Foraged furniture

August 8, 2014

I’ve covered foraged flowers; this week it’s the turn of furniture. Self-confessed ‘furniture forager’ Ben Feetham, whose stylish Bedminster pad was recently featured on These Four Walls, shares his secrets…

Guest post by Ben Feetham

House tour | Salvaged style in Bedminster, Bristol | These Four Walls

Thanks to a childhood growing up in a house jam-packed with eclectic pieces, I’ve developed an eye for interesting and unusual furniture. Add to this my artist mother’s hoarding tendencies, and I think I was always doomed to be that person scrabbling around in skips or reclamation yards for weird and wonderful bits of scrap.

It’s surprising how many beautiful – and still usable – pieces are discarded every year.  With a bit of love, they can be transformed into something eye-catching and completely individual, often without spending more than a few pounds.  It’s far more fun than buying off-the-shelf flat-pack furniture – and it’s good for the planet, of course.

Keep your eyes peeled for items being thrown away from building sites or renovation projects, and you’ll be surprised what you come across (though do ask permission before taking something if it’s not clear that it’s up for grabs!). It’s also worth signing up for freebies or next-to-nothing bargains on offer through websites such as Freecycle, Preloved and Gumtree.

Once you’ve got your items home, look beyond conventional uses and be creative. I’ve used old roasting tins as log holders, turned wine boxes into TV stands and made a magazine rack from a battered suitcase. If you need inspiration, there are hundreds of ideas on Pinterest.

To prove just how easy it is, here are some examples of how I’ve used foraged furniture in my own house…

The cable-drum table

Wooden cable drums are a great starting point. They’re generally solidly built and can often be obtained for free – I recently snapped one up from a skip in Bristol. With very little work (often only a few nails or screws to firm up the boards), they can be made into tables, stools or pedestals.

If you plan on using a drum outdoors, I would recommend a couple of coats of hard-wearing external paint or even a fence stain – I opted for a few rough coats of matt black exterior wood paint for the small drum I recovered.  Less than two hours after loading it into the back of my car, I had an interesting garden stand for potted herbs and a handy side table for summer drinks!

For use inside the house, you might need to do a little more preparation. A good sanding will remove any rough, splinter-inducing areas, and it’s worth using an undercoat as well as a couple of top coats of good-quality paint. A few sample pots will often be enough to cover several square metres of wood and can be picked up for a few quid from hardware shops or specialist paint distributors. You may even want to end with some furniture wax (I love Annie Sloan’s clear wax) to give the item a more durable finish.

Cost: £5-15, all in

The pallet table

Wooden pallets are another of my favourite items – you’ll see them being discarded everywhere, and if all else fails many garden centres or supermarkets will give them away when asked.  They’re available in a variety of sizes, and their uses are endless: I currently have a completely untreated one in the garden where I stand pots and herbs which need to be raised off the ground, as well as one that I’ve transformed into an industrial-style coffee table with useful storage underneath.

My coffee table actually started life as a brochure pallet which I collected from a travel agency a number of years ago. I’ve done very little other than sand, prime and paint (with two coats of hard-wearing white gloss) and bolt in stainless-steel legs salvaged from an irreparable sofa on the side of the road. For an alternative look, replace the legs with chunky wheels like those found on shopping trolleys (a set of four can be picked up on eBay for around £20).

Cost: £5-25, all in

The door

As much as I love my house, there is one thing that really irks me: all the Victorian doors have been ripped out and replaced with flimsy reproductions. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for originals to put in their place. You’ll find plenty for sale at reclamation yards, but they will set you back as much as £100 each, and for me the real thrill comes from finding one in a skip or outside a house. This is exactly how I came across the beautiful glazed, solid-oak door which now separates my kitchen and dining room.

The wood was in excellent condition, apart from the odd splatter of old plaster, so it didn’t take much to bring it up to scratch. First, I used a wood saw to trim the door to fit the frame, and then sealed the edges to prevent moisture from expanding the wood (I used Danish oil for this). My next step was to replace the ugly bobble glass in the top panels with something a little more to my taste. I carefully removed the wooden beads holding the glass, then took the panels to my local glazer, who created clear reinforced-glass replacements (£25 for the pair). Back home, I oiled the door, carefully inserted the new glass, sealed it in with glazing putty, and repinned the original beads. The final step was to replace the broken rim lock (I found a replica in a hardware shop) and hang the door. And voila! With a tiny bit of elbow grease, the first of many doors was replaced.

Cost: £30-40, all in

Photography by Abi Dare

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