Monday, 4 March 2019

Restoring furniture and reducing landfill

There is lots of talk about recycling, repurposing, upcyling, you name it....everybody is doing it with plastic, paper, food scraps, rubbish, but how often do people do it with furniture? Repurposed furniture comes and goes in trends, retro, vintage mid century...many pieces are still enjoying a resurgence in popularity but what about the less ‘cool’ but still quality material pieces that are destined for the rubbish tips? 

Like most people I love beautiful new furniture but I have always felt very strongly about reducing landfill and a huge part of the landfill problem is furniture. So repurposing furniture is a sustainable choice. These days everybody loves the sleek minimalist contemporary and modern designs and the ever changing trends the furniture chain stores churn out seasonally. I love them too. However there is also so many beautiful vintage and quirky pieces of existing furniture that with a little TLC can add lots of character to your home, but how can you bring out the best in them, simply and easily without any complicated tools or experience? 

Some pieces just need a few basic techniques to transform them to blend with your more contemporary pieces or whatever your style. Restoration can range from sanding, waxing, staining, painting repairing, adding wheels, reupholstering or new surfaces to make them more usable. Here are a few examples I’ve used in recent years.

Butchers block restoration- sanding, chalk paint and polyurethane 

My most recent project was a restoration of a timber butchers block, this was a great example of how to blend a dark old piece with an existing kitchen. It isn’t a vintage piece so I was more comfortable to paint it. Often if I have a truly collectable vintage piece it’s hard to decide if painting it is the right thing to do.

I always wanted to try chalk paint and this was the perfect opportunity to create a kitchen island that blends with the rest of the kitchen.


The original finish was dark and it has seen better days. It was also a little lower than the rest of my kitchen benches and the knife storage slots were nothing but crumb collectors.


My solution was to sand it right back to wood using an orbital sander.  Then I added wheels (with locks so it doesn’t roll around the kitchen but can be moved around easily which is great for entertaining). The wheels also brought it up to the same height as the other benches. To solve the crumb collecting slots issue I cut a few strips of wood and sanded them into shapes that suited the slots and predrilled holes and nailed them on over the slots. Then I got to painting. Two coats of the Dulux chalk paint was all it needed. Ensure you allow it to fully dry between coats. You can also do two different colours and gently sand certain spots to create a distressed look with the undercoat showing through.


I chose a chalk paint that matched several pieces in kitchen and blends with my bench tops.. However if you are using chalk paint in a kitchen I strongly recommend a coat of polyurethane on the top surfaces as oils and food may stain the paint finish. As you can see our cat Shadow is pretty happy with the transformation of one of his favourite hiding spots.

Jacobean dining table refinish

You’re probably familiar with Jacobean furniture, it’s very ornate and very dark, quite gothic looking pieces and these days it’s not a style that’s very sought after in contemporary homes, but as you can see when you tone down the wood colour the furniture itself is quite beautiful and most Jacobean pieces have stunning hand made details which are better appreciated in a lighter wood as seen below.


If you have a sentimental piece as I did it’s a great chance to give it new life and make it more in keeping with current trends particularly if you like to mix styles. 


This piece simply needed sanding and a lighter stain finish (I hand stained this by wiping over a grey stain and rubbing it off) once dry I hand waxed it rather than lacquering it to give it more of a provincial feel, the detailed carving means a lot of hand sanding but it is well worth it. 


The finished table is light and inviting and has a more French Country look than the dark and gloomy Jacobean style.

Draftsman drawers  - add some fence pickets and glue and you’re done.

This lovely old piece was literally left for dead on a building site. Missing it’s top and the drawers falling to pieces all it really needed was a bit of wood glue and the odd screw and nail to firm up the drawers. The top I made out of repurposed fence pickets. The deep drawers are perfect for my son’s activity books and drawing supplies. I left the front as is as the bumps and marks seem to speak of the history behind the piece, I can only imagine what might have been stored in these drawers many years ago by is previous owner.






Army Ammo chest coffee table - Just add wheels


I have several of these and I have to say they are my absolute favourite. I simply added industrial style locking wheels to them after predrilling the holes and they make great coffee tables with storage. I keep magazines and blankets in them. Plus you can simply roll them out of the way.


Old metal patio furniture - Spray paint and reupholster 

Inexpensive furniture like this patio couch from  Kmart are probably some of the most common landfill offenders. However as you can see they scrub up incredibly well. Fortunately I’m an avid sewer so it was easy for me to reupholster these and make cushions after spray painting the entire chair white with a gloss enamel spray paint. If you are not a sewer, you could easily replace the cushions with new ones that are readily available and just selvage the frame. 



Rattan chair -  painted and upholstered  

This sweet old rattan chair was my grandparents, then my fathers, he has lots of memories of my sister and I sitting in it at children at my grandparents so when he gave it to me I felt I needed to restore it. I decided to follow the same colour and upholstery theme as previously so all my pieces could be spread along me veranda to create a bit of an old Out of Africa veranda theme. So now the 3rd generation uses this chair, it’s one of my son’s favourite places to sit, right by the front door. The rattan needed gluing, and a few nails. The cushions had to be replaced and I spray painted it with the gloss enamel paint.



Cane Patio Furniture set restoration - repair, paint and reupholstered 





This was one of those road side rubbish finds I just couldn’t resist. So after finally getting  this huge set of 2 tub chairs and a couch home it really just needed some light repairs, paint and upholstering. This set was particularly well made and worth the effort.


This couch now doubles as my alfresco office and is a beautiful spot for meetings. 







Once all the pieces I had collected were  restored in the same white enamel paint and fabrics  it created a true oasis on the verander with a flowing theme that transforms the area into a different time. 



Buffet restored

This lovely old buffet was yet another building site rubbish piece rescued from landfill, with just a regular coat of external paint it’s made a great veranda buffet. I use it for gardening tools and outdoor candles etc. 


Even the cute old meat chest has been given a second life as a candle holder. 

Potting table and drawers - repurposed dining table and drawers with polyurethane 





Finally my 50 year old teak kitchen table has been given a new home as a potting bench. I just give it a light sand and polyurethan now and again to keep it fresh and the road side rubbish selvage drawer underneath has been repurposed into a potting bench storage drawer. Both need nothing but a light sand and polyurethane. As long as they are kept out of the rain they’ll see another 50 years.

I hope these give you some inspiration so you might see some old pieces destined for landfill as future projects that will be  easy and enjoyably brought back to life. So look around your house or local second hand stores or even your road side rubbish with a creative eye and you might see potential in the neglected pieces you spot.















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