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  • Writer's picturesianynleigh

Making Your Furniture Work

I am a big proponent of making things work for you, regardless of how an item was intended to be used. Multi-purposed, repurposed, repainted, reimagined. I'm all about efficiency, convenience, and comfort, especially as I get older and lugging around heavy pieces of furniture is no longer so easy. I also enjoy pieces I've fiddled with and molded to my personal needs much more than leaving them in their original store-bought condition. Add to that a sense of frugality from growing up without much extra and a semi-nomadic lifestyle, and I've developed somewhat of a skill in modifying furniture to fit my current situation.

I'm always sharing my DIY tips and projects with my writing group as a personal aside and it was suggested I might want to highlight some of those pieces. This post is in response to that suggestion.

First off, I love antiques. Not only is the quality usually impressive, but I adore the idea of touching something, using something, another person used a hundred or more years ago. I've collected quite a few pieces over the years, usually for free or very low cost, and none of them are particularly rare or valuable on the open market. But I love them just the same.

A downside to antiques is they are usually very heavy and not always practical for our current living standards. This piece, a Martha Washington sewing cabinet handed down from my great-grandmother, is not very heavy but I didn't have much need to store loads of sewing supplies. However, it's pretty handy in the living room as storage for batteries, candles, incense, wax cubes, and table linens. The coat of copper paint ties it in with the rest of my furniture (because I also have an obsession with anything copper-colored).

This Hope Chest from my grandmother's wedding day similarly had little use for me as a single-purpose storage trunk, but the wood was too gorgeous to give away. Add a couple of lift hinges and now it's an awesome storage coffee table/desk, the perfect height for working on a laptop while enjoying my favorite shows.

I'm also not afraid to dismantle things and use the pieces separately. I received this hand-me-down Ethan Allen china hutch about 10 years ago, but I don't own enough dishes to need a whole other cabinet. I did, however, need a bookshelf and a coffee bar. Just pop the top off, add a base with some curved legs, and a sturdy top (all refinished in a light copper color) and now I have an adorable bookcase. The bottom half is in my dining room loaded with all my hot drink supplies and rarely-used glassware.

Speaking of bookshelves, I wanted an Etagere shelf of my own back when the craze was at its height, but wasn't prepared to pay those ridiculously high prices. One trip to the hardware store's plumbing department and a day of assembly, and now I have this display shelf. Not perfect, but it does what I want it to.

And that shelf led me to fall in love with utility racks. Their versatility is what drew me originally, combined with the affordable price and option to customize as needed. They have wheels, so my old body can move them around however I need, can be dismantled and reassembled quickly and easily. Additionally, the shelves can be adjusted to any height. I use them everywhere - in the pantry (which I'm sure was their intended purpose), as display racks, as a TV center, and as wardrobes for all of my clothes and accessories. Excuse the mess surrounding this set-up. I'm still getting settled in my new place and haven't finished the unpacking process.

If I ever get tired of the open-shelf look, I can add covers, curtains, paneling, or just about anything else I want to the racks with a few hooks or magnets. If I move into a smaller place or one with a difficult layout, it's a simple thing to rearrange the racks to fit the space. Most importantly, it holds all my crap without needing to stuff closets or rent a storage unit. I never buy items twice either, as I can easily see what I already have.

I even used them to build my work desk! I needed a standing desk for when my butt hurt, but a sitting desk for when my legs hurt. There are products available that adjust height as needed. But the adjustable height desks are prohibitively expensive, and the lift-hinge trays take up too much desk space (and are also ridiculously priced). My solution, which may seem like too many steps to some, was to build a standing desk the size I needed, at the exact height I needed, with a mobile desk underneath for when I need to sit. Bonus - the mobile desk also fits over my bed so I can work without ever getting up on days I'm sick! (If you're wondering about the two keyboards - one connects to my laptop for sitting height, the other connects to my tablet. I work on both equally depending on how mobile I need to be that day.)

Two utility desks with a copper-finished door stretched between them. The most convenient thing I have ever made. The shelves provide ample storage for my office supplies, resource books, and display items. The door provides a sturdy and generous amount of workspace, and the whole contraption is easily moved to another location all by my lonesome. Aside from my printer, I have no need to store things anywhere else. It frees up so much space and everything I need is in arm's reach.

The mobile table rolls incredibly smoothly, is easily rolled from room to room, adjusts up to 6 feet long and 4 feet high. It fits over my bed and office chair, under my desk with space to spare, and is a convenient table top wherever I need one. It didn't need any modifying other than slapping some marble-patterned contact paper on it.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm a bit of a scrooge when it comes to cost-value. I have been easing up on that some as finances allow, but getting the most out of my investment is still my main concern. With that, let's talk price on these little projects.

The sewing cabinet, trunk, and china hutch were all free - pieces that fell to me when my grandmother passed. The cabinet and trunk are both over a hundred years old, and the hutch is over thirty, so all in all they've held up well and promise to last a couple decades more at least. My only investment into them was a few coats of paint, a couple of hinges ($20) and about $15 in raw wood for the bookcase.

The knock-off Etagere shelf I think was around $60 total, for paint, plumbing pipe, shelves, and contact paper. My husband already had the tools and glue necessary to cut and assemble it. I could have spent less if I had used raw wood for the shelves, but instead I grabbed melamine.

The utility racks were $60 each. To cover the wires to prevent small items falling through, I purchased planks of fir, covered them in contact paper or paint, and cut out the corners so they fit snuggly on the shelves. Not sure how much total that was, but I think the planks were about a dollar each. On some of the shelves, I recycled old cardboard boxes by gluing a couple layers together for stability and wrapping them in contact paper. That method works best if only light items will be placed on top. Laugh if you want, but a few of the shelves are lined with peel-n-stick vinyl flooring, left-overs from re-doing the kitchen of an old apartment. Waste not, if you can find a use for it elsewhere.

The door used for the desktop was unfinished, no knob holes or hinge spaces cut, and cost $32. I painted the top with a poly finish, using paint left over from earlier projects, and my husband cut out a couple of notches so it doesn't shift on the racks. The over-bed desk was my most expensive piece. $94 on Amazon, with some leftover contact paper on the top. I usually don't spend that much on a single item, but I knew it was going to add a lot of versatility and efficiency to my life, so I took the plunge. It has not disappointed me so far.

When compared to the average price of furniture found in box stores or online, I think I managed to optimize my cost-value, and avoid the back pain of trying to lift large chunks of solid wood on my annual relocations. I'd also like to point out, as I currently live in an area that suffers frequent floods every time it rains, that unlike the pressboard pieces commonly used for shelving or cabinets, metal utility racks will not completely disintegrate when splashed with the least amount of water.

I realize none of these items are HGTV worthy. I do not have more skill or innovation than the average person, and my projects are motivated more by being a curmudgeon than creativity. And that is fine with me. Practical modifications for a practical person just looking to make their furniture work for them or give it new purpose. It's something everyone can do with minimal effort, and that's what makes it so great. Having that personal touch which makes an item uniquely yours is also a bonus.

Have you tackled any DIY projects? What's something you've made work for you beyond its intended use? Leave your inspiring experiences below!

Until next time,

Keep writing and creating!

My cozy reading room filled mostly with free items.

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