Green DIY: Refurbishing vintage furniture

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My husband and I recently installed new floors in our house, long overdue and well received as they greatly improved the look of our 1953, 900 square foot home (the original oak flooring was, unfortunately, too far gone to save).

The problem? Our beautiful, shiny new floors now highlight just how crappy our furniture is. The motley collection of hand-me-downs and dumpster scores that were acquired more for function than for good looks now made our home look like the Delta Tau Chi frat house, albeit with really nice flooring. In fact, the only piece of new furniture that my husband and I have purchased is our bed, and that was over three years ago. With great determination and very little cash I set out to find a way to furnish my small mid-century home that accommodates my budget, and that appeals to both my personal taste and my desire to be eco-friendly.

I have never been a fanatic for antiques, particularly, or much of an interior decorator, but one thing I have always wanted is a huge, solid wood dining room table. Being chefs by trade, my husband and I love to feed large gatherings of friends and family in our home. While we've always managed somehow to accommodate everyone, we've had to break people into groups - some sitting in the kitchen, some in the living room, us standing at the counter - not conducive to meal-time conversation and socializing.

I found my first 'treasure' on Craig's List - a 1940's Duncan Phyfe -style mahogany table. The genius of this table is in the design - it has two drop leaves and two removable leaves. Folded up it takes up next to no space, and fully extended it seats 10 comfortably, solving the problem of needing to store a large table in a small house.With six chairs and a sideboard it cost us a whopping $100.  While not it perfect condition, a little TLC brought forth it's historic beauty.

Not wanting to disturb it's patina I didn't bother to sand, strip, stain or otherwise torture the table. Instead I used a product called Howard Restor-A-Finish which cleaned it up nicely, removing minor surface scratches and water marks. The claw feet caps are brass, and after a good soaking in a solution of salt and white vinegar (and a little elbow grease) they shined up beautifully.

With my fire for vintage decor ignited I started scouring estate sales and Craig's List. Along with some Goodwill chotchkies like a 1950's crackle glass table lamp ($6) and a beautiful antique green glass vase ($2) my next "score" was at The Restore on Hillsborough Avenue. This resale shop salvages items from tear-down or restored homes with the profits going to Habitat For Humanity. Talk about a win-win situation! In addition to furniture The Restore sells plumbing fixtures, hardware, doors, windows, cabinets, lighting fixtures and other miscellaneous housewares. I purchased an antique mahogany bedside table for $35 and the nice gentleman that works there told me that the table had only just been dropped off that day - timing is everything, right? He also gave me an insider's tip - most people drop off unwanted items on Saturdays, so if you want a good selection, it's the best day to shop.

With a little internet research and perseverance, you can find a style that suits your taste and a price range for reasonably priced unrefurbished vintage furniture. Not into do-it-yourself projects? There are many resale stores in the Tampa Bay area, such as Sherry's YesterDaze in Seminole Heights, that sell vintage furniture, often already fixed up and ready to go.

There is a profound satisfaction is this type of treasure hunting. Not only do you find yourself stumbling upon unique, inexpensive items that seem made just for you, but you are doing your part to recycle perfectly functional if not beautiful furniture. If you've been itching to redecorate your home this is the perfect excuse.

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