Trash Into Treasure: 5 True Stories


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You’ve probably heard stories about folks who found hidden treasures in their attics or while visiting a local garage sale, but can you really stumble on something special in someone’s else trash?  To find out, MainStreet asked some people to share their stories of the best “junk” they ever found. Read on to find out what you could potentially score curbside.

House of Treasures

An avid dumpster diver who specializes in refurbishing furniture, Jonathan Steele has filled his Pennsylvania home with all sorts of secondhand treasures.

“A 15-lite door going to my drawing room was in the trash,” he tells MainStreet. “Go into the bathroom and you will find an oak commode made into a sink cabinet base. It was actually in an old trailer in an auto junk yard. The owner said I could have it.” 

You can see the aforementioned door, discovered in Connecticut, along with a small table Steele found recently in Pennsylvania – “I do not really like it but we are trying it on for size,” he admits – and  art gear mirrors in the picture to the above. 

Globe Picker

Deb Haupt started dumpster-diving at a very young age when life in a six-story apartment building gave her a good idea of what people were willing to just throw away. As she got older, she cast a wider net, travelling to different cities in Europe to attend “curbside sales.” 

“I was enthralled when I found out people would put things out on the curb once a year and it was all free,” she tells MainStreet.  The bar, pictured left, is one of her favorite finds from these European excursions, though Haupt has also netted an old radio from the 1920s and an antique mirror overseas.

The owner of a vintage clothing and antique shop in Minnesota, Haupt has also gone curbside shopping in the suburbs near her hometown. One of her better finds stateside include a 1920s upright piano that sold for $250.

“I have picked up old fencing, windows and screens and created amazing tables, chandeliers and pot racks,” Haupt says. “Nothing makes me happier than keeping things out of the landfill.”

The Accidental Collector

JaLeen Deardurff was helping a relative move when her grandmother realized that they should check the house’s crawlspace before leaving the premises. Deardurff’s husband bravely ventured below and discovered the remnants of a dismantled antique plow.  Intrigued, they carted the pieces to their own nearby home.

“After studying all the pieces for an hour or so, my husband figured it out and put it together, and it now is part of my yardscape,” Deardurff says.

You can see the finished pictured above, still serving as an adornment in the Deardurffs’ backyard.

Alley Art

Denver resident and avid bargain hunter Jim Hurrell was searching through alleyways in his native Denver when he stumbled on an old 5-foot door, pictured below, that he says “was just waiting to be picked.”

More decorative than functional, the door is now on display in Hurrell’s boutique in Denver’s Mile High Marketplace (formerly the Mile High Flea Market), but it’s not exactly on sale.

“It’s such a find that we really don’t want to sell it,” he admits. He has been willing to part with some of his other secondhead steals, though, including "four very unappealing" 1970s-era high back chairs that he refurbished with a few coats of glossy black paint and an old grandfather clock that was reconditioned with Murphy’s oil.


Down in the dumps

New York resident Robin Wallace has found many great dumpster finds over the years, including a 1950s teal brocade swivel arm chair and a vintage folk jelly cabinet/bookshelf, but her favorite is this china Cabinet, pictured above, she discovered on a curb in Salisbury, Md.

“It was a curb pick-up, but in reality it was more of a dump pick-up because the trash was everywhere and so was the stench,” she says, explaining that the piece was lying in the middle of some junk a landlord was throwing away after evicting a tenant. Missing one of its drawers and requiring ample scrubbing after its time in the trash heap, Wallace never regretted its rescue.

“I was looking for a piece to complete my dining room at that time,” she recalls. “In my mind's eye, I had a vision for a long but only chair-high cupboard for ‘fancy’ storage. This piece literally was the perfect match for everything I had imagined. Now, it stores my table linens in the drawer, my extra bed linens on the top shelf and my son's DVDs on the lower shelf.”

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