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Antique and Vintage Furniture
Recycled, Eco-Friendly and Green
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
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
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.