Giving old furniture a new lease of life

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I’m fairly certain that most of us will have been there at some point: the table we’ve had for many years, the cupboard we inherited from our parents, the chair that has somehow lost its appeal.

They’re all still in good condition and it would seem somewhat wrong to just chuck them out and buy new ones to replace them, but we’re not quite happy with them anymore. It might be that our overall taste has changed a little over time, that we’ve moved home and the items don’t quite suit the new setting or that we have bought other items that don’t quite work with our existing ones.

We live in a time where we’re urged to go out and buy new stuff on a constant level. We are seduced by deals and “must haves”, by the idea of having shiny new things as well as by adverts and magazines. Even the boss of the famous Scandinavian flat-pack furniture retailer has recently commented that we’ve “reached peak home furnishings” and that there’s only so much we can keep on buying.

So, what to do? Well, why not take a look back to what our grandparents used to do? OK, not quite literally, but they did have the right idea with their “make do and mend” attitude. Whilst back then it was mainly borne out of the kind of necessity we might (luckily) not have to endure, the overall idea is a good one when it comes to saving money as well as resources and the planet. Besides, giving our old furniture a new lease of life also gives us the chance to turn those pieces into truly unique items that nobody else has.

There are so many ways to turn some humdrum pieces of furniture into something more special or even completely different, so let’s just start with the most obvious: painting. Whether the wood is just worn and tired looking or the piece simply needs a new colour, painting a piece of furniture is the quickest and easiest way to give it a whole new look. It is also a way to completely change the way you use a piece: a colour change can mean that a chest of drawers that was previously suitable for your living room could be transformed into a fab storage piece for a child’s room.

If you’ve moved house and that dark brown chest of drawers does not work in your new home, painting it white, pale grey or even something a little more daring like bright yellow can completely change it and make it more suitable. Choose something like a water-based chalk paint to keep it more environmentally friendly than using an oil-based paint. Another advantage of chalk paint is that it also dries very quickly, so you’ll be able to enjoy your handiwork pretty quickly.

A slightly more work-intensive solution is to turn a piece into something completely different and change its whole purpose. There are countless DIY projects to be found online (Pinterest is a great place to start for inspiration) that can show you how to turn an old chest into a lovely coffee table, a bench into a sofa, a wardrobe into a beautiful mini pantry, an old shelving unit into a bench with shoe storage and many, many more creative projects. There are pretty much no limits to how you can repurpose a piece of furniture if you have some tools and imagination at your disposal.

Sometimes items don’t need a big change because we still quite like the way they look and they do their job, but they are simply worn and a little tired. Think about which parts would need replacing or updating. An old chair, for example, can be re-upholstered and given a new cover. A wooden table might simply benefit from having the top layer sanded and oiled. A sofa can easily be given a new look with a stack of new cushions – you’d be surprised at how much such small details can lift a whole piece – or a chest of drawers will suddenly look completely different by just changing the handles.

Giving your existing pieces a new lease of life is not only a great way to save money and be environmentally friendly, but it will also give you the satisfaction that comes with the knowledge that you’ve done this – that feeling will last way longer than buying a new piece. I hope this will inspire you to get those tools and paintbrushes out. Enjoy!

Carole Poirot is a freelance photographer and stylist who lives and works in London. Originally from France, she has also lived in Germany and uses these influences to help inform her own style and advice. Her ideas are also published on her blog at mademoisellepoirot.com