What some people treasure and wouldn’t part with in the world means nothing –  even to immediate members of the family

You see it all the time.

I always had a great interest in people’s homes. I used to work for a removal firm as a porter and saw a bit of an opening. You just pick it up as you go along, in and out of auctions.

When you have an interest you learn quicker.

Obviously when you are trying to pay a mortgage, with 3 kids, you learn in a hurry.

antique table and chairs

Antiques will always sell themselves.

There’s always people out there who like good antique furniture.

There’s always a place for it and you would never have any trouble selling it. It’s not something I would buy very often because usually quality stuff tends to stay in the family circle.

G Plan… any Danish chairs.. tables always have a good value and will always sell because they are easily incorporated in the modern home.

Tall 5ft Victorian mirrors.. a nice occasional table.. mid-century furniture.. the demand has dropped recently. In this country we didn’t really pick it up as much as in England.

old irish dresser with crockery

People think that reproduction furniture is only a thing of the last 20 years. 

But 100 years ago they were reproducing furniture that had been made 100 years prior to that.

You get a lot of nice Georgian chest of drawers and things like that which have been changed  to look more like Edwardian style, or whatever. People take the knob handles, off etc. You can see where they have been changed.

Normally I would value the furniture for what I would deem to be the re-sale value.

I’m not saying that’s all the value of it. I would say to people: in my opinion you would struggle to sell it in an auction or private market. I’m not saying there’s not someone who would want it.

You have to be careful how you word it.

People say: But that’s insured for £2200! They have all the insurance paper work for it:  Georgian chest of drawers, bracket feet, 1790. But it only goes for £80 in an auction.

Some you win. Some you lose. Because that’s just the way it is. 

It all depends on the night. It just takes one person to buy it  – and two  to bid on it to push the price up.

empty room house clearance

I do house clearances and don’t mind taking a whole house of rubbish.

We did one locally to here:  5 skip loads from the one house. Just because someone had collected a lot of stuff over the years.

I wouldn’t knock anyone for that. Everyone is different. You don’t know people’s circumstances.

It’s no-one’s place to judge another but that some houses you go to can see the people need help: it’s not right the way they live.

You see people who have a loss in their life. They get a bit withdrawn and don’t want to use their own bins.

Some jobs  are very sad. There are times when I can’t even fit in the front door simply because people have collected so much stuff.

You just have to start at the beginning and work at it. If you stood back to look at it for too long you wouldn’t get it done.

Other times you see people who are very apologetic because they have to use your services.

Are you sure? It’s not too late to back out. Be aware this place is a horrendous mess.

You are going to work all psyched up, what are we in for? When you open the door you think: where is this mess? It could all go in six black bags.

But to some people that’s horrendous.

treasure  - crystal decanter and glasses

I think the younger generation don’t have the same desire to hold on to personal effects.

You may be working with a deceased’s estate where  the grandson has been left the property. He just wants it cleared. End of story.

He wants all of it in the skip.

I’ve offered to buy goods off people but they want them destroyed.

They set the oil paintings up against the skip and pushed their foot through them –  just to make sure.

When you work for people and provide a service they are your client. So you are at their service and  have to respectful of their property – even if its property at the end of its life.

Sometimes when you see people who specifically want things destroyed you question why they are doing it.

Maybe it’s because they are just going to sell it off. Or they didn’t have good relationship… or perhaps they didn’t know them, and were just part of the extended family.

A  beach scene by the artist Sam Mc Larnon at the height of his career… it would maybe fetch £150-200 in a normal auction. In a private gallery you might be looking £6-700 for it or £500 in a specialist auction.  

It’s just because it is a different clientele.

Lofts can be very deceptive.

At one job I cleared the whole house in a day. We went up at 3.30pm to clear the loft and had to return the next day with four of us and two vans.

Sometimes you wonder how the ceilings ever stay up.

Newspapers, magazines…things that people collect. You see it all the time: put them in the loft…..It will come in good some day… somebody will be glad of it.

Hearth mats with bits burnt out of them – cuttings and trimmings of carpets in bags in the loft.

Quite often if clients are working on site with you, you can have a bit of a laugh. Sometimes they lift old smoothing irons out of the loft two or three with the plugs cut off.. and broken toasters.

Who would put broken toasters in the loft?

mid '80's mahogany display cabinet

Everybody’s grandparents had the  glass-fronted china cabinets, then the mahogany wall units of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s came in.

A smaller glass display, stacking system for the hi-fi,  a cupboard that folded down to put all the letters in…or bills ……or minibar.

But now auction houses won’t take them off you. Nobody really wants them. There is no re-sale value.

Heavy pine kitchen tables – good sturdy ones –   always sell because they are practical.

If you get a kitchen table with six chairs it is usually for a family home –  one strong enough to take a bit of abuse.

Sometimes at auctions you will see  very large tables – even if they are not dark mahogany – they are still very hard to sell. 

If you imagine an eight seater table which may extend further, it takes up a fair amount of space.

Flat-pack furniture? That’s what it was designed for… to flat-pack for disposal.

It’s extremely hard to sell. 

I see it in some auctions but I don’t buy it. Jammed in with other furniture people think it looks good, but they don’t want to start shaking it. And as soon as it arrives it can hardly stand because the screws are pulled out of it.

There’s no integrity left with it at all.  I don’t like that.

people: vintage ties in bundle

We always give clothes to charities. You know it’s going to the charity –  or they will recycle the actual fabric if it’s no good.

A lot of people don’t. They take them to used clothing places instead, for 60p a kilo.

When you go into an auction house  there is a high ceiling, It’s the same as going into a showroom.

But most houses are a lot smaller.

I delivered for a few of the major companies. People  saved up and there they were, the whole family waiting to see the new sofa arrive – and you couldn’t get it in. Because it was never going to fit.

If sofas are not fire retardant they may have no re-sale value in this country.

I tell clients I can take them free of charge to a charity which sends them out to Romania. They take anything.

And if it’s no good they will get rid of it.

It is good for me and for the clients. Before you know it, the client  gives you everything in the house.

Once, I was called in by a big company to clear out their store rooms. I saw all these train sets in the skip so I thought there must be a recall on them, or that they might be unsafe. Thousands of pounds worth.

They said everything had to go in the skip because they wanted it destroyed.

If that wooden train set – which sells at £50 – ends up on e-Bay or Sunday markets or car boot sales with people selling it on for £5-10 they are not going to go to the shop to pay £50. That’s the whole idea.

But, if they had given it to children’s hospitals, doctors’ surgeries or the hospice I’m sure they could have got rid of it, as opposed to just throwing it out.

It was a terrible waste.

Interview with Mervyn Adair from LM Contracts.  A Northern Ireland based business specialising in domestic/ commercial clearance and buying/selling of second hand goods.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

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