Mother Earth Living

Reduce, Reuse, Rethink Old Furniture

Use our tips to give your furniture a makeover or revive secondhand treasures.
By Gretchen Roberts
May/June 2008
Add to My MSN

Reinvigorate a vintage cart. To fashion a sleek new wine cart, we disassembled and sandblasted this tired model, then we powdercoated the like-new surface with a bold color, replaced the worn-out bolts and reassembled it. Total cost: $45
Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
Slideshow


Content Tools

Related Content

Green Living: Sustainable Furniture

Sustainable furniture is made from nontoxic, renewable resources and is a smart choice for reducing ...

Polish Furniture for Pennies

Whip olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice into a cheap, effective polish for wood furniture.

Can I Really Build My Own Home?

Guest blogger Elizabeth Richardson offers inspiration to anyone wanting to build their own home from...

Re-Think Your Decor: Sustainable Furniture Made from Recycled Street Signs

Artist Boris Bally’s edgy, street-smart furniture is made from recycled street signs.

When remodeling, working with what you already have is one of the most eco-friendly things you can do. "Our desire for new, new, new, and to consume, consume, consume leads to our fast depletion of resources," says Lili Wright, a Philadelphia-based interior designer. "We make the best use of things in their creative reuse."

Rethinking how, where and why you use the furnishings you have, then doing a little cleanup here and repurposing there, can give your home a brand-new look—same old stuff and all.

Reuse

So it’s not ready for a magazine close-up? Don’t throw it out yet. Many quality pieces just need a little cosmetic help.

A coat of paint can be a cure-all for wood, metal and other hard surfaces; choose paints low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to avoid outgassing. Decorative molding is inexpensive and adds style to wood furnishings (look for solid wood molding, not synthetic). Or toss a pretty throw onto a tabletop, chair or dresser to create a new look.

Recovering chair cushions in look-at-me, eco-friendly material is a fast fix in the dining room, Wright says. "You will feel like you have a whole new dining set," she adds.

Erin, a homeowner who turned these old shelves from plain to pretty, explains: "My husband and I received these beautiful handmade shelves as a gift from some friends a few years ago. When we moved to our new apartment, we decided that we needed more color in our lives. Being a huge fan of all things DIY, I wanted to show my husband how easy it was to make ‘old’ things new again. This project was perfect. It proved to be budget-friendly and fun." Erin was thrilled they reused the piece they had rather than buying new. "I’m currently on a mission to convince everyone that a little low-VOC paint goes a long way....It’s definitely one of the greatest things I’ve learned from my mom," she says.

Jen transformed this tired chair (right), which had been damaged when it fell off the back of a truck on the interstate, into her own personal heirloom. She explains: "The chair was in bad shape—the legs had broken off and the fabric was scuffed all over. I don’t know how the upholsterer did it but, wow, it looks so great!"

Paula says she loves "finding chairs that everyone else is passing over or frowning at, getting a great bargain and getting a great upholsterer to work magic on them." She looks for classic chair shapes and combines them with bold, modern textile designs. "I think there is often fun and humor in the tension between different styles," she says.

Reduce

Simply removing a little-used table or clearing away clutter can completely change a room. But be purposeful in what you remove, advises Sharon Hanby-Robie, an interior designer and author of Decorating Without Fear (Rutledge Hill, 2007). "Start by writing a mission statement for each room," she says. "What do you want this room to do, and how do you make that happen with the furnishings you own?"

Evaluate each piece in the room. Is it functional? Does it serve the room’s purpose? If not, maybe you could donate it or repurpose it elsewhere.

When it comes to accessories, less is more. "Our rooms often look like we’re wearing all of our jewelry at the same time," Wright says. "When you dress, you have different seasons, outfits and moods. In the same way, keep your space alive by changing it up every once in awhile."

To help clients let go of possessions, Hanby-Robie takes photos of their spaces. "When you live in a place, you lose perspective. A camera can give it back," she says. Shocked at how much clutter the photo reveals, many clients are motivated to clear away extraneous stuff.

Recycle

Sometimes, all a tired piece of furniture needs is a new venue. As you clear out excess items, keep each room’s mission statement in mind. Could pieces from one room help fulfill another’s purpose?

Hanby-Robie likes to use furniture in unexpected ways. She suggests putting a dresser in the bathroom for towels and makeup, shortening a table’s legs to create a game table, or using a rug made of natural materials as a table runner.

Even good change is hard. "I have a rule that clients can’t call me for 48 hours after I’ve done their home," Hanby-Robie says. "It’s like getting a new hairdo—even when you know it looks good, you have to get used to it."

Artist Tracey Barnes has always been inspired by nature. She collects found bits of treasure: stones, shells, leaves, pods, bugs, beetles and butterflies. She explains: "I started creating art pieces to showcase my collections, bringing nature inside and creating light pieces to show the beautiful color and texture of crystal, fluorite, amethyst, calcite, topaz, aquamarine, pearls, and other semiprecious rough and uncut gems. The structure is often created out of old tractor parts and wheels or found pieces of branches or roots that are then finished with copper or gold and tarnished."

The 13-foot chandelier she made for Denver restaurant Z Cuisine was inspired by the organic lines of Art Nouveau. The piece is delicately bejeweled with sea green and champagne fluorite, cream and black freshwater pearls, moonstone chips, orange calcite and red coral, all from Barnes’ collection. "Even though it is such a large piece, it has an airy, floating feeling," she says.

6 new spots for your old stuff

Sometimes it’s just better to put Grandma’s wall cabinet out into circulation for someone else to enjoy.

1. Swapthing.com lets you trade something you don’t need for something you do.

2. Freecycle.org has more than 3 million members around the world who exchange items free of charge; chances are you’ll find a taker for Aunt Edna’s old chairs.

3. Newspaper classifieds and many weeklies have a "freebies" section where you can list furniture for the taking.

4. Consignment shops save time by letting someone else do the selling for you. You might find something to take home that suits your purposes better than the piece you left.

5. Craigslist.org and KABOO.com are free online sites where you can sell or give away unwanted items.

6. Charitable organizations and thrift stores such as the Goodwill, the Salvation Army and women’s shelters are usually happy to take your items. Call ahead—they may come pick them up.


Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | Next






Post a comment below.

 








Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.