I have six email addresses that I check regularly. I manage three for work. I have one for personal notes and gossip, and a fifth account that has newsletters and discount codes.
The latest inbox is my favorite: it’s relatively new and godly tidy. This inbox is a furniture hotline from all over the world. Almost all of the posts include a link to a digital classified ad, and they all contain the same request: Can you help me sell this?
I’m making a meal sorting out this inbox. I note the price and location of each room, then I weigh its condition against the general atmosphere. When a song is not to my liking, I send a little “Thank you”, then I move on. Sometimes my face gets hot when someone sends me a really good deal, a steal, a once in a lifetime list, so I save the photos, log into Twitter, and share them with the world.
But I am not a real furniture dealer for lack of space, time, money and a valid driver’s license. I have a small collection of used parts, for my own use. When I moved, I took so few things with me that it took the movers longer to park than it took to unload their truck. As I stood in my living room, I counted down what I had (almost nothing) and what I needed (almost everything). With seemingly endless winter lockdown in front of me, I got into the habit of buying furniture online to pass the time.
I was not alone: ââFurniture retailers have had record sales since the start of the pandemic. Dunelm noted an increase of almost 60% when reopening its UK outlets after the first lockdown. Made.com was so successful that it rewarded most of its staff with a stock option bonus worth over Â£ 10,000 apiece last Christmas. Even giant Ikea gave in to supply chain pressure as online orders nearly doubled.
The decorating boom has hit second-hand markets as well: furniture resales are expected to grow into a $ 16.6 billion industry in the United States by 2025. Business magazine Fast Company reported this year that this which was once a cottage industry is now an increasingly profitable exercise in branding, with individuals organizing used furniture collections online. Over the past year or so, I have become one of those people.
I have my favorite sites: Gumtree for the UK, eBay Kleinanzeigen in Germany, leboncoin in France and Facebook Marketplace for the rest. I check for new listings throughout the day. When I first moved into my apartment I was buying what I could find reasonably priced: a set of two lacquered bamboo side tables with smoked glass plates, a German sideboard from the 1970s with a glass display case for stemmed glasses, an imposing cabinet from an era in the 1960s that had been restored by an apprentice carpenter, a gold-plated bar cart from a woman whose husband had more than a few tattoos Who raised their eyebrows.
What I can’t keep to myself I share on Twitter. At first I developed a small following on my personal account, where I posted Cleopatra day beds, vintage Ikea chairs, space age pendant lights and G Plan shelving. The posts were popular: my friend Romy bought a huge pub-style corner bench; a stranger sent me a thank you message for his new bedside table; another stopped me in the street to ask me: “Are you that type of furniture?” “
My search radius widened as the pent-up pandemic urge to travel kicked in, and I found myself evaluating Gumtree in Manchester and Facebook Marketplace in New Orleans as if the lists were white sand resorts. In London, I found a shelf for my friend Imogen, who patiently waited for the end of the fuel crisis this fall to be delivered. Teak proved to be popular, as did the Memphis-style 80s Ikea designs and lamps from former East Germany.
Soon, I annexed the furniture posts to their own Twitter account, named Furniture For All, which gained 1,000 followers in the first few hours. Over 3,500 people are now following the account – from Berlin (where I live), London (where there is no shortage of bargains at low prices), as well as North America and all of Europe.
I don’t make any money with these posts. Half the thrill of second-hand shopping is the rush that accompanies a winning bid on undervalued jewelry. The other half is the somewhat shameful joy of digging into other people’s affairs. After staring at the same Kallax shelving unit all day for two years, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to poke around in someone else’s living room?
There are plenty of professional showrooms and dealers who are looking to classified ads like Facebook Marketplace to sell their wares, alongside parents who are finally cleaning their grown-up children’s rooms. My research reminds me that surprises can be fun or exciting – or at least well designed and in pristine condition.
On a recent trip to Ikea, I was struck by the prices (way higher than I remember) and the number of products (way more than I thought possible). The store was packed and the boxes stacked precariously like dishes in the sink of a student house. What people paid for was the convenience of choosing from numerous iterations of about three dozen base models.
Buying used furniture online doesn’t work like that. The market is irregular and the best deals are often hidden under misspelled keywords or anarchic category tags. But it’s also broad and global: it’s never about whether you will find what you want, but when.
While buying flatbed furniture can be quick and painless, finding a second-hand piece for pennies is worth the wait: when you place an aging oak side table between two armchairs or set up a Art Deco shade around the large kitchen light, you think, âThis is exactly what I wanted. “