Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle: Giving New Life to Old Household Items
When I was five, my mother opened an antique store that provided wonderful opportunities for me. As an only child, my mother and I would scour New England’s shops and markets on buying trips as we packed the once-empty van to full capacity! My family also enjoyed (ok, still enjoys) going to garage sales and hitting up the local Goodwill for fun and inexpensive items to use in our homes. I learned early on that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure … especially when furniture was left out by a neighbor for the garbage man to collect!
Things exit my home in many ways – recycling, taking to the DAV lastly, the trash. I am so glad that we live in a day when people are aware that there are other alternatives besides simply throwing things out. One of my favorite options is to take a previously unwanted item and give it a new lease on life – repurposing, if you will.
For example, in my bedroom alone, I have a large red window as a headboard, an antique flour bin as a laundry hamper and my husband and I each have our own cupboards in which we store our clothes instead of the traditional dressers. Once you get the hang of it, it is enjoyable to be out on a hunt and find a new use for something, and with a few pointers you can be well on your way to having a few unique pieces of your own.
Next to purchasing a home, buying furniture is the most expensive indoor endeavor, so making the most of those pieces is necessary. Whether you have existing furniture that you love or happen to find a “must have” piece that has captivating lines, there are several ways to incorporate them into your overall look.
Many times an item has good “bones” to it, but needs a little freshening up. Treating a piece of furniture to a new coat of paint and some funky drawer pulls may do the trick. If you are a bit adventurous, adding small touches of decoupage, wallpaper or decorative painting will give an old piece the “wow” factor that it needs to become a loved piece in your home.
Even simple things like adding or removing parts can give something a new lease on life. Taking drawers out of a dresser can instantly turn it into a great shelving system, and a large table can be reused as a coffee table by simply shortening the legs. In a playroom, a toy box can do double-duty as a window seat with the addition of a cushion and a few pillows on the top.
Sturdy items such as larger baskets and boxes make great end tables or coffee tables. They can stand on their own, or you can add casters or bun feet to give a more stylized look. Plus they can serve for storage, which does wonders for tight spaces.
When setting up a room or furniture, remember there are no rules about which pieces go where. Just because an item is labeled a “dresser” does not mean that it cannot be repurposed into a playroom so that its spacious drawers can hold toys, and if you put a few cute baskets on top to house additional items, even better! Instead of having a traditional changing table, we used an antique dry sink fitted with a pad for making those necessary diaper changes more comfortable. Now that my children are out of diapers, that dry sink serves to store supplies in my home office. I wonder where it will travel next? Be sure to think of your furniture with an open mind, and consider its functionality beyond its original purpose.
A picture may be worth a thousand words and artwork definitely has its place on the walls, but why stop there? Intriguing pieces that are relatively flat make wonderful wall hangings. Think about bringing the outdoors in by sturdily hanging a garden gate or trellis on your wall. Use a window as a headboard or a room divider; the more interesting the window, the better.
Windows can also serve as rotating displays of children’s artwork. Simply use removable adhesive to mount preschool creations into the panes, and change the paintings as new ones come home. Hanging pane-less windows can add a point of visual interest, or replacing the glass with mirrors creates an interesting and functional conversation piece.
A collection of plates can add color and depth when hung on a wall. Scour local home decorating stores for unique items and search antique stores and salvage yards for architectural pieces to add flair to an otherwise drab space.
This is where you can really play and have the most fun with repurposing. Looking at things with an open mind is definitely key when deciding how to use an item.
Take luggage for example. A stack of vintage suitcases can serve as a side table while also housing off-season pillows or throws. Add legs to a suitcase, and it becomes an adorable accent piece.
Old picture frames are readily available at antique stores and thrift shops, and many local craft stores feature regular sales on new ones. A frame (or a cupboard door) can serve as a toteable serving tray by placing decorative paper or fabric in the center and adding handles for easy carrying. Legs can also be added to a larger frame for an interesting end table. Replacing a frame’s glass with decorative screening instantly turns it into an earring organizer.
If you have smaller items such as old milk jar tops, bottle caps or even mismatched clip-on earrings, consider hot gluing a large magnet to the back to freshen up the front of your refrigerator. Jewelry can be made using small things, too – nothing is off limits nowadays. Consider taking vintage brooches and pinning them on to a silk ribbon that you can tie around your neck. The look is stunning and turns unwanted pieces of jewelry into another wearable art form.
Look for items that have empty wells – their uses are endless! You can turn them into candle or plant holders, vases or condiment servers. Add some decorative pebbles and a votive to stemmed glasses of different heights to create a fun vignette of flickering light. A vintage movie reel can be turned into a great serving piece by adding some small bowls into the spaces, perfect for a cupcake or ice cream bar!
Wooden ladders also have a wide variety of uses. A shorter one can serve as a nightstand or end table, and a taller apple ladder with skinny rungs can become an interesting towel holder in the bathroom. Speaking of towels, mismatched towels can be given a quick coordinating look just by sewing a stripe of the same ribbon to each of them. Ladders with deep steps can house collectibles or plants.
Bringing the outdoors in is also a great way to add some spark to your home. Use a galvanized watering can as a vase, or group terra cotta pots together. Smaller, heavier pieces of garden art are beautiful on their own as an accent, or they make for casual bookends that add some pep to your bookshelf.
So, whether you choose to redo a piece of furniture that you have fallen out of love with or go out on the hunt for something new and interesting, just remember that there are no rules. Let your mind wander and consider the different possibilities for a treasured item. The hunt is fun, and this is the time of year to start, with all of the yard and estate sales starting. Who knows? I may even see you out there. Happy hunting!