Its always struck me as peculiar that humans can’t imagine a second use for furniture. A bedhead is a bedhead and a chair is a chair. Once each has outlived its usefulness as one item it has no other use. I wanted to challenge this notion. For me when I see fine cabinetmaking in good materials, I want to save that prior effort. One one hand recycling old furniture can be about reclaiming the wood for use in new designs. Other times a prior work can inform the design of a new piece.
When thinking of new furniture design is key, furniture and humans have a relationship of function and aesthetics. So furniture cant be just an ornament, it has to have a functional daily use at its core. Which can be a difficult thing when recycling old furniture. So when I came into possession of a very beautiful antique bedhead I was at a quandary how to recycle it. The bedhead is made from Australian hardwood and is expertly crafted. Initially I thought that the wooden frames would make interesting picture frames. But it would have been a shame to waste the inherent aesthetic of the whole piece. Having a head piece that big however does not lend itself well to cabinets or other useful furniture.
In the end there was only one use. Taking a cue from hallway tables from yesteryear I built a ‘Hallway Seat’ with shoe storage. To make it happen I left the original bedhead as is and re-used bits from the bed end. The carved legs were cut and re-joined with new corner pieces cut from Australian Tallowood. I wanted to keep the woods similar so I found a period Wardrobe that had similar wood. (Most likely Victorian Ash or ‘Tasmanian Oak‘) this made the seat, sides and even the shoe rack. All were joined together using traditional Mortise and Tenon joints. For me personally I wanted to make this using hand tools where possible and found it highly rewarding. The real advantage of this kind of woodworking its that no screws or nails are needed. If done right the bits fit together in a kind of ‘tension’ where the whole structure is kept extremely rigid. Its very cool because it has a kind of tonal quality to it and a degree of flex.
Total bonus, the center panel from the wardrobe had a Art Nouveau(ish) carving which adds to the aesthetic. The wood for the sides came from the cupboard doors, its nicely figured. The seat did however throw me some challenges. Initially I thought it would be fine supported from just the two ends, however it ended up having too much flex when I tried to sit on it. So I had to put in a support in the middle of the chair and a extra bit of support on the front. I personally like the organic nature of how a design evolves. It becomes a thing because in a moment of foresight I decided to sit on it.
To finish it I went for mix of 50/50 Mahogany and Teak stain, it was the closest I could get to the original with the palate at my disposal. It does not mach perfectly but it becomes interesting for the fact that you can see the items it was made from. (a kind of providence is maintained). It was then sealed with numerous coats of Shellac (curses) and finally several wipe on Polyurethane to outlast bums siting on it. I’m very pleased with the result.
So the rack: I could have used modern round Dowel and got the job done in half the time, but that would have wasted the wood I had, so I cut square bits and got to work with the chisel. (curses) next time I’ll use the dowel. 🙂 Mostly because all the work is not really going to be seen. Its pretty in a rustic way. The Hinge for the lid cones from an antique Piano lid. (another recycled item) and all the (viable) screws are the old type flat head metal screws. I cut a handle into the lid, this was a tough decision, but it needed some way to be opened and this was it. One thing I regret is that I had to put the seat support where the handle is. If I had planned it better I would have offset the hole.
Perhaps the Inside of the seat could have been finished a bit better. But by this stage it was screwed up to the hinge and I didn’t want to remove it.
And here it is in use in my house. It happens to fit perfectly where i had an old wire rack for my shoes. Not only does it look 300% better I have a place to sit when I need to put shoes on or of. Very pleased indeed.