Ideas for Making Cool Furniture From Recycled Materials (Bookshelf, Table and more!)

If you’re looking for interesting ways to repurpose old furniture and other materials that you can recycle, then you’ve come to the right place.

We’ll give you some tips on how to breathe some new life into that old furniture, as well as some ways to take found things and recycle them into functional pieces of furniture for your home or apartment.

Interesting Ways to Repurpose Old Furniture

Whether you’re a veteran thrift store shopper, a flea market treasure hunter, or just someone who wants their d├ęcor to be unique and interesting, repurposing old furniture is a great way to furnish your home or office with unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. Because repurposing involves using found or salvaged material, you can usually make something cool without spending a lot.

Turn a chair into a chair

The simplest way to repurpose furniture is to consider its original use and simply update or upgrade the piece. Many people would consider repainting or re-upholstering to get a new look, but what about changing the elements entirely? For example, a wooden table could be entirely re-invented by changing the base to accommodate a glass table top. A chair with a cane back could have the entire back piece replaced with an upholstered panel, or a wooden chair can have the seat replaced with an upholstered cushion. Even these small changes can make a big difference!

Turn a loveseat into a chair

The next step up in furniture repurposing is to convert a piece into something similar but different. For example, the top of a coffee table can be added to a full-size table base to convert it into a dining table. A loveseat can be converted into two chairs, or a coffee table can be cut in half to create two matching end tables. The biggest challenge in this type of repurpose is usually in structural areas, like adding extra legs or arms.

Throw a cushion on it!

One of the easiest and most effective ways to repurpose items is to turn them into a seating project. Short bookcases can have a cushion added to the top to create an area that’s comfortable for reading, or cubbyhole shelves can have seating added to them to make a place to sit while putting on shoes in the mud room or entryway. Thin rectangular coffee tables can be converted to benches with a simple cushion, and oval coffee tables can become beautiful entryway benches with a custom foam cushion.

Get inspired!

Repurposing is a great way to build your own custom furniture, and it helps to look at what others have done to find inspiration for some of the more esoteric transformations. Visit your local flea market or swap meet to see what repurposing projects have been done, and watch home and garden improvement shows to get some ideas for furniture transformations.

Make something entirely new

Perhaps the most impressive and least expected repurposing projects are projects where something entirely new is created. This works beautifully for shelves and coffee tables, as it allows you to create a custom piece that becomes a unique conversation starter. For example, you could use an old aquarium topped with a glass tabletop to create a coffee table filled with live fish. You could convert an old industrial piece into a shelf or bookcase, or convert an old door into a table.

Keep reading for more cool ideas on taking other people’s junk and turning it into to functional furniture pieces.

Making a Bookshelf from Recycled Materials

For some people, filling up a bookshelf is a sign they need to get rid of some books. But for a true bibliophile, a full bookshelf just means that you need more bookshelves!

If your budget is tight, or if you just want something unique, consider making your own bookshelf from recycled or found materials! It’s a great way to be environmentally conscious while adding something totally unique to your home decor.

The Basics

At the most basic level, a bookshelf is really a very simple project. Each bookshelf needs a level platform for shelving the books and some sort of spacer to place between the shelves. The “redneck” solution is to use concrete cinder blocks as a spacer and a simple sheet of plywood for the shelf. This is a very simple and effective way to use found or salvaged items to make a bookshelf, but it can be “prettied up” with a simple coat of paint. In order to make it a little more stable, you can use epoxy to hold it together.

Salvaged Metals

If you have some old computers, you’ll usually find a rectangular piece of steel used on the outside of the case. These can be used as shelves, as long as the side facing the user is dulled, covered, or sealed. These unfinished edges can cause dangerous cuts. A bead of caulk or epoxy on the outer edge can provide a safer finish, and these can be spray-painted to customize them.

Cardboard Boxes

Cardboard boxes make wonderful book boxes for children and playroom areas. Since the books are tossed into a box rather than shelved, it’s easy for young children to pick up after they’re done reading. Diaper boxes often work well for this, and they can be covered in wrapping paper, scrap wallpaper, or Contact paper to make them fun. They’re not all that sturdy, but considering the cost (almost free!), they make a great addition to a child’s bedroom.

Crates

Wooden or plastic crates can be used as-is for a book box, and wooden crates often have a beautiful rustic finish that complements adult decor. The crates can be turned onto one side and used together as a bookshelf, making it easy to store magazines or materials by subject. If you place one on each side with any type of board above and below them, you can create a functional bookcase that allows you to make use of the extra space within the crates.

For the Truly Dedicated Bibliophiles…

For those who are truly dedicated to collecting and enjoying books, consider building wall-mounted shelves rather than purchasing a new bookshelf. Wall-mounted shelves can be added to a wall a couple of feet below the ceiling, allowing you to make full use of wasted space above your head. Simple wall-mounted shelf brackets can be found at any home improvements store, and you can use wood, metal, glass, or Plexiglass to form the shelves. The biggest challenge in storing books overhead is the weight, so make sure to use plenty of brackets and appropriate wall anchors for your bookshelf; check with your contractor or home improvements store to find the right supplies.

The only challenge with using a wall-mounted shelf rather than a self-contained unit is that it requires the use of bookends, but you can customize your bookshelf to suit your unique design tastes by choosing or finding bookends that meet with your designing needs.

Making a Coffee Table from Recycled Materials

It really can be annoying to be watching television and have no place to set something down. Setting a drink on the sofa will result in major spills the next time somebody wiggles, and setting it next to you on the floor means that if you’re not careful when you get up, you’re going to have stains all over your carpet. Fortunately, it’s possible to make an amazing, unique coffee table out of recycled materials!

Tabletops

The tabletop can be made of almost any flat surface, so the variations really are endless. You can pick up cheap legs at most hardware stores that can screw onto the tabletop, and the tabletop can really give you an opportunity be creative and fun! Any fabric or paper can be applied with decoupage, and old maps, sheet music, or love letters look fabulous. If you’re using decoupage, apply a layer of polyurethane once it’s all dried to help protect the surface from chips and water marks.

Windows can make a beautiful coffee table. Just build a small box of reclaimed wood a little bit smaller than your window, then attach the window with a hinge on one side. You can use polyurethane and superglue to make a tabletop out of old pennies, or you could use broken glass or ceramic tile to build a lovely mosaic tabletop. A thin layer of cement can be imprinted with antique doilies for a beautiful texture, although the tabletop may be rather heavy to move.

Whole Tables

Sometimes, you don’t even need table legs! You can use old wooden crates (like wine crates) to build a custom-designed coffee table that can also be used for storage. You may want to add some casters to the bottom for portability, but the table itself can be made entirely of salvaged wooden crates.

Coffee tables can easily be made from recycled pallets, and free pallets can be found almost anywhere. You’ll need a sander, paint or stain, and probably a heavy coat of polyurethane to protect it. These can be made without legs, or small legs or casters can be added to raise them off the ground. .

You can convert a small bookcase into a coffee table with some legs and a piece of plywood for the tabletop. An old steamer trunk can be transformed into a coffee table with nothing more than a glass or plexiglass tabletop.

Is that Really a Coffee Table?

Because the coffee table is often a central piece in the living room design, unique coffee tables can be a great way to show off your personal style and start a conversation with guests. Just as almost any flat surface can be used for the tabletop, almost anything can be incorporated or used as a base. The only limit is your imagination!

Consider some of these unusual ideas:

  • The base of the coffee table can be made of old desktop computer towers, stripped of most of their plastic parts and welded together.
  • The base of a coffee table can be made with PVC pipe or even copper pipe, connected by elbow joints and secured with epoxy or caulk for an industrial look.
  • The tabletop can use stencils and a thin layer of plaster to create Tuscan-inspired textural designs. Any textured designs may prevent drinks from sitting firmly on the table, so these can be covered with a thick polyurethane or a pane of glass.

Making a Stool or Chair from Recycled Materials

Everybody needs a comfortable place to sit, but why buy a new stool or chair when you probably have things sitting around your house that you can use to make a unique, interesting, comfortable seating option already?

Stools

Stools can be made of almost anything. Legs can be purchased ready-made from most home improvement stores to add some height to your stool, and the stool itself can be made of things you already have or things you can find in the dumpster or at a flea market. The basic format for a stool is the legs and the seat. The seat is basically three parts: a base (usually a board), the cushion, and the upholstery (the fabric on top).

A small round entry table can have the top removed. Then a cushion can be cut to size out of foam and covered with almost any type of fabric. The fabric can be secured with staples on the bottom, and for a more professional appearance you may want to add a thin layer of fabric beneath the seat to hide the edges of your upholstery work. Alternatively, you can use a round picture frame to build a unique seat.

Antique frames or more ornate artwork frames work well for this, and you’ll need a base cut to fit neatly inside the frame. Make sure the cushion is thick enough to rise above the top of the frame even when sitting on it, and upholster the cushion for a unique high-end design.

Less traditional stools can be made out of old tree stumps, sanded and leveled to provide a comfortable seat. These may be topped with a separate cushion or left alone for an outdoor seating option that fits in with the natural beauty of the yard.

Chairs

Chairs can be a bit more challenging, because in addition to the stool, you’ve also got a back and possibly arms to worry about. Still, these can be upcycled, repaired, or created new from other materials. If you have an old chair to begin with, you can easily re-upholster it or re-paint it to give it a whole new look. If you want something more interesting, you’ll have to get creative!

For a chair designed for reading, you can build a chair from an old bookcase and an old coffee table. Cut the coffee table in half so that the each side has two legs and secure the coffee table in a sitting position to the back of a bookcase using carriage bolts. For comfort, you can add a cushion or upholster a cushion to the seat and the seat back area. For a similar bookworm design for a child’s room, try connecting old wine crates to either side of the bookcase. The extra space in the crates can be used for storage, and the crates themselves can be used for sitting down to read a good book.

Going Japanese?

While it’s not strictly a chair, children and young people often enjoy sitting on cushions rather than furniture, and having a good supply of soft, comfy cushions can be a great way to create a comfortable space. Loose cushions, especially those that will be moved around a lot, are going to need a heavy fabric for durability, and it’s often a good idea to cover the foam base in several layers of quilt batting before upholstering it to help keep it soft.

Making a Desk from Recycled Materials

If you spend any time at your desk, you need to make it a beautiful and comfortable place to spend your time. If you work from home, it’s even more important that your desk be a great place to spend time, especially if you do any type of creative work. It’s hard to feel creative when your desk looks like it was taken from a cubicle farm! Fortunately, you can create a unique, one-of-a-kind desk from recycled materials.

The Desktop

The top of a desk can be almost any flat surface, and this provides a wide range of options when it comes to making a desk that you love. Most interior doors are flat, although a used door will have holes for the doorknob and small holes where the hinge was attached. The holes can be filled with wood filler, although for the doorknob hole you might wish to have a circle cut to the size of the hole and inserted before smoothing it over with spackle or filling in the gaps with wood filler. For a space-saving option, you could keep the existing hinges and attach the desk directly to a sturdy wall. The desktop can be folded up and kept in the up position with a hook. If you’re going to put a computer or other heavy object on the desk, folding table legs may be attached to the bottom for added stability.

A dining table can make a lovely desk, too. Cut the table in half with two legs on each side, then secure the cut side to the wall with screw and wall anchors. This is also a great way to build a “his-and-hers” office area!

Old countertops can become a beautiful and unique desk, and these can sometimes be found for free or for very little money if you have a friend renovating a kitchen or bathroom. Sometimes you even get lucky and get a piece of marble or granite for your new desk! If you’re adding table legs or anything else, it pays to get some advice on the best way to drill into the stone, or you can simply add a wooden board to the back with a suitable epoxy or cement.

The Legs

While you can certainly purchase any ordinary table legs, most people like when their desk comes with some extra storage. In the place of table legs, you can use a 2-drawer filing cabinet for each side of the seating area. Some crown molding can complete the desk for a custom look.

Short bookcases can be used for the sides of desks, especially if you’re looking for a desk that’s closer to bar height than table height. Short cube shelving units can also be used for the sides of the desk, adding substantial storage for crafts, office supplies or books. Old wine crates can be used as desk legs, stacked and affixed firmly together to ensure that they will support the weight of the table.

If storage isn’t a concern, PVC or metal pipe can be used to construct a custom desk base. Cinderblocks may be stacked and used to create an industrial look, although cinderblocks and bricks can damage carpet and will need some type of rug or carpet protector placed beneath them.

image: Pexels

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