Score Free Designer Furniture This Fall (Yes, Really)
by Kevin Heintz
Around UCLA, fall can be nerve-wracking. Each new school year starts in late September or early October. This chaotic time of new classes and graduated students offers the best overlooked surprises when millennials throw out masses of furniture as they move in or out of the area. Unbelievable décor finds await within these piles. I used to get overwhelmed by all the good things at the curb just waiting for someone to come along and strike gold. In and around the UCLA campus (which includes Bel-Air), I have found my most stunning furnishings.
Picking treasures from trash requires a trained eye. One must look past the dust and condition of an object to see its potential. After I find and clean a piece of furniture, my guests usually never believe me when I reveal that “I found this cabinet on the street” or “that table was in an alley behind a dumpster.” Elizabeth Gibson of Manhattan obviously has a well-trained eye. According to the well-reported story, in 2003, she found a painting in a tacky frame in a pile of New York City street trash. She brought it home, soon learning that she had found a long-lost work by Rufino Tamayo, appraised at $1 million. Obviously the monetary value of her find is rare, but with the right eye, anyone can make designer-quality finds.
I found my first big score when my fraternity house was being demolished six years ago. When I learned of the demolition, I immediately claimed and carried off my relic: a cement pineapple finial circa the 1930’s. It originally punctuated the end of an outdoor staircase. Even while it lay dirty and forgotten, I saw that it would be an incredibly versatile piece. Now, it looks at home with my 18th century decor just as it would on a glass coffee table in a contemporary space.
The piece is technically architectural salvage, which simply put, is the moldings, hardware, and masonry saved from old buildings. There is something intriguing about having a decorative sculpture from a building that no longer exists. Because of its architectural importance, my instinct told me it needed something special. I attached some pastel suede around a wooden block on which I elevated the finial. Resting on the covered block, it takes on a museum-worthy air.
Ironically, outside the site where my fraternity house once stood, I more recently discovered my second favorite find during the infamous fall move-out season. Driving on the dark street that September night, I could not believe what I saw. Hitting the brakes and backing up to get another look, I got very excited. Even in the light of my headlights, the 18th century-style chinoiserie bureau looked grand with its beautiful gold and black hand-painted designs. Cleaned up, properly placed, and accessorized, it has quite a regal presence in my home. It is also (quite appropriately) the stand for my pineapple finial. Its utility is impressive, as its large sculpted drawers are abundantly roomy for my art and craft supplies.
Sure, struggling for 30 minutes to fit the bureau into my car was a hassle. Lugging the fifty-pound concrete finial down the street and up to my apartment was sweat-inducing. Spotting the finds can be the easy part, but logistics and elbow grease are also needed to get pieces home. When I found my current dining table, I had to wait at the curb and phone a friend to come help me. When I go to the UCLA area in the fall, I always have blankets and rags in my car to help clean and escort any treasures I might find. This is the season when, in the hills of Westwood, beautiful goods can be acquired for free. I am still amazed with the furnishings I have discovered. I may never make a million dollar find like Gibson, but I'm always on the lookout.