Every fall and spring, there’s a special week when you can score free furniture. Sure, it’s from the curb, but sometimes you can get great pieces from people who don’t want to bother trying to sell it.
I’ve mentioned before how we went years without a coffee table. We distressed a hand-me-down coffee table for our basement family room earlier this year, but the living room’s only “table” was a child-sized table and chairs.
So when I spotted a large coffee table that looked like “vintage” IKEA, I screeched to a stop and stuffed it into the minivan. It waited all summer for me to figure out how I wanted to refinish it, but in the process I had an even better idea: it would pull double-duty as a coffee table and kiddie table.
If we built two farmhouse-style benches, I thought, the kids could sit at the coffee table to eat breakfast or do a puzzle. When the benches weren’t being used, we could slide them underneath the table out of sight. They could even be sturdy enough for adults to sit on, too! My heart fluttered at the idea of concealed seating in our modest floor plan.
We started by measuring the coffee table from every angle and deciding how large the benches should be. I’ll try not to get too math-y on you, but we decided to make the benches a couple of inches narrower than the opening of the table — so it would be easy to push them in — and seven inches lower than the top of the table — leaving room for our kids’ growing legs.
Then it was off to the building supply store, where we bought an eight-foot 1×10 to use for two bench seats, two 1×6 boards for legs, and two 1×4 boards for supports.
We cut two bench seats from the 1×10, and had a little left over. The opening of the table was 46 inches, so we made each bench seat 42 inches for easy clearance. Since we wanted the bench legs to be really strong, we cut the 1×6 boards into 16 pieces — each nine inches tall. In no time at all, my handy husband, Michael, had turned 16 tiny boards into eight solid L-shaped pieces, one for each corner of the benches. He predrilled holes in the seats so the wood wouldn’t split, and then screwed on the legs.
To make things even stronger, he cut sections of 1×4 to run between the legs. Then we were left with two adorable wooden benches that even the rowdiest kids (i.e. ours) couldn’t break.
Michael helped me lug the benches into the basement, and I spread out drop cloths for a marathon painting session. I really, really wanted to use chalk paint but I knew it wouldn’t be able to take a beating from the kids. So I used leftover white melamine paint that’s designed for furniture and cabinets, since it creates a durable surface that can be wiped and scrubbed.
Painting the two benches was a fairly quick process — three coats with an angled brush and a small roller — compared to the curbside coffee table with its shiny surface. Despite pre-sanding it, the table felt enormous and it was a pain to work around. It didn’t help that I was painting during the Humidity Wave of 2015, and my sweaty knees kept sticking to the plastic drop cloths.
After a few days of drying in front of a fan, the benches and the coffee table were fully dry. We carried everything upstairs and got to feel the satisfaction of sliding the benches under the table and pulling them back out again. Now you see them, now you don’t!
The kids love their new set-up, and it’s been really convenient for playdates because you can squeeze four kids onto each bench. They’re solid enough that we can plunk down on them, too — the benches, not the kids — and I no longer feel worried that we don’t have enough seating on our main level.
I promptly sold our child-sized table and chairs on a secondhand site for a cool $30, so the project really only cost us $15. We technically have the same amount of furniture in the living room as before, except what we have now is much more functional. Bless you, Curbside Giveaway Weekend.
Now I’m wondering what other furniture can do double-duty. A trundle bed under the couch? A storage drawer under the chaise lounge? Hmm, I wonder if it’s structurally sound to install a pull-down library in the ceiling?