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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker


Our online community can help

Furnishing a home in Maplewood and South Orange has its challenges. The elegant old homes don’t always lend themselves to the styles stocked at Ikea or Wayfair. Even if cost is not an issue, it can be difficult finding fixtures and furniture made today that look right with 10-foot ceilings. And the moldings in these homes can rarely be matched with the stock at Home Depot or Lowes.

The average SOMA home is just under 80 years old. Chestnut trim and custom front doors are features that make the homes lovely and unique. But for those who would like to maintain the historical charm they fell in love with, the homes can be difficult and expensive to furnish.

Luckily this is a community where many wrestle with the same issue. The key word here is “community:” in this case the solution is online swap communities that help local homeowners find what they are looking for, no matter how obscure or period-specific.

A community online swap group is a platform where people can buy, sell, or trade furniture, decor and housewares. This is especially useful when furnishing an old house, as the items available in online swap groups are likely to fit the SOMA aesthetic and have the appropriate historical character.

One such group is SOMA at Home Salvage Market on Facebook that describes itself as “the marketplace to buy, sell, or give away items to build, renovate, restore, or beautify your home. Items can be both used or brand new, extras, incorrectly measured items, or samples.”

Antique windows
Carla Labianca helped find a new home for antique windows from a Victorian renovation.

Moderators Carla Labianca, a local realtor, and Sarah Gee, an interior designer, make this group a perfect swap ecosystem. As a realtor, Labianca works with clients who want to pare down the furnishings in their homes ahead of a sale. Gee keeps an eye out for items that might work for her projects. She also shares this information with designer friends and members of the Facebook group.  

Making items available to other group members creates choices that are likely to be a fit for others in the area. “We try to make it easy for each homeowner to be a steward for their own home’s architectural integrity,” says Gee. And it costs a lot less time and money than finding the pieces in a store.

“We focus less on decorative items and more on building materials,” says Gee. “It’s also a great group to use to crowdsource,” says Labianca. “We have a lot of posts asking for opinions about paint colors for different spaces, and flooring choices,” Labianca continues. But there are plenty of housewares available too.

“I had a client refurbish a bathroom with a perfect but out of place purple pedestal sink,” says Gee. Once posted in Salvage Market it was snapped up quickly and used in someone’s beach house. “Now it’s down the shore, living it’s best life,” quips Gee.

The group is also a great place to find new friends.

“I like to play matchmaker. I enjoy scrolling through my Facebook,” says Labianca. “I do this to support small, local businesses and to salvage old house parts. We have a big problem in our country with construction waste produced during home renovations. If we can make even a small dent in that, it’s a feel-good story.” Labianca continues, “For instance, a friend had antique windows from the reno on her Victorian. And my friend, Paul Lewis is the local window guy and owner of a salvage store, 2GFN [2 Guys from Newstead]. I introduced them and voila! Nothing went to the landfill.”

Community Gifting SOMA (formerly Buy Nothing), is another local Facebook swap group with a slightly different twist: It’s all about sharing things to build community. More than 3400 members strong, residents of Maplewood and South Orange can join after they answer three questions and are approved by a moderator. Its About page states, “We are a hyper-local giving group that utilizes the acts of sharing, giving, and gratitude to form better relationships with our real-life neighbors.” Moderator Hannah Zollman emphasizes, “This group is different because it’s not transactional. It’s all about creating relationships in our community; no money changes hands. We only ask our members to share their gratitude with the group.”

Bedroom furniture
Hannah Zollman, moderator of the Community Gifting SOMA Facebook page, was able to furnish her son’s Star Wars themed room from items offered by group members.

And even though this group “gifts” everything from holiday ornaments to a hummingbird feeder, many members have put together whole rooms with furnishings from Community Gifting.

Zollman herself is a good example of how the Community Gifting group rallies to a cause. Zollman’s son is a Star Wars fan, and wanted his bedroom to reflect that. “Almost everything in his room is something I found on Community Gifting,” says Zollman. “His Star Wars-themed bed, bean bag, books, artwork, and even his light fixture and night-light were furnished using Community Gifting.”

Community Gifting does not allow members to pay for items received. A “gratitude post” is the norm after an item goes to its new home.

Besides helping to furnish homes, the local online swap groups also offer a place for others to reuse items that still have some utility. SOMA is a conscientious place and many people are concerned about sending things to landfills that could still have some life left.

Most SOMA residents agree that the character and beauty of these homes are well worth the effort of finding the right furnishings. Local online groups not only build community but also offer the perfect modern solution to the challenge of making old houses feel like home.

Adrianna Donat is a freelance writer whose 117-year-old home had no overhead lighting when her family moved in. Thanks to online groups, she was able to find light fixtures that work in her home without breaking the bank.

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