Opt for recycled furniture

We went for years without a ladder in our house when we were renting. For some reason when we bought our own house we got the sudden urge to start collecting our own hardware items. We had talked about buying a ladder for sometime, and knew it wouldn’t be long before we owned our own (a real sign of growing up!).

Lucky for us my father-in-law answered our prayers when he called to say he knew someone throwing out a ladder he could salvage for us. It was old, but he said it would do the trick.

Can you imagine my delight when this old, wooden, mint-condition, ladder turned up at our door. I certainly wasn’t getting excited about changing light bulbs, or dusting cornices….. I was salivating because I could use this gorgeous old ladder as a bookshelf (naturally!) – not even close to the plans my husband had for it.

Unfortunately for him, there was no warning about this slight change of plans (and no negotiating on my part!).

He wasn’t to know I had been secretly browsing antique stores for an old, wooden ladder to use as a bookshelf – the inspiration was also from Billy Innes’ home (the interior designer that had inspired me with the palm fronds) and I had held on to the idea for a good 5 years.

Knowing this wasn’t a matter for discussion exactly what he had in mind for our new ladder, I waited until my husband was out one Saturday morning – I brought the ladder in from the shed, dusted off the cobwebs and ‘trialled’ the ladder as a bookshelf in various locations around the home – surprisingly it didn’t work in all locations I experimented with. As you can see the wall where I placed it was dead space, and it worked beautifully. You can have the ladder open if you have the floor space to do so. I have leaned it up against the wall. You will need to lean it on a slant to make sure the steps are horizontal enough to allow you to place things on the stairs. Also keep in mind the space between the steps, as that will dictate the height of the items you can place on the ladder stairs. Most antique stores stock old wooden ladders, many will be covered in paint spatters, or not very sturdy, so pull them out and inspect them properly before purchasing.

I must complete the story by telling you that when my extremely tolerant husband came home later that day the only comment he made was “it’s not staying there – it’s a ladder NOT a bookshelf”. FYI – the ladder did stay there, and has never been used as ladder (yet!) in the 2 years it has been a bookshelf. To this day we have not bought another ladder, as far as my husband is concerned – we have one!

I (silently, in my Hey Bernice world) won the ladder battle when the very father-in-law who had salvaged the ladder for us (to use as a ladder!) commented on how good it looked as a bookshelf during a visit to our house.

Throughout our home there are many other examples where I have salvaged, recycled or restored old furniture rather than buying new (each with much less controversy attached to them than the ladder).

Re-using furniture adds so much more character to your home, and provides a story/history to tell about each piece (or provenance as great friend of mine suggested to me the other day). 

The cupboard/draw piece I have in our bathroom was an item I spotted in the Salvation Army opportunity shop in Geelong.

 Salvation Army Store Locations…

I paid $20 for it (and the 4 coats of paint that covered it – Blue, green, cream and white). I then set about stripping off the paint by hand (not the most enjoyable job in the world, and quite physical – but very rewarding when you’re done!). I found it really hard to remove the paint within the cavity (which had a door, but I chose to remove and clean up the area where the hinges were attached), so I decided to paint the internal cavity white, rather than remove the paint (after stripping off 4 coats of paint, I thanked myself for this monumental brainwave!).

The beauty of stripping the paint yourself is that you can achieve the roughly stripped‘ look, by leaving some paint on it, and then sanding it back a little more when you are done stripping. If you are lazy don’t like the idea of manually stripping paint you can pay a paint stripper to ‘dip’ your item in stripping liquid and do it for you, which will give you a really clean and neat wooden finish (at a price).

NOTE: A tip mum gave me when choosing an item covered in paint, pull out the draw and look at the joins, and if they are dovetailed it is well made (A dovetail joint or simply dovetail is a joint technique most commonly used in woodworking joinery. Noted for its resistance to being pulled apart, the dovetail joint is commonly used to join the sides of a drawer to the front). I did exactly that with this piece and saw the dovetail joints, and it proved to be lovely wood and was well built.

Another great recycled item that every house MUST have is a little wooden stool.

Not only are they great to rest your coffee or drink on when you are relaxing on the couch, to stand on when you need that extra foot or a foot-rest, but they make great stools for the little ones to reach to toilet and bathroom sink (or the chocolate ice-cream in the freezer!).

I have become a little obsessed with these – I currently have 2… but check back next week and I guarantee they will have multiplied! You won’t find them in all antique stores, but those that have them will have several to choose from. Don’t be shy about buying one painted, and then sanding the paint off a little more yourself or having someone else strip it for you. I have bought one of mine from Stepback Antiques, and the other from The Junk Company

So, the message in this post is – before you go out to buy a furniture item new, see if you can find something in an antique shop or opportunity shop first, you never know what you will find (probably something you didn’t need when you walked in there, but must have on your way out!).  Speaking from experience, the satisfaction of bringing something back to life by stripping or restoring it is well worth the sense of pride you will feel every time you pass it in your home.


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