New Ideas for Old Furniture
Here's good news for those of you on a budget – or for anyone who wants a new look without the price tag that goes along with it – you can get "new" furniture without paying hefty, new furniture prices. The trick is to know how to refresh the furniture you have, keep a sharp eye out for good quality used or "junk" furniture and just to look at things in a new way.
From Old to Chic
The minute I got off the phone with Kelley Taylor, founder of Creating Home Decor.com and author of Hol iday Decorating for Dummies (For Dummies, 2003), I tried one of her suggestions. A friend, who was consolidating for a move into a smaller house after her youngest child left for college, had given me a small cupboard that had been in her family for years. It had beautiful lines but was painted an ugly, dull brown. Following Taylor's advice, I spray-painted it white, let it dry, lightly sanded it in a few places and – voila! – my new "shabby chic" cupboard holds napkins and paper plates in the dining room and never fails to get compliments.
Since I'm no decorator, or even particularly talented in that area, if I can do it, anyone can. Taylor suggests the spray paint as a super-quick method, but says furniture can also be painted with a brush, although she recommends the top coat be done with a sponge brush to minimize paint lines. Taylor highly recommends painting furniture to give it a new look.
"Paint works so well to create an accent piece," she says. "If something has good bones but is just ugly, paint that one piece, and it can give a fresh look to an entire room. Spray paint is nice because it's quick, gets into all the cracks and crevices and is instant decorating gratification."
If you don't want the "shabby chic" look, lightly sand the piece first, and make sure the surfaces are clean and dry. Apply a primer first, then paint. For "shabby chic," skip the initial sanding step and the primer step, and sand lightly afterward.
For a nicer piece of furniture, refinishing is always an option, but Taylor points out that refinishing is something that can't be done in a day and should be researched before attempting.
Even upholstered pieces, such as sofas and chairs, can be given a new look without spending a lot of time or money. Slipcovers to fit almost any style of furniture, including recliners, can be purchased online or at virtually any department store. You can even make your own easy slipcovers for a fresh look. Taylor says you don't need talent, just a big piece of cotton duck or painter's canvas in a neutral color (available at home improvement stores such as Lowe's and Home Depot). They are very inexpensive, washable, durable and can even be dyed, although Taylor likes neutral colors. Once you get it home, throw it over the couch, tuck in the corners and put a few ties on it like ribbons.
"Within about an hour you have a new slipcover that will last forever," Taylor says. "For $7 to $20, it's worth trying your hand at."
Along the same lines, Kathleen Wilson, editor of The Budget Decorator, says any large piece of fabric, such as a bedspread or sheet, can be converted into a no-sew slipcover – a good idea if a print is what you're looking for. Wilson notes that for those with a bit more talent, there are many patterns available – requiring varying levels of skill – that can be sewn for a more tailored look.
"Once the cover itself is updated, add color with toss pillows and throws to tie your look in with the rest of the room," Wilson says.
A couple of years ago, I took my husband to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to see the John Lennon exhibit. To this day, he still talks about John and Yoko's cool bed – a large mattress with old church pews for headboards and footboards. He spent quite a bit of time crawling around it as best he could (while still obeying the "keep back" ropes) to see how the mattress was supported. His goal is to someday have one like it.
You don't have to be an artistic legend to come up with creative ideas to use non-furniture items as furniture – or as different furniture than it was intended to be. Along the lines of the Lennon/Ono church pew idea, a mattress can be supported between two diner seats for a very funky, retro look. Or, says Wilson, do away with headboards altogether and perch the mattress on a wooden base. Make it any height you like, and paint it any color your heart desires.
Marney Makridakis, co-author of a collection of decorating e-books available at Home Decorating Made Easy, says the "shabby chic" movement is what really has gotten people thinking about interesting alternatives to furniture. One of her favorite looks is stacking old hard-sided suitcases for a bedside table. These can be purchased for almost nothing at flea markets and yard sales.
"The whole 'shabby chic' trend is about seeing things in different ways, like a door on top of a block to make a table," Makridakis says. "We want to create something very comfortable that's also different."
For other table ideas, Wilson suggests stacked books topped with glass, birdbaths or even painted chests in lieu of coffee tables.
Buying (Nearly) New
So now you're inspired, but you don't have anything old to paint, cover or stack. Don't buy new; buy old. Check the classified section of the newspaper, flea markets, used furniture stores, Goodwill-type stores and yard sales. What you're looking for is not necessarily junk, nor is it expensive antiques, but something in between, such as the cupboard my friend gave me. You don't want to pay too much, because this is something you want to play with – paint or stencil – but you don't want something that's falling apart either.
"You want to make sure the piece is in good structural shape," Wilson says. "Almost anything that is cosmetic can be camouflaged, but structural issues can be more expensive to fix than what you paid for the piece."
Wilson also has good advice if you need a bunch of furniture right now: Invest in one really good piece. "Spend a few extra dollars on one really great piece, then use budget furniture to fill in the room until you can afford more," she says. "That one piece can carry a whole room if you make it a focus, and the less expensive pieces will fade into the background."
Although, if you use the above tips, you may not want those pieces to fade away at all.