How To Buy Sustainable Furniture For Your Home With May & Co
When 22 million pieces of furniture are discarded each year in the UK*, and the majority of this is sent directly to landfill, it is not just fast fashion we need to be concerned about but fast furniture too.
This scary fact is what Amy and Martin of May + Co are trying, in a small way, to address over in east Oxford. They are long time advocates of the reuse and recycle revolution and want to help show people that there is still a future for pieces that might otherwise look like they’ve had their day.
With a winning combination of finding well‐made, typically 20th Century pieces, that in some cases have been found in the back of old barns or on the side of the road, they are bringing them back to what they once were through restoration and refinishing. Like this early 20th Century solid oak and pine cabinet, made by the Educational Supply Association Ltd. in Holborn, London, which was discovered in the back of a stable. After being fully hand stripped, repaired, and refinished it is now ready for a new chapter.
Trying to live a more sustainable, eco‐friendly life can often feel quite overwhelming when there is so much to consider. From fashion to food, beauty to travel, it touches all corners of our world, and your home is just one of them.
Avoiding pieces being unnecessarily sent to landfill, or buying new furniture made out of virgin wood or MDF, using materials that can be toxic to your environment are all things to consider when you are buying for your home. And on top of all that you don’t want to lose your style.
So one of the easiest and greenest ways is to choose second‐hand furniture. Whether that is something that was made 5 years ago or an antique, making this choice is a great first step.
If you want to take it a step further looking closer at how pieces are made, is a good indication to seeing if it has many more years left in it. A piece from 5 years ago could be made using MDF with toxic chemicals and is heavily glued and not built to last. So to find a piece that has longevity then stepping back a bit further through the years is often the answer. Back to when solid wood was used as standard, as opposed to MDF, when dovetails joints were the norm rather than gluing.
Like this stylish mid‐century desk by Hamptons of Kensington from c1960, which is made using solid teak. After being fully hand stripped and carefully cabinet scraped it was refinished to reveal the rich teak tone.
You might simply just want to paint up an old piece and give it a fresh look but one of the key differences about May + Co, compared to some other vintage sellers, are they will only ever restore pieces, taking them back to what they once were, and will never paint a piece.
This 1950’s tallboy, made after the war by the Utility Furniture Advisory Committee, was found locally covered in thick layer of pink paint, covering another thick layer of blue paint. After being fully hand stripped and having replacement handles, it was finally back to its original state and ready for many more years.
And what is often disguised under dark varnish, or heavy stain, can be a beautiful wood, which is perhaps more to your taste. Like this solid oak pew that came from a local church and looked very dark and dated. But after a lot of hand stripping a beautiful warm tone was revealed, and this has now made its way to a local couple in their eco‐home, which is perhaps the perfect ending.
So by choosing to buy second hand, restored furniture you will be:
• helping to save forests by decreasing demand for virgin lumber
• protecting the life‐cycle of many animals and plants that are reliant on forested areas
• reducing unnecessary landfill, and the methane gases that are produced from the materials not fully decomposing
• reducing carbon emissions from pieces being sent to a landfill far away or from new pieces being made and delivered to you, and if you buy local then that is an even bigger reduction
• preventing toxic chemicals, used to produce a lot of modern furniture, in your home
Here’s a final reminder of how beautiful a piece can look after being restored. This solid pine chemist cabinet, a slightly earlier piece from the late 19th Century, was fully hand stripped back to its original wood, repaired and refinished, and ready for many more years of use.
*As per The North London Waste Authority’s report 2018