Repurposed, Restored, Reimagined – breathing new life to old furniture

We’ve all heard it said before: “if I can do it, anyone can do it.” If your experience is anything like mine, you’ve heard this exact phrase slip from the lips of an overly modest DIY maven on a self-deprecation streak.  Sound familiar? If so, you might want to mark today on your calendar, because when I say it, I actually mean it.  You can repurpose, restore and reimagine old furniture. You can create something useful and beautiful, and keep items with real potential out of the landfill.

For me, it all began with a desk – or more precisely, the need for a desk. As my oldest child began advancing in school, the need for her own space in which to read, study, and do homework became a priority. The search for the perfect desk began.

Needless to say, a fourteen year old whose latest fixation was ‘shabby chic’ wasn’t going to be impressed with the cheaply produced and unattractive particle board desks found at our local office supply or department stores. She was determined to find something long, white, and vintage. I was determined to keep it within budget.

After yet another frustrating day of desk shopping, I knew there had to be a better way. I had no interest in purchasing a manufactured desk that had traveled half way around the world a great cost the environment, and that would also leak chemicals into the air of my daughter’s bedroom. Additionally, the cost associations of a custom made desk seemed exorbitant, especially for a girl whose décor preferences changed on a semi-annual basis.

Our last option? The neighborhood sidewalk swap, a relatively new initiative aimed at keeping reusable items out of the landfill. We emptied the vehicle and began our search. Did we find a desk? No, but green living has taught me to start thinking outside of the box. What we did find was a solid wood, mid-century modern table. It was the perfect length, and the perfect price – free! It was, however, double the width we required, and more than a little scuffed up – two problems that were solved by sawing the table in half lengthwise and painting it shabby chic white in low VOC paint. And how’s this for an added bonus: by sawing the table in half, wound up with two desks, making my youngest daughter very happy indeed.

We then affixed a three foot long piece of 1×1 strapping (available at any lumberyard) to the wall, being sure to screw into the studs. We braced the back of the desk on the strapping and screwed it down.

Since we were aiming for a shabby chic look, we draped either side with burlap (affixed with a staple gun) and covered the stapled with a strip of black grosgrain ribbon. This provided instant storage.


The small cabinet to the right of the desk? We picked that up at the sidewalk swap, too. We painted it white with the same low VOC paint, and pasted a free graphic from The Graphics Fairy on the front.

A few weeks later, we stumbled upon the antique chair pictured above. We painted it to match and created a cushion from an old curtain panel. The image on the pillow is also from The Graphics Fairy. We chose a vintage French ad, printed it on iron-on paper (we found ours at Staples) and ironed it onto the fabric.

You can find fantastic free graphics – not to mention a wealth of projects suited to any skill level – at The Graphics Fairy. (

Whatever your taste in décor, there’s a vintage furniture style that will suit it. If your leanings are contemporary, midcentury modern pieces would meld beautifully. If shabby chic is your thing, a large can of low VOC paint is your best friend. If you favor a traditional style, you’re in luck – suitable pieces abound on in yard sales, community swaps, and of course, on Kijiji. (

If you’re shy on ideas, you can find a wealth of tutorials, how-to videos, and articles online. You’ll be amazed how truly easy it is to breathe new life into old furniture. Vintage window shutters and doors can become charming headboards. An old coffee table can become a new ottoman with the simple addition of foam, cotton batting, and fabric. Your only limit is your search engine.

The interest in reimagined and repurposed furniture couldn’t have come at a better time, especially for our environment and our landfills, which are reaching critical mass.

Another huge advantage to reimagining old furniture is the fact that yesterday’s finds were built with craftsmanship unseen in much of today’s mass produced items. They will last forever.

Reimagining furniture isn’t just for the very crafty. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can do it.

Like what we’re doing? Want to share your story or tell others? Do you have a green business in Calgary and want to get in front of a large local audience? Let’s build a green community together!