Reuse and refresh for Earth Day

According to the EPA, Americans generate about 12 million tons of furniture waste annually, and roughly 80 percent of it ends up in a landfill. With Earth Day around the corner, it’s a great time to look at ways to reuse, recycle and upcycle furniture and decor.

Interior designers and other experts share thoughts on ways to see older furniture and previously used items a little differently. It’s a good move for the environment, and with some creativity, you can invite new fun aesthetic touches into your living spaces, too.

Estate sales, antiques

Those clean, crisp contemporary interior design elements that have been popular for more than a decade aren’t really going away any time soon; however, now more homeowners are open to transitional design concepts as well. This allows for classic or vintage touches in the home to warm up spaces with neutral color backdrops and furnishings and decor that blends generations and styles.

Natasha Pace, the owner of Silver Lining Estate Sales, said estate sales are full of items that can be reused to freshen up a space in your home. At the same time, when you buy and use something from an estate sale, you extend the life of a piece that has had a purpose for someone else in the past.

“It’s almost as if someone is walking out the door and handing you the keys to their life,” Pace said.

The estate sale expert said people often seek out unique or classic furniture pieces but also everyday things like kitchen pots, pans, knife sets and cutlery, and even tools. Some tools are sought for use, but others like them for interior decor as well.

“Some like to call them ‘man-tiques,’ where they use things like old carpenter’s tools, planers, routers and even fishing gear, which is always popular, as accent pieces,” said Leslie Bell, owner of Silver Horse Antiques in Las Vegas.

Crafters also frequent estate sales, Pace said. “Some will buy old blankets and they’ll reupholster a futon or another piece of furniture with it. All you really need is a staple gun and you can reupholster something.”

In the past, large, wood antique furniture was usually deemed not sellable, according to Pace, but today older pieces are making a comeback, The buyers are younger, too, and along with the furniture, they’re also interested in CDs, VHS tapes and vinyl records as fun retro accents in the home.

Bell said French cottagecore furniture has always been in style, even in contemporary homes today. Its soft pastels, pinks and blues integrate well into all types of interiors, she added. Many vintage furnishings are great touches for small areas, too.

“People may not want them for the whole house, but they might look for that Victorian or vintage Asian sofa or chair for their foyer because it’s eye-popping.”

She also said Las Vegas is a great place to find hotel furniture pieces that hit the secondary market and can be re-upholstered or remade in some other way. “We probably have more used furniture in this town per capita than any other city in the nation,” she added.

Letting your creativity run wild

Home design experts say there’s no creative limit to rethinking used items in the home, regardless of their size and previous use. Kate Diaz is an interior designer and co-founder of Swanky Den, which researches and recommends products for the home. She offers a few creative suggestions, such as:

Repurpose an old door as a headboard for your bed.

Reimagine an old coffee table into an ottoman.

Simply use mason jars as vases for flowers.

Karen Aronian, the founder of Aronian Education Design, who gives guidance to families on how to create spaces in the home that are fun and educational for kids, offers these suggestions:

Repurpose plastic salad containers to categorize and store small toys and art supplies.

Reuse outgrown kids’ tables and desks as a base for fish tanks and pet terrariums.

Reuse overworn sheets for picnics and for kid’s craft tarps.

“Another great use for an old sheet is as a pet-proofing cover for beds and furniture. (It) keeps your comforter and pillows free of pet hair, dirt and their chew toys,” she said.

Stefan Bucur, co-founder of the interior design website, doesn’t mind getting creative with newer pieces of furniture as well. He described how you can upcycle Ikea’s minimal, modern four-cube storage piece, the Kallax, into a bar cart or coffee station.

“Add casters to the base to make it moveable. Casters with a gold accent will look amazing with the white or black storage piece,” he said. “Add door pulls to the top of the unit … these can be used as handles to move the cart around and to keep the things on the top from falling off. … Add a plant for a little greenery and some of your favorite decor pieces.”

Brad Holden, an editor for Family Handyman, also suggests an “old beyond-repair piano can be converted into a desk. Remove the keys, hammers and harp and add a work surface,” in addition to other practical, fun tips like:

Using old kitchen cabinets in the garage.

Creating an herb garden with soup cans.

Separating an antique suitcase into two halves and adding cushions for a pet bed.

Sometimes, it’s the small touches that can make all the difference, too. Amy Stansfield, who explores interior design subjects for, said any wood furniture piece can be updated with chalk paint for a “shabby chic effect.” Changing out drawer handles and doorknobs on wardrobes and tables is another way to refresh furniture, and she also said creating a gallery wall with older or unused items that speak to your personal style is a popular way to use what you have or breathe new life into something you may find at a second-hand store.

Regardless of how you choose to honor Earth Day, keep in mind that a little creativity will not only give our landfills a breather, it also keeps precious dollars in your pocket as well.