Repair or repurpose: making use of old furniture

Joan Fieldstone

October 16, 2013

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate

In: Interior Design

My parents grew up in the Depression era. Perhaps to distance themselves from the scarcity of their childhood or simply to take full advantage of their post-WWII prosperity, they always purchased new construction homes and replaced their cars every two or three years with the latest models.

Unlike their own parents, mine had no need to be frugal and reuse or mend things. Their motto was, "If it's broken, buy a new one." And if the repairs needed were minimal, or if no repairs were needed at all, they gave stuff away instead of keeping things around that they didn't want anymore. But they never just threw things away. Their castoff household items always went to people who could make good use of them.

Reviving second-hand furniture

Since my parents always bought things brand new, I didn't hear about thrift stores or yard sales until I left the nest. But during the early years of my marriage I learned from a young woman who lived in the apartment above us what a great resource second-hand shops and yard sales could be. She had a knack for finding old furniture -- literally on its last legs -- and giving it new life.

Every weekend I'd see her dragging some odd piece out of her Datsun B-210 hatchback and up the stairs. Then I'd smell the fumes of paint stripper and wood stain, hear some hammering, and -- in the case of upholstered pieces -- the whir of her Singer sewing machine. A week later she'd invite me up to show off her terrific "new" furniture she got for next to nothing at a yard sale.

I was in awe. The idea that you could take someone's throwaways and transform them into something you could use and love was a revelation to me at the time. The concept appealed then, as it does now, as an efficient way to get good quality, new-to-me home decor at the right price. It also embodied the wisdom of my grandparents' "waste-not, want-not" philosophy.

From re-use to re-purpose

The current trend of repurposing and upcycling takes salvaging old furniture and household items to a new level. The ways to reuse what you or someone else would otherwise relegate to the trash are expanding all the time. Whatever you want to call it, upcycling is also another great way to save money while conserving resources.

I have never been as talented with refinishing old furniture as my former upstairs neighbor was, but I do my best to either find old furniture in good enough condition to use "as is" or hire a craftsperson who can make it "good as new." I also advocate improvising new ways to use old household items you already own.

I recently retired a desk I'd bought for $40 on Craigslist about six years ago. It's vinyl-clad, so it wasn't something that could have been refinished. It does, however, have a large top and shelving on both ends, so it now has new life as some much-needed garage shelving, and re-purposing it saved me at least another $50 I would have spent on plastic shelving.

What unwanted items do you have that can be repurposed, either for your use or by someone else for theirs?

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