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An Experiment in Rescuing Furniture

Refinishing is a fantastic hobby, but unless you turn it into a business, you end up with a house crammed full of furniture. Or so I thought.

My father taught me how to refinish furniture years ago, but work, travel, marriage and kids left me little time. In an effort to restart this sorely missed hobby, I came up with an idea: what if I chose unwanted pieces (good for the environment), refinished them (good for me) and then donated the finished products to charity (good for the nonprofit)? It seemed like a true win-win-win situation, but I wasn’t sure if or exactly how it would work. So I turned it into an experiment.

Focusing first on budget, I told myself that I would not buy any furniture—I already had a habit of snagging items left on the curb and was confident that trash day would provide plenty of projects. I also knew I could scour my hardware store for “oops” paint (usually $2) and grab supplies from those cleaning out their garage. For my beneficiary, I decided on the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Leesburg, Virginia, knowing that if my pieces sold, they would benefit.

In October of 2019, I named my initiative Finished for Good, put up a Facebook page and began transforming and donating furniture.

As word about my little project spread, I soon developed a core group of spotters who would text me when they found furniture left on the curb. Friends started tagging me in free Facebook listings. Even my family has gotten into it with both of my girls screaming, “Stop the car!” one day as we passed some discarded chairs.

My garage workshop quickly filled, and I began receiving furniture from a variety of sources. A landlord gave me three pieces which had been trashed by her tenants. A professional organizer offered pieces she needed to purge. A couple contacted me after they sanded half of their dining table but were unable to finish.

I surprisingly received several antiques in need of care. Their owners knew they could not be donated as-is, but they couldn’t bear to throw them out either. Reviving those pieces has been very fulfilling for me.

So, after two years, did my experiment work? In a way, yes, it did.

  • So far, I have finished and donated 50 pieces, totaling 509 cubic feet. Two more are in process and eleven more are awaiting transformation.

  • Saving big and bulky items from the trash is immensely satisfying, the physical work and creativity are welcome outlets from a day job where I mainly sit at a desk.

  • To date, everything donated to my local ReStore has sold which enables them to continue their mission in our area.

But for my experiment to truly be a success, the concept needs to grow. Off the Curb is doing a fantastic job in Pittsburgh working to spread awareness. I’m trying my best in Loudoun County Virginia. But it takes more than just us.

Furniture is the least recycled household item, but we, meaning all of us can change that. Off the Curb’s Four Stages of Furniture Waste Reduction is a great place to start. Here are a few other ideas:

  • Spread the word. Non-profits like Off the Curb always need donations, but they also need awareness. Could you share their mission in addition to donating?

  • Think about how you buy. Cheap, modern furniture is rarely solid wood, and it rarely lasts. One bump with the vacuum, and it’s dented and usually unfixable.

  • Try it, I dare you. I challenge you to take ONE unwanted piece and transform it into something new again. Keep it, sell it, or donate it. There are tons of online resources and inspiration, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. You just might like the process.

Rediscovering my love for refinishing furniture has been a true gift to me, especially during the stressful events of the last few years. The fact that it can also benefit the environment AND a local charity make it even more rewarding.


Read on for a look at Aimee's past projects ...

A friend spotted “Hope” on the curb on trash day. She had lots of scratches and some missing veneer, but with filling and paint, she is now looking a bit happier.

I named this donation Jackson. I kept it as a children’s table but stained the legs and topped it with chalkboard paint.

George was a beautiful antique washstand but missing his marble top. While my budget couldn’t provide an exact replacement, I did cut the top from an old dresser which had been damaged by water and was otherwise unsalvageable.

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