Part of the furniture

Upcycling creativity and the art of instructions - what furniture can teach us about writing...

By: Suzie,   2 minutes

I love doing up old furniture. It’s a process that makes me feel simultaneously virtuous and creative. I’m not ashamed to say I am a bit obsessive about not throwing things away – it’s the northerner in me  – and so the process of rejuvenating something that is old and unwanted is, for me, second to none.

I am also, when I choose to be, a bit of a skinflint; I will admit that a number of the chairs and other bits of furniture in our house are the result of furniture-rescue escapades that see me skip-diving, trawling car boots and charity shops and then trying to fit bulky items into the back of my teeny Fiat 500.

I recently moved into a new house with my fiancé and, in my latest bit of furniture–related news, we acquired an old pine dresser from a friend who had deemed it ugly, broken and only fit for the skip. At the same time I reluctantly gave in to the need for roomy, practical bedroom storage (I have far too many shoes) and purchased a set of flat-pack wardrobes from a popular Swedish furniture retailer.


As I was building/restoring these two pieces of furniture I began to think about the process and how the two different DIY approaches applies to the work I do in my day job.

 While erecting the flatpack wardrobes it was the level of pre-planning and regimentation that struck me. The collection and delivery; the components carefully packed into each of their boxes; the meticulous instructions to be followed word-by-word and diagram-by-diagram; deviation would inevitably equal failure and if it hadn’t been Swedish I would have thought it was Swiss. Everything worked perfectly, in a planned and organised manner. Everything you need from good project management.

The dresser, meanwhile, turned out to be less antique than we had imagined. It was an MFI-style eighties pine job with broken drawer runners, cracked handles and a layer of dust from being in storage. We lovingly cleaned it; painted it with several coats of paint; purchased new drawer runners (two sets – the first ones didn’t fit) and new handles and waxed it. There were no instructions; no guidelines – and we had to make our own choices based on what we could see, knowing they could go wrong but enjoying making them nevertheless. This process reminded me of the creative work we do helping clients to explore their product or service and providing a new and fresh way of expressing this.

I couldn’t help comparing the two processes and knew instinctively which I had enjoyed the most – the creativity involved in the restoration process and the freedom to experiment would not work for everyone but they certainly worked for me. Selecting colours and components that took into account the surroundings of the dresser was a crucial part of the process as was working with my fiancé to ensure the finished product met both of our approval. It took time – but it was time well spent. That said, the project could not have been completed without a plan of what to buy and what order to do things in and indeed the dresser must once have been built using a similar set of instructions to the wardrobes and so the planning underpinned the creative process in more ways than one.

Taking something that’s OK and making it better is something I love – using appropriate planning, making creative choices and adapting based on the views and needs of others and the surrounding environment. Embrace the process.

The friend who gave me her ‘ugly’ dresser is coming round for dinner next week. I won’t be giving it back.



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