furniture? Most people these days get their furniture from stores like IKEA (which apart from the leather sofas) is one of the most sustainable brands of the superstore warehouses, even if their items are a nightmare to put together. Find someone to do it for you instead at Task Rabbit. But a lot of the (especially more expensive) furniture still comes from rainforests, and cheaper furniture tends to fall apart, so this is wasteful too. Also see how to make your own furniture and polish your furniture (naturally).
This reclaimed teak rustic stool is suitable for indoor or outdoor use, and crafted from reclaimed wood, with a light wax finish. Perfect as a perch or for garden picnics, this stool has a sturdy structure and chunky appearance. Due to natural colourings and shapes, the pieces vary. As with all outdoor furniture, store inside or undercover during winter or harsh weather. Fully assembled. Over time, this will turn a soft grey colour.
Furniture is designed to be cheap. And that often means importing wood from tropical rainforests, so people can buy a wardrobe for £99. In the US, people throw out 12 million tons of furniture and furnishings each year, with only a small amount recycled. Mattresses say with stains, are not even taken by charities, so if you were caring for an ill relative, the mattress would have to go to landfill anyway.
Most furniture is of course made from wood. And wood is from trees, which gets chopped down. There are some wonderful images on this post of beautiful custom furniture from reclaimed wood. All well and good, but most people can’t afford to pay over a thousand pounds for a bed or table. So not to fear, we shall also look at more affordable options, if you are on a budget.
We may care about the rainforests. But did you know that England has lost 97% of its forests? And the government recently almost sold off the remaining ones to private industry (a David Cameron idea). Only a petition at 38 Degrees stopped it.
These pine boards from old railway stations, are made from reclaimed wood, and then handcrafted in a workshop by skilled craftsman. Supplied with copper colour pipe fitting, and given several coats of wax to bring out their beauty. All wax fixings are supplied. 108cm length or extra length for £10 more (152cm).
In 2019, Brazilian ‘forest guardian’ Paulo Paulino Guajajara was killed by armed loggers. He said before his death ‘It makes me so mad to see this forest destruction. These people think they can come here, into our home, and help themselves to our forest? No. We won’t allow it. We don’t break into their houses and rob them, do we? My blood is boiling. I’m so angry’. His life was taken at just 26 years old.
80% of Brazilian hardwood is logged illegally, with almost 200 environmental activists having been killed in 2015 alone, trying to stop this, to protect the Amazon rainforest. A few years back, the Catholic nun Dorothy Stang (who lived in the rainforests trying to protect it and tribes from illegal foresting) was shot (witnesses say she prayed for her killers, as she died).
Sustainable Flatpack Furniture?
Not as much as Rust Collections (reclaimed and handmade)
It’s getting better, but only just. Ethical Consumer says that IKEA is by far the best, but even this store has its issues. It now uses 1% of all the world’s wood yet has hardly any recycled wood items (if others can do it, why can’t they?) IKEA stores are also designed to get you lost, so you buy more than you need.
IKEA also sells leather (not nice nor eco-friendly). It sells millions of meatballs (animal cruelty – they are not from free-range farms) and the company has a history of not using its massive wealth to pay its fair share of taxes. Having said that, it does have the most sustainable wood, and less toxic fire retardants.
B & Q is next, followed by most of the other big chains offering FSC-certified wood. This just means old forests are chopped down to make way for fast-growing plantations covered in chemicals. If wood is not FSC-certified, it’s likely from tropical rainforests. Ethical Consumer’s worst choice is NEXT (they don’t score well for ethics on clothes either), so it’s surprising they are so popular, considering they are not cheap.
Custom-Made Recycled Furniture
- Rust Collections (Buckinghamshire) makes beautiful handmade furniture from reclaimed wood. Choose from beds, stools, benches and tables, all finished with natural wax, to pass down generations.
- Etsy may be more known for selling crafts and blog themes, but it has many artisans who make handmade furniture from reclaimed wood. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s far cheaper than designer furniture from reclaimed wood, and will last as long.
- Full Grown actually ‘grows chairs’ from the ground. They are birthed (like a full-grown adult from a Flann O’Brien novel) by forming the branches around frames over a few years. It’s then removed from the tree and dried.
Recycled Furniture (on a budget)
Heather Stillufsen for Etsy
Custom-made recycled furniture made by artisans is lovely. But most people can’t afford it. So what are the options, if the only ‘affordable furniture’ is from the big stores (often not good quality, not sustainable and often it costs more to get sometime to put it together for you, than to buy?!)
If using tables to display items, learn toxic houseplants to avoid near pets (including lilies, sago palm, cheese plants and bulbs). Also don’t display facing gardens, to help stop birds flying into windows.
Heather Stillufsen for Etsy
- Look up your local wood recycling organisation. This is where people donate old wood or furniture. The broken wood is turned into kindling and the good wood is often remade into custom furniture items for sale. It’s still expensive to a point (because it’s handmade). But it will last, and you are supporting the local community rather than a big company.
- End Furniture Poverty lists charities locally and nationwide that can help. This is where people donate their furniture and furnishings (mattresses and sofas must carry fire tags), and they are sold to the public at good prices. People on benefits get even more discounts, so it’s a great way to get some good furniture at a good price. In present climates, you may have to be on benefits to qualify.
- Emmaus and Reuse Network have outlets nationwide (the former gives homes and jobs to homeless people, who do up the furniture and refurbish PAT-tested white goods like fridges and freezers).
- Family Fund can offer grants to families with disabled children (say if you needed a special bed).
- Try architectural salvage yards or even the local tip. Some even have little pop-up furniture shops and you can help yourself or buy good furniture at a low price.
Consider Cardboard Furniture
Cardboard furniture is strong and lasts up to 10 years, is easy to move and can be recycled at end of use. Just be sure to keep it dry, so it’s only for indoor use. It has around the same fire safety as wooden furniture. Keep away from flammable objects, don’t smoke nearby and ensure smoke alarms are installed and tested. It takes seconds to build, then can be packed away behind a sofa (not near hot radiators) or under the bed.
It’s not so popular here yet, yet in the US, Chairigami is a reputable brand made from strong yet lightweight 3-ply corrugated cardboard: tables, desks and seating. Their cardboard sofa is just 18 pounds but can take 3 big men! It then flat packs away.
CUBIQZ (Europe) makes cardboard furniture for home staging, for sale or property developers. Much cheaper and easy to move, you can even display ‘cardboard washing machines’.
How to Make Your Own Furniture
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.