Sometimes, all it takes to completely recreate an object, to repurpose and in that way recycle an item, is to change the way we see it.
I recently found a solid pine cabinet at a local antique mall. What drew me to it was the weathered pine finish and the rustic look. It wasn’t old at all, but it was solid, the wood was in great condition and all the iron drawer pulls were still attached. When I pulled out one of the drawers I realized it was meant to hold CDs and DVDs.
In my pre-war Cape Cod house, the living room, kitchen and eating area are all somewhat open. That leaves precious little wall space for storage pieces, but there is a little slice of space between the pantry, the edge of the tile kitchen floor and a window. I’d been looking for something useful to fit the space but hadn’t had much luck finding anything. I wasn’t exactly sure what I needed, just that I could use more storage space and that’s where I wanted to put it. Whatever it was.
When I saw the CD cabinet, tall, narrow and with five drawers, I knew it would fit the small space and I liked the height of the piece. I still wasn’t sure exactly what I would use it for but the price was right so I brought it home.
It was a perfect fit.
It stayed empty for a few days while I thought about how to use it. Then, one day, looking at the drawers I realized I might be able to make a small linen chest out of it.
I have a collection of linen napkins I’ve picked up at flea markets and antique shops all over the world. Some are delicate and very old. Others are sturdy linen or cotton. I prefer these fabric napkins to paper and I use them at the table quite often. Until now they’ve been taking up space in the armoire I use to store my china and serving pieces, but I discovered a dozen folded napkins fit easily into each drawer.
My friends teased me about the way I decided to use the chest. “Who has that many linen napkins?” one asked.
I know most people don’t bother with linen napkins and I don’t always. But I find them hard to resist and I add a few more pieces to my collection each year. I like the feel of the fabric and the exquisite workmanship that went into the embroidery and stitching of some of the pieces.
But I came up with other ways I could have used the pine chest that didn’t seem so frivolous. Lined with felt, the shallow drawers would be perfect for jewelry. It could be used to store supplies for hobbies and crafts, or perfect in a bathroom for holding soaps, washcloths and hand towels.
Who knows? I may use it for one of those purposes later. But right now, I’m happy with the project. I didn’t have to paint or repair or change the chest in any way. All I had to do to make it into something new was change the way it is used. And that can be done again.
Details: I found this piece at Vintage Rabbit Antique Mall, 2317 N. Monroe, Spokane
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org