Retrain Your Brain and Repurpose Your Furniture

A wardrobe is just a wardrobe—until some out-of-the-box thinking changes its fate.
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The perfect wardrobe is hard to find—when I found one for myself on a second-hand furniture site, I put down a deposit within minutes of the post going live. The one I chose was a massive, solid wood wardrobe from DDR-era East Germany for my bedroom. It was perfect, gorgeous, and the seller said he’d deliver it to my apartment for pennies on the dollar. As we slotted the 50-year-old glass plate shelves into place, he told me he was a carpentry student from just outside Berlin, and restoring this piece was part of his thesis. When he showed me how to unscrew the back panels if I ever chose to sell it, I laughed and told him it was perfect where it was, and that I’d sooner die than get rid of it.

About eight months later, I ate my words. My bedroom is small, and the wardrobe’s footprint was so wide and demanding that if I bought the bed frame I’d been eyeing and desperately needed, there was no way it would fit. I still loved the wardrobe because of its grandeur, and not in spite of its size. I could fold all my clothes away in its shelves with plenty of room for my blankets and extra duvets. It would be a shame to part with it—and a pain in the ass, too. What was I to do?

Said massive piece of furniture

Said massive piece of furniture

I returned to the advice I share with my friends when they love their furniture, but need a fresh start. When we buy furniture, we think we know exactly where we’ll place it: We’ll slide a kitchen cabinet beside the stove, a cupboard under the bathroom sink, and a table in front of the sofa. With each of these decisions, we sketch out a clear image of what we need from our furniture, and what purpose it will serve: We need a sturdy station for when we cook, discrete storage to hide our cleaning supplies, and a svelte coffee table to hold whatever we’re drinking when we’re lazing on the couch. But when buying furniture—and especially second-hand furniture—this isn’t the end of the story.

As I remind my friends, the value of a piece of furniture is often far greater than its function. Some pieces are sentimental, like family heirlooms or gifts—we treasure these for the memories we have of and with them. Others are beautiful objects, and ones we know we could never replace if we ever parted with them. We love these for how they make us feel: Exclusive, special, tasteful, and sometimes indulgent.

My wardrobe is both. It was one of the first major pieces of furniture I bought for my flat, and one that I’ll always think about fondly. But my wardrobe is also a relic of an era of design that has long passed. It is a stunning piece of woodwork, lovingly crafted and carefully restored. The wood is pristine and well lacquered, and the thin narrow wooden legs on which it stands are something of a rarity in today’s market—they’re not unfashionable, but they’re definitely not on-trend.

When we say we need something new, we often mean that we need something to change. Yes, this might mean bringing in a new shelving unit or buying a new sideboard. But if we give ourselves the space to see what we already own from a new perspective, we might be able to work with what we already have. A vintage drink trolley can be a side table just as a stout wooden stool can make the perfect plant stand.

In both form and function, furniture is as flexible as we want it to be. Getting creative with how you use your furniture is a great way to extend its lifespan and reduce the number of new pieces you "need." And when you consider how furniture can be repurposed, you’re invited into a new world of possibilities when purchasing new pieces. In one corner of my living room, I’ve stacked matching bamboo side tables on top of one another for a striking showcase for my books, vases, and candles. They’re unremarkable side tables alone, but stacked atop each other, they’re one of a kind. It’s unconventional, sure, but it’s what my friends compliment when I invite them around for a drink.

As I weighed my options, I took inventory of everything I loved about my wardrobe and everything I needed for my apartment, to suss out if there was somewhere else it might live. Its wide shelves offered seemingly endless storage space that was too big for my modest collection of clothes—but it could fit all of my paperwork, electronics, and office supplies with ease. I realized the wood that I was so taken with felt cramped within the confines of my bedroom. If it was in my office, it would have more space to breathe with all of its grandeur. In the space it left behind, I could bring in a much smaller chest of drawers, two petite nightstands, and the bed frame I’d been eyeing. It would take a bit of work—and an extra pair of hands to move it down the hallway—but I began to see a new future for the wardrobe, and a new way of working with it.

This perspective is the change we need when it comes to buying furniture, and living with it as well. When we shop for new pieces, we remind ourselves that everything has its place, and that each piece has a clear purpose. But when we look past that purpose—when we search for potential, and for the possibilities that arise when we work with what we have and what we want—we remember that often, there is a place for everything. 

Top photo by Flux Modern.

Related Reading:

How to Source Vintage and Secondhand Furniture Online

How to Pick Period Appropriate Finishes for Your Historical Home