I confess to being one of those folks who stop and check out curb furniture. When I bought a very, very, small house and none of the furniture I already owned would fit inside, I just left most of it behind and started all over.
If you are open to it, the universe will suddenly throw a lot of choices in your path, not just from thrift stores but free things such as curb rescues will suddenly appear everywhere. I had to make some 'rules' about what I absolutely needed and what I am allowed to drag home.
Here are my rules of thumb for curb shopping.
Keep a list of what you are actually looking for. Just because it's on the curb doesn't mean you need to take it home, unless you are rehabbing items for resale or donation to those in need. If you don't need it, leave it for someone else who may. This isn't just good karma, it is very easy to end up with a lot of collected items and no homes for them. If I pick up something for someone else, I don't even remove it from the car, I take it straight to their house as soon as I can.
Make a thorough examination on the spot. Unless there is dangerous oncoming traffic, take a good look at the piece, open it up, flip it over, check its sturdiness. Most of the time it will need some repair, otherwise it wouldn't be on the curb. But know what you are getting into before you make a commitment to it. Look for infestation or mildew - take a sniff. Watch out for water damage. Check the bottom. Standing water will make plywood and fiberboard swell and break down and hardwood will warp.
Be prepared to dispose of it properly. Which means don't drag home something that you are going to have to pay to get rid of. You may discover it's bigger than you thought, or it has unseen problems. If it is still a useable item, you can donate it. If it is not, you may have to haul it to the dump. Once I dragged a leather chair home only to discover it was the 'dog chair’.
Have a suitable place to rehab things. In good weather, you can just do it outside before you bring it into your home. Sanding and painting are projects you do not want to do in the living room. With large enough drop cloths, you can get away with it in a larger kitchen, but spray painting should not be done in living spaces.
Hoard hardware like a crazy person. Any time you see something actually in the trash or before you put something out for collection, strip it of hinges, handles, knobs, casters and gliders from the bottoms of the feet. Usually just a change of hardware and a coat of paint can transform a piece and give it another career.
Keep a basic collection of paints, primers and finishes at hand. You may not want to invest a lot of time and effort into renewing a piece, if you have to buy materials. But if you have stuff already purchased then it's an easy decision. It will also help keep you from putting a piece aside for rehabilitation “when I get around to it.”
Be prepared to undo other people's repairs. This may sometimes be worse than starting with a damaged item. Usually it's a brush coat of latex that needs to be sanded, or a sloppy glue repair. This item probably started in the house and worked its way down to the basement and then probably out to the garage before getting all the way out to the curb.
I am always looking for solid wood juvenile furniture, which is smaller than full sized and usually repairable.
I just adopted another small curb item. It is just a 20th century, hardwood department store bureau. But age and moisture had caused the plywood back to break down. For me that was an easy fix, as nearly anything can be used for the back, I just happened to have a bundle of cheap pine wainscoting, which I cut to fit and used a plastic mallet to assemble. I didn't even have to glue but I may throw a brad or two around the edges.
My personal aesthetic is to paint all my mismatched pieces with White Gloss paint. This helps unify them in my cluttered tiny house and makes them easy to wipe down and touch up when needed.
For this project I sanded down someone else’s paint job, and since it was meant to be painted, there was no reason to strip it. Pieces originally sold painted, look terrible when you strip them, as the wood grains never match.
Two cans of Rustoleum paint with primer should cover most things up on a large bureau. I keep an assortment in my work space. I generally lay on one light spray coat, a second thicker coat, then a light sand with 1200 grit before a final gloss coat or two. Sometimes, if the piece isn't that bad you can get away with just washing the paint job it already has. The new paint job dried pretty quick, letting me move it into place on the same day. The top is smooth and white, but I have cats, so I threw a piece of oak salvaged from a sewing machine on top to protect it. The temporary handles are making my teeth grate; I prefer vintage bin pulls, which I also paint with white enamel and then bake for hardness.
With minimal investment, curb found furniture can give you pieces to use until you find something you really love. No one needs to know you got it off a curb unless you tell them. Me? I tell everybody. With a house as small as mine, sometimes you must make do. I put this bookcase on top of this half size dresser to create a make shift hutch, which works perfectly for my purposes. I have only seen one vintage half sized hutch...and that one is now in my kitchen. Overall, I am pretty happy with the pieces I have collected for this new tiny house - and anything that didn't work out, I put on my own curb for someone else.