Give Old Furnishings a New Purpose

With a bit of imagination, furniture and found objects can do double-duty in your home.

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Hide CaptionShow CaptionA chair is a chair is a chair is a chair ... except when it’s an easel.
Pull Up A Chair

A dining table can look perfect in your front hallway, and a store’s stack of sweater shelves may turn out to be the best place for your books. With a bit of creativity, furniture can be put to all sorts of uses other than the ones their manufacturers had in mind, bringing a unique flair to every room in your home and proving that in design (as, indeed, in most things) it’s best to think independently. Here’s how five top designers give old pieces brand new — and very beautiful — lives.

Like many interior designers, Vicente Wolf ( has a "thing" for chairs. New chairs and old chairs, ornate antiques and sleek modern designs. At last count, there were no fewer than ten chairs in his New York city loft, and eight of them have been drafted into service as display easels for some of the 700 photographs in Wolf’s private collection.

"I rotate the photos all the time," says Wolf, author of Crossing Boundaries: A Global View of Design (Monacelli Press, 2006). "They move from my loft to my office to my beach house. Sometimes I’ll display a selection of all portraits, other times photos of hands, or all Italian futurists."

Like the photos, the chairs upon which they are propped vary widely in style and origin. Shown here are a classic bank chair, an 18th-century Italian chair, a French piece also from the 18th century, and a contemporary chair in black leather and stainless steel that Wolf designed himself.

In addition to providing visual interest, the chairs offer a benefit that actual easels or display shelves would not: "When guests come," says Wolf, "the photographs come off the chairs, and the guests go on."

Photograph by Vicente Wolf.