Every weekday, for just two hours in the evening, unwanted furniture and household fittings are left out on certain streets in Barcelona: antique desks, mirrors, fold-away chairs, picture frames, wardrobes, scraps of wood—it’s all there, ready to be freely taken. Some have seen a few too many years and should be left where they are, some are in need of a little attention, and some are fully-functional—stylish additions to any apartment. What appears to have been thoughtlessly tossed onto the street behind the portero’s back is, in fact, waiting to be picked up by an Ajuntament-funded van. Unless, of course, someone else gets there first.
Dia de trastos vells—Junk day—has been a feature for tenants trying to furnish a flat on the cheap for many years. Meela Harris, 24, moved to Barcelona a year ago and into an unfurnished flat in the Eixample. “I remember methodically walking the grid system of the Eixample when it was the area’s night for leaving furniture on the pavement. In three weeks, and at the cost of a few tools, sand-paper and cheap paint, I had two new tables, four chairs—which I re-upholstered—and a bunch of frames that now hang on our walls.
”The day is ingeniously organised by the Ajuntament. The set hours and nights—which are always on weekdays—allow residents to dispose of their household trash responsibly, minimising the risk of fly tipping and litter-strewn pavements. Costly removal vans hogging taxi lanes are avoided too. The day also presents the conscientious resident with an eco-friendly way of sustainably furnishing their apartment. Catalan craftsmanship isn’t wasted and another IKEA flatpack is spared.
While some unloved pieces will remain unclaimed after the van finishes its night’s work in Sants, Gràcia, or whichever area it’s sent to, many items are ripe for an amateur restorer. With faded paint tables and brushed wood bookshelves the fashion in many cafes, reclaimed furniture is not only a short route to low-cost furniture, but also consistent with popular design trends. Why buy a well-worn dining table for several hundred euros from an antique shop, when there’s one waiting for a new owner a few streets away?
“It was really difficult to find free furniture in London. You would have to spend hours on the Internet contacting people. You would sometimes get lucky and find someone moving out, but the chances were low. In Barcelona, it’s much more organised,” says Meela.
Business opportunities also abound for those with a little know-how and time. An increasing amount of the furniture on Loquo or Segundamano has been found and restored, helping consumers who want inexpensive items, and presenting the entrepreneurial with an opportunity to earn some extra income. For those wanting to improve these skills and take their hobby to the next stage, or who are looking to move into business, there are several companies that run furniture restoration workshops. Established in 2009, Millor Que Nou—Better Than New—offers monthly classes on how to repair furniture and use specialist tools. Their website also has lots of information on how to fix things that you find on the road or at flea markets. (see box on opposite page).
With copper at $3.10 a pound, and unemployment at around 24 percent in Barcelona, you won’t be the only person strategically searching the streets. Scrap metal is highly sought after and many of the cabinets and appliances that are thrown out are plundered for their valuable materials.
Collectors need to be careful of what may lurk inside discarded furniture, especially pieces made of wood. Martin Kelly, who moved to Barcelona last year, took home a small mahogany bedside table only to find it had termites. “We found a small mound of sawdust by one of the legs a week or so after adding it to the flat. I did try to treat it, but I didn’t want the termites spreading, so we got rid of it.
”The day has been unofficially named by one fan as ‘Magic Tuesday’. Laura Hesse, based in Plaça Universitat, had particular luck recently. “I had been looking for a sofa bed for a year and a half and recently found one but couldn’t get hold of my friends to help me. So I offered people five euros to help me carry it two blocks back to my house. I eventually enlisted a Russian guy who didn’t speak Spanish or English. I didn’t think he quite understood what I wanted, but he helped nonetheless. He wouldn’t accept any money and seemed quite happy to have helped.
”Not everything is eligible for collection. On its website the council stresses that debris and anything sanitary or associated with the construction of a house is prohibited. However, people interpret this last definition broadly. You won’t find many bricks or tiles but a large wooden door is a common item—a potential kitchen table if you add some cheap metal legs from eBay.
What you can get your hands on often depends on how many blocks you can carry what you’ve found. Searching in pairs can be helpful. So, if you’re updating your flat or moving into a new one, take to the streets of your neighbourhood, on the designated night, between 8pm and 10pm, and save yourself a few hundred euros. In Barcelona, on the night of Día de trastos vells, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
BETTER THAN NEW
The Millor Que Nou campaign was launched by the Ajuntament to spread the message that “New is not better than old” and to encourage recycling and repairing. Run by the Entitat Metropolitana de Medi Ambient (EMA) the campaign is part of the environment department’s activities to reduce waste in the city. Their website provides a wealth of resources, from second-hand shops and fairs to professionals who can fix or transform your new-found treasures. For the handy, they also hold workshops that will have you eyeing the objects left by the bins in a new light. These workshops take place in the mornings and afternoons, and usually last two-and-a-half hours. They can teach a plethora of new skills, from repairing an umbrella or bicycle or fixing an old toaster to making jewellery from old tyres or restoring a chest of drawers.
Sepúlveda 47 Tel. 93 424 2871 www.millorquenou.cat