Reduce, Reuse, Rethink Old Furniture

Use our tips to give your furniture a makeover or revive secondhand treasures.

| May/June 2008

  • We simplified this space by removing an unnecessary chair and lamp, decluttering the table set up and eliminating a hodgepodge of knickknacks. The result is a more elegant and functional dining room.
    Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Chair, after.
  • New upholstery turned these chairs from drab to darling.
  • Dining room, before.
    Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Inspired by the idea of the Hopi sun, this chandelier incorporates stones, crystals, fossils and pearls on a metalworker’s frame.
  • The cart, before.
    Photos by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Side table, before.
    Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Mimicking the ornate nests of the bowerbird, this piece is made of driftwood collected after a spring.
  • Shelf, before.
  • 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.
  • Jen transformed a tired chair, which had been damaged when it fell off the back of a truck on the interstate, into a graphic showpiece.
  • The chair, before.
  • The 13-foot chandelier she made for Denver restaurant Z Cuisine was inspired by the organic lines of Art Nouveau.
  • Revive a termite-damaged table: We took apart this table, trimmed away the most damaged parts (which meant cutting down the legs) and sanded off the old paint (after testing to to be sure it didn’t contain lead). A coat of low-VOC paint and new hardware make a piece perfect for the playroom. Total cost: $60
    Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • 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

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.


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.

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