by Grace Pattison
I recently moved into an unfurnished flat in Kensal Rise. My boyfriend and I, living together for the first time, had few belongings between us and managed the move in just three runs of the trusty Cinquecento.
With money already tight from scraping together a deposit, four weeks rent, bills etc… I was then promptly made redundant. Or, well and truly “credit-crunched” as my friend Stu put it. We realised the novelty of ‘camping’ in our flat with a mattress and two folding chairs to sit on would soon wear off, but were reluctant to shell out on new furniture with Christmas festivities far more worthy of our spare pennies.
However, amazingly in just six weeks we have managed to acquire more furniture than we can actually fit into the flat and are now making ourselves comfortable on our our second sofa. How? By salvaging items discarded by local residents. Whether by luck or the fact that we’d just never noticed before, it appears the streets really can provide if you know where to look.
It all began one night as we walked home after a night out. There at 2am by the side of Harrow Road sat a fabulously retro 1950s phone seat - a sort of sideboard / chair combo compete with a memory board on which to write numbers. Near perfect condition, the slightly grubby velvet cover replaced, now it's as good as new. There began our series of great finds. Next came a comfy armchair, albeit in a garish orange homemade cover, which we ripped off to reveal its original beautiful shot silk upholstery. A 1950s kitchen table was re-sprayed and its legs chopped to make a stylish coffee table. A mahogany wardrobe dumped in the street was soon gracing our hallway, as was a huge IKEA mirror, which I lugged home one day, helped by a friendly passerby.
Around the second week, we came across an old brown velvet sofa, so we dragged that up the stairs. That has now been replaced with an even better find - a cream leather corner sofa dumped outside a recently emptied house.Admittedly it needed a good wipe down, but now looks pristine. We put the old one back outside and it was gone in two days.
This is true recycling! It's accepted around here that if you leave something outside your house it's there for the taking. My next-door neighbour sometimes lines up shoes and clothes on her front wall. They never stay there for long. The other day I found a set of four kitsch chicken-shaped eggcups on a front wall, and our dinner plates are 1974 NHS plates, intercepted as their previous owner was putting them out with the rubbish. I’ve seen TVs and other electrical items with taped on signs: “it works!”, as well as three piece suites, shelves, a rocking chair, bed frames, lamps and footstools.
Many older items were built well and last much longer than the cheap mass produced pieces around today. Dealers have long been savvy to this and chic ‘salvage’ shops are springing up everywhere selling the same ‘vintage’ items for extortionate prices. But why line their pockets when a creative eye and a bit of elbow grease is all that’s needed to find and fix up antiques that people no longer want, after all, one person’s trash is another’s person’s treasure. Before you know it you’ll have an individual home, far more stylish than the look-alike IKEA filled rooms of most first-time renters, and a eco-friendly conscience to boot.
© GRACE PATTISON