Ask Design Mom: Found Furniture

March 15, 2007

Ask-Design-Mom Question:
I found this cabinet at the side of the road with a “free” sign next to it, and was delighted to heft it into my wagon. I just moved to rural Pennsylvania, and am so charmed by the air of history here. I bet this baby has some stories to tell, and I hope to use it to house some fabric & supplies in my craft studio. Decorating makes me nervous, so I’m not sure how to refinish it, & the poor neglected thing has spent the winter on my back porch. I like the look of natural wood, so my inclination would be to just take some beeswax to it, but the mahogany veneer on the top is cracked and peeling, and I’m not sure I can easily find a replacement. I know some of your readers are the decorating sort and the do-it-yourself sort, and I’ve been so inspired by your personal practical suggestions. I could really use your design help.
Thank you! —Valerie

Design Mom Answer:
Growing up out west, I don’t remember much “found furniture” — maybe my community was too new. But here in New York it’s like found furniture Mecca. Drive through Scarsdale on the right night and you can practically open your own antiques shop. And I can only imagine that historic Pennsylvania is even better!

That’s a great piece and I’m sure it’s going to work perfectly in your craft space. The glass front is so great! I’ll start with a couple of suggestions, and be confident that my refinishing-expert readers will comment with their own ideas.

My attitude toward found furniture is that they are great pieces on which to experiment — no money invested is very freeing. You could embrace it’s shabbiness and rough it up all the more, or, if just the top is ailing, consider leaving everything as it is but the top:

-Paint a simple pattern on the top to mask the harmed veneer — like a checkboard pattern at an angle, in colors that work well in your house.
-Decoupage some paper on the top to create a new surface. One sheet of beautiful art paper — or even wrapping paper — would be just the right size.
-Try your hand at replacing the top with a tile or concrete surface.
-If you can say good bye to the natural finish, I think a pretty coat of paint would look great on this piece. And you could wallpaper the inside of the cabinet with something really colorful for a nice surprise.

Because of the glass front, what you put inside is just as important as how you finish the outside. I would love to see stacks of neatly folded fabric in pretty patterns peaking through the glass.

I hope these suggestions get you started. I don’t think you can go wrong. Good luck!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 liz s March 15, 2007 at 10:32 am

when jared and i were first married we didn’t have any money to furnish our new place so we drove around Scarsdale and came up with a number of items to fill our apartment including dressers side tables and cabinents. We are slowing starting to replace them with more permanent things but a drive around town is worth a shot!


2 Bek March 15, 2007 at 4:42 pm

What a fun project… I can see this done in a very traditional way OR in a fun, non-vintage color too….. what a great piece (perfect for kids art supplies or games).


3 Andrea March 15, 2007 at 8:29 pm

…and what’s that “right night” to drive through Scarsdale…?;)


4 vfg March 18, 2007 at 11:12 am

thank you for the suggestions! I’ll send you a photo when I finally figure it all out. (in the queue after Easter projects…shop update, new pottery, and so many plans for my own kids and the new niece and nephews I’m visiting…spring always inspires me!)


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