by Ken Melchert
Living with antique and vintage furniture has a
very positive effect on the environment - recycling treasures
from the past for our lifestyle today not only saves landfill
space but also has many other positive “green” effects on our
Recycling vintage furniture saves trees, and breathes new life into beautiful old wood. Much of the finest old growth hardwood has already been cut down, and made into furniture years ago. Refurbishing these irreplaceable pieces substitutes for further decimating of more prime mature hardwood trees in endangered forests.
Most new furniture contains particle board. The powerful synthetic glues that bind the sawdust into man-made “wood” release formaldehyde and other chemical vapors into the air we breathe in our homes and offices for years.
Recent advances in varnish stripping chemicals have resulted in finish removal methods that are vastly safer and gentler. Many antiques are refinished using water based finishes, much better for the environment than traditional petroleum based lacquers and solvents, many shown to contain carcinogens. This also makes for healthier working conditions for refinishers.
“Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern. One is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly.” noted Oscar Wilde. In addition to the charm and beauty of old furniture, antiques are often much less expensive than new. Another benefit is the positive feeling that accompanies helping the environment. The same satisfaction that comes from rehabbing old buildings comes with adapting an antique piece to today's lifestyle.
“The first half of our lives is ruined by our parents, and the second half by our children,” said Clarence Darrow. Nevertheless, it is a good feeling to know that your antique furniture can someday be restored and reused by future generations. It is a pleasure to see historic things serve us in our daily lives, reflecting the times and lives of their previous owners, and knowing that they will survive to brighten the lives of other people in the future. This is the real meaning of heirlooms, and the recycling aspect is becoming critical to preserve life as we know it on our fragile earth.
Discussion and controversy over what to do about pollution and global warming will continue, but enjoying and living with antiques is a simple and positive ecological decision. As Friedrich Engels said, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”
Author Ken Melchert has taught Art History for many years. Since 1985, Ken and his wife Rebecca have operated the Harp Gallery Antiques in Appleton, WI.