by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Using reclaimed furniture to decorate your home is a great way to add a period feel to any room, and to add a touch of rustic beauty to a bland, modern design. Upcycling is quite fashionable at the moment, and it's easy to understand why. However, whether this is really upcycling or reuse and restoration is another question.
Visiting salvage yards and looking for battered antiques to restore is incredibly satisfying, and there's something special about lovingly sprucing up an old piece and making it your own.
While furnishing a home this way, with free-standing pieces of furniture, is somewhat different to what we have seen in the last decades where everything seems to be, almost, the “built-in” kind, and in most cases that stuff is – pardon my language – crap. Particle board and the stuff that appears to have been almost made from sawdust with resin glue, from which many of the new items of furniture are made of, does not stand up to anything.
Take a look at some of the reasons why I would choose upcycling old furniture over buying new factory formed furniture any day.
Antique furniture is much more interesting than modern flat-pack stuff. Even the most scuffed, tattered and damaged items are likely tougher and more hard-wearing than the average item you can purchase from a catalog or store today, unless it comes from somewhere where the item is made from real wood but then you are going to pay a lot of money for it.
Once you have reupholstered that chair, or sanded and repainted that cabinet, the quality of the materials and the caliber of the craftsmanship will show through. You'll also have a great story to tell about how you acquired the item, where it came from, and how much fun you had doing it up.
Restoring antique furniture, and even well-made furniture that does not entirely fit the antique label, as for that label to be applied officially an item has to be of a certain age, often more than fifty to a hundred years at least, can save you a lot of money, and it's good for the environment too.
When you fix up a mahogany cabinet, you are extending the life of something that may have been built decades ago, and saving the planet by not wasting resources on purchasing some lower quality furniture which needs made, packaged and transported, wasting huge amounts of fuel and precious resources. And, also very important, you keep the carbon dioxide the tree absorbed locked in this item of wooden furniture for much longer than still.
One of the best things about reclaimed furniture is that older items are well made, hard-wearing, and easier to customize. It's hard to change how modern furniture looks because instead of stained wood, many items are plywood or worse particle board or something resembling sawdust with glue with a cheap veneer over the top. You can't really sand and repaint or re-stain that kind of furniture. However, you can do a lot with high quality older items. With just some sandpaper and paint you could turn an ugly nightstand into a beautiful piece that would not look out of place in a modern bedroom or turn an old run down table into an eye catching statement feature.
If you want a real interesting kitchen, as far as I am concerned, then create one out of free-standing kitchen cabinets as they were until the 1960s or thereabout. There are still some that can be found and often for little money as people wish to “upgrade” to built in kitchens. The latter which are by far inferior to the old kind of cabinets that were made of real wood and not particle board or worse.
And, if simply restoring old furniture is not enough for you, you can always try your hand at making your own items out of salvaged wood? There is an entire community of people who like to make their own furniture from railway sleepers, reclaimed period doors, old trunks and other materials that have been deemed useless by their owners. It takes some patience and skill to do this, but it is worth the effort. The furniture you make will be truly unique, and you will be able to take pride in telling people that it is all hand made.