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New Life for Cheap Furniture-Easy Ways to Fix Up Old Furniture

Updated on July 13, 2012

Give a New Look to Cheap Furniture

Don't be afraid to buy cheap furniture, shop at discount furniture outlets, or buy vintage and thrift shop furniture. You can give a new look to cheap furniture by thinking of new and creative ways to use it. Or use simple techniques such as painting over old wood and changing the fabric on chair seats to breathe new life into old and cheap furniture. Here are two ideas for using cheap furniture in new and creative ways.

Before rushing out to paint or refinish old furniture, be sure to look up its value. Antique and vintage furniture often retains its value if it is left unfinished. Painting and restoring certain pieces can drop their value, but it's up to you to find out before you start any project whether or not your furniture is worth more in its current condition or more after your artistic touches are applied.

Creative Uses for Old Furniture

Like new uses for old dishes, you can come up with many creative uses for old furniture. The vintage Singer sewing machine in the top photo is an excellent example. Many people own Grandma's old sewing machine but do not sew. Antique Singer sewing machines are prevalent at auctions, yard sales and other sales. Because a treadle sewing machine was a common household item in years past, as ubiquitous as a television set in a modern household, there are many in the antique and vintage furniture market today. You can restore it and use it as a sewing machine; my grandmother's vintage Singer was used for many years by my sisters and me to sew doll clothes before we retired it. Many are beautifully decorated with gold painted trim. Others, like the one shown in the top photo, are very plain. The vintage walnut-finish case on this sewing machine was actually more attractive than the machine itself, so we transformed it into our stereo table. A modern-day CD player and radio shaped like an old phonograph keeps the vintage feel, as does the table cover purchased at a thrift shop for $1. This creative use for old furniture and specifically for a vintage Singer sewing machine transformed it into a table and a focal point in the room. Other uses for old furniture include using a china cabinet rescued from a dining room set as a hutch, or a collectible cabinet to display your personal collectibles. I even knew someone who purchased a huge vintage post office unit of antique post office boxes and had it installed in her kitchen. It took up an entire wall but made a great wine and spice rack. She just took the doors off of some of the little post office boxes and slid wine bottles right in! See how many creative uses you can come up with for some of the old furniture pieces in your home.

Furniture Refinishing Options: Paint and Fabric

Another option for using cheap furniture is to paint it and add new fabric. The dining room set featured here was over 60 years old and the fabric was faded and stained. After an expert looked at the set and told us it wasn't worth much, we decided to fix it up rather than buy a new set. We purchased upholstery fabric for about $6 a yard and use the old upholstery as a pattern to cut out the new fabric. A wood stapler helped us staple the fabric in place on the forms for the chairs. We started to refinish the wood on the chairs, but the old varnish was a nightmare to remove and wouldn't come off, and none of us wanted to spend hours sanding it. The solution? A can of black glossy wood paint. One coat later, we had transformed our Italian style furniture into English Chinese Chippendale flavored furniture. We left the table as is since it was still in good condition, but the final project took only a few days and a few dollars. Painting furniture is simple and inexpensive. You don't even need to know how to sew to place fabric on dining room chairs; the staple gun was a life saver! If you buy cheap furniture, painting it or recovering it with new fabric are two ways to breathe life into it.

Cheap Furniture to Leave at the Store

Some cheap furniture you should leave at the store. For example, the recent bedbug outbreak also affected homeowners who stayed in infested hotels and accidentally brought bedbugs into their homes.  Several clothing retailers in New York City also reported bedbug incidents.  What does that have to do with cheap furniture? Bedbugs like to hid in cloth, which is why they are called bedbugs - they snuggle into the seams of mattresses, for example.  They can infest mattresses, sofas and chairs.  If buying cheap furniture, you may want to avoid the used or cast off sofa and chairs or learn the signs of bedbugs.  Look for photos of bedbugs to identify them.  Or better yet - buy new furniture with a guarantee and a reputable retailer you can go back to if you have a problem!

Another issue with buying cheap furniture such as cheap sofas and chairs is that chairs and sofas take a lot more wear and tear than tables or china hutches. Think about how many times per day someone sits on your couch. Kids bounce around on couches, company sits on it, you lay on it to take a nap....the couch and chairs you choose need to stand up to use.  Construction and fabric must be tough enough to withstand normal wear and tear.  Don't skimp on mattresses, couches and chairs.

Projects to Try

So what new life can you breathe into your old furniture? Think about the following ideas. Most are low cost and require a few simple tools or paint and a little time.  Find some frugal chic in your home and breathe new life into old furniture, or buy cheap furniture and reinvigorate it.


  • Painting over wood - dressers, tables, chairs, hutches
  • Adding new fabric and recovering dining room chairs or other chairs
  • Adding a slipcover to a chair or sofa
  • Sponge painting or decorative, antiqued finishes
  • Stenciling

© 2011 Jeanne Grunert


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