Dumpster Diving For Furniture: How NYC's Trash Can Literally Be Treasure

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dumpster-1Photographed by Nicole Cohen.
You've heard those urban legends where enterprising curbside snoops have found Eames chairs, Corbusier lamps, and vintage movie-poster one sheets hiding behind a few black garbage bags. And, here's the thing: It's not a myth. It actually happens. The first time I became aware of this peculiar practice, I was a young editor at a well-known home-decor magazine. Shocked and incredibly skeptical, I dismissed the notion of rummaging through Manhattan’s garbage as anything but a practical joke. It was only after several of NYC’s most influential and in-the-know interior designers spoke of the practice that I actually took it seriously. And, as one interior designer who shall not be named has said, “Holy crap, garbage night on the UES is the best!”

As the artist, photographer, and creator of the blog Sketch 42 says, “You haven’t lived until you’ve rescued vintage chairs worth thousands from a heap of garbage in NYC.” And, so, enter our case study Nicole Cohen, who graciously shared with me her pinnacle moment in Dumpster-diving glory: two Tobia Scarpa chairs valued at nearly $10,000.

Click through to see how Nicole Cohen set it up in her space.
dumpster-2Photographed by Nicole Cohen.


After tweeting a photo of the two chairs she spotted on a sidewalk in NYC's UES neighborhood, Cohen's interior-designer friend immediately called to inform her that the pieces were, in fact, Tobia Scarpa, a famous Italian designer who many people will willingingly shell out thousands for on 1st Dibs. As Cohen observes, “It looks like someone with very good taste may have had to move in a hurry, because the entire contents of an apartment was on the street.”

"I conquered my sheer and overwhelming embarrassment and pulled those chairs out of the garbage like a crazed UES design lunatic,” Cohen adds. Upon inspecting the chairs for authenticity and performing the necessary check of the upholstery for any unfortunate bedbug situation, Cohen is now the proud owner of two designer chairs in pristine condition. These pieces are currently in her living room — which she has redecorated twice since her $10K furniture find that one October evening.