Finding new uses for old furniture

January 30, 1994|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Contributing Writer Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Refitting old pieces of furniture for new uses has been in vogue for some time. The interior of an armoire can be reconfigured to serve as a home entertainment center or a fully equipped bar. Decorative cabinets are frequently converted into quaint-looking bathroom vanities.

Those of us who have undertaken such overhauls know that it is no task for amateurs, regardless of how tasteful their intentions may be. The preliminary work alone is difficult enough, even before the technical aspects of the conversion come into play.

First, one must find a piece that will fit into a budget that has to be flexible. In these situations, the cost of a make-over generally cannot be determined until after the furniture is purchased. The piece also has to be of a size and a style that will fit with the room in which it is to be situated. Its width, depth and height must also be suitable for its envisioned function.

A piece usually needs to be at least 20 inches deep to hold new equipment, but up to 26 inches may be required for television sets or other electronic equipment. And in the case of an antique cabinet that is to be plumbed for use as a sink, comfortable height is just as important as proper width and depth.

Issues of quality and skill also need to be very carefully considered. A piece has got to be in reasonably sound condition to be successfully refitted.

And the method of conversion will also vary in accordance with the composition of the antique. For cabinets that are to be turned into vanities, the process usually involves regluing joints, rebuilding drawers to provide clearance for pipes, cutting an opening for the sink and refinishing or replacing all surfaces and hardware.

From a design standpoint, a small cabinet will need even more attention if it is to be used as a vanity in a contemporary bathroom. The mirror, fixtures and accessories all have

be compatible in styling and proportion with the room itself as well as with the cabinet.

Because this conversion may well take more time than designing all the other elements in the bathroom, it's probably wise to turn the process over to a specialist. A qualified individual or company can find an appropriate piece of furniture, provide a firm cost estimate and carry out all the necessary work.

Bob White Designs Ltd. is one such specialist in the refitting of antiques. The photo shows an example of the firm's work.

This beautiful turn-of-the-century oak dresser with carved ribbon and flowers motif was found by one of Bob White's designers.

Two fully operational sinks were placed in the top of the dresser, while the cabinet's interior, base and doors were reworked to accommodate the piece's new function. Note that a decorative rose-and-ribbon pattern has been added to the basins as a way of coordinating the new with the old.

Is such an investment worthwhile? That depends on one's perspective.

While this type of treatment won't enhance the value of the antique itself, its functional and aesthetic appeal will almost certainly increase the value of the home in which a piece like this is located.

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