On a Sunday morning at a refurbished furniture center in Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖), Chen Jui-ling (陳瑞玲) carefully studies a row of wooden chairs and writes down the prices as she walks around the exhibition room, which is bursting at the seams with furniture and bargain-seekers.
She lays eyes on a cypress cabinet and four chairs, and eventually takes them home for NT$8,000 during an auction, a bargain she says was worth the effort following several trips to stores in search of furniture for her new home.
“The furniture I purchased today is about 50 percent off the market price. It’s such a quality bargain because they are in good condition — and they’re eco-friendly,” she said.
The bargain prices and high-quality refurbished furniture offered by Taipei City’s Department of Environmental Protection have attracted an increasing number of people like Chen to Neihu and two other furniture exhibition centers in the city’s Wanhua (萬華) and Wenshan (文山) districts.
The department initiated the refurbished furniture program in 2002 in the wake of Typhoon Nari, in which flood-damaged furniture piled up at dump sites around the city. It opened a factory in Muzha to restore abandoned and damaged furniture and put them in the three display centers for auction.
Aside from furniture — from chairs, dining tables and cabinets to desks and sofas — the department also fixes broken bicycles and puts them for sale at the exhibition centers.
Chen Yu-cheng (陳玉成), director of the department’s recycling team, said the majority of refurbished furniture comes from items abandoned at dump sites, while some are collected from government agencies or public schools that are replacing old furniture. Rather than throw the large pieces of furniture into waste incinerators, the team sifts through the broken pieces for items that can be fixed by artisans.
“A lot of abandoned furniture can actually be fixed. Restoring it not only helps the city cut costs from garbage processing, but it also gives discarded items a second life. The program creates a win-win situation for customers and the environment,” he said.
Wu Sheng-chung (吳聖忠), commissioner of the department, said the popularity of refurbished furniture centers has grown alongside environmental protection awareness.
The city has sold a total of 64,856 pieces of furniture for more than NT$50 million (US$ 1.7 million) since 2002. Last year, the department sold 12,000 pieces of furniture for more than NT$10 million.
In addition to restoring furniture, artisans sometimes use their spare time to fashion chairs, tables and cabinets out of bicycle wheels, broken inscribed boards and wooden cutting boards.
Fifty-eight-year-old Chou Jung-he (周榮和), for example, recently made a pair of Japanese-style wooden clogs with straps made from abandoned election campaign flags he collected after the special municipality elections in November.
The straps made with the campaign flags, Chou said, are firmer and easier to clean than ones made using ordinary fabric.
Creativity has its biggest appeal when it comes to shoes and many shoppers inquired about their price after they were put on display at the center.
His creative work also includes a long bench made of pieces of cypress left at a construction site and a traditional washbasin made from abandoned logs. Removing all the nails and polishing the wood surface took him about a week.