Form, Function, Furniture, and Frugality

by Cindy Smith

We live in a small ranch house that was constructed in the early 50's. It has two proper bedrooms and a small room that was used by previous occupants first as a nursery, then as an office. There is no formal dining room.

When my parents passed away, I inherited some beautiful furniture including a cherry dining room suite. For eight years I pined for an addition to our house so that we could accommodate the complete dining room suite. No matter how I repositioned furniture, a full dining room suite would not fit into our existing living room.

One wintry day as I observed the bulky buffet, I noticed that the top half, equipped with two drop-leaves, rested on four spindles. At the time we did not have a coffee table for the living room. In a fit of cabin fever I sawed off the top of the buffet from the base and acquired my "new" coffee table. There are two small drawers for stashing remote controls and two drop-leaf extensions for holding plates and glassware when we gather around the television for a quick meal. The leftover base provides extra storage in the master bedroom and an "observation deck" for family pets who want to view the great outdoors at window level. The base has also been moved periodically to the living room to display large flowering plants.

In addition to the dining room furniture, I also obtained a 1950's cabinet model Singer sewing machine. My sister-in-law soon discovered that the machine was not functional so it remained out-of-sight in the basement for several years. As a teenager I had used the sewing machine to create skirts, jumpers, skorts, peasant blouses, and a granny dress. That was the 60's. By the 90's my hobbies had changed. I had discovered desktop publishing.

When I replaced my original PC, the new model received the place of honor in the den (former nursery) while the fully-functional old one took up space in my bedroom. I remembered the cherry sewing machine cabinet in the basement with the two small drawers for thread and notions, the deeper drawer for storing patterns, and the matching square stool topped with a removable hassock for extra storage space.

I unscrewed the sewing machine from the cabinet and cut the electric cord. Next, I searched for an area in the house where I could connect three-pronged plugs. By moving the side-by-side refrigerator, I could hook up the monitor and PC without purchasing an additional surge protector at this time. Now I have a quality piece of furniture in my kitchen which doubles as an office nook for me.

One side of the refrigerator serves as a magnetic bulletin board. One fold-out leaf provides space to maneuver the mouse; the other leaf is folded over to cover the hole left by the missing sewing machine. The stool easily stores a ream of copier paper and the drawers can accommodate several CD's, disks, and assorted manuals. Now I am free to compose in the kitchen while my son and his friends conduct research over the Internet for school projects in the den.

Incidentally, the oak microwave cart now supports our television and VCR. When flanked by two matching oak filing cabinets, it resembles a home entertainment center. We store videos in the cabinets and important papers in the filing cabinets as well as my son's old artwork and school papers.

By re-thinking the function of traditional pieces of furniture and being willing to recycle them, I make use of several frugal principles. First, I make use of furniture and storage that is being wasted. Second, I give up something of little value to me for something of greater value. Third, I do it myself. Finally, I do not confuse deprivation with frugality. We don't do without in our house; we just do it differently.

Cindy Smith is a full-time social worker and mother of one pre-teen son. She has published several articles in The Pittsburgh Catholic and is currently working on constructing the first online edition of a bi-monthly newsletter called the Ministry of Praise at

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