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Why a Cabinet Is a Better Bar Cart & 7 Other Furniture Swaps

February 22, 2017

It's tempting to just see furniture for what it is: A bench is a bench, a ladder a ladder, a cabinet a cabinet.

But no! Some of the most creative design moves are notable because they break this very supposition. A piece of furniture, used in a way other than for its intended purpose, is often more interesting than something that does exactly what you expect it to do. Shaking things up can be less than intuitive, of course, so here are some examples to get you inspired.

Shallow Cabinet as Barcart

A true barcart is on wheels, so it can hypothetically be scooted around to best serve those who are slave to its bounty. But most end up leading a stationary life, regardless. So why not use a standard cabinet, which has the added benefit of shelves that can provide extra kitchen storage (or simply a place for all your coupes and tumblers)?

Ladder as Shelves

There are a few ways to use a ladder as storage. If you have the room, simply set it out in an empty corner and arrange decorative accents on its steps, or scooch it up against a wall and lay a few boards across its steps to act more like traditional shelves. Even more basic leaning ladder models can be propped against the wall to hang towels or magazines on.

right back to it 📷🌿

A photo posted by jillian guyette (@jillianguyette) on

Photo by James Ransom

Two Cabinets as Hutch

Without getting tangled in the weeds of furniture semantics, a hutch is a type of furniture with an upper section—often windowed for decorative storage—and also a lower section of cabinetry. It is tall, fits many things, and comes in many styles. Instead of buying a hulking antique, consider a piece that hangs above a low set of cabinets (and then paint them two different colors!).

Wardrobe as Dish Cabinet

Despite the fact that we can't see into this cabinet, its proximity to the dining room table indicates that it doesn't likely hold a capsule collection of summer dresses. Are there aprons on hooks? Added shelves for table setting supplies or linens? Either way, it's an interesting (and slender) shape for the space.

Bench as Pedestal

In an entryway, a bench might be useful in its intended free-from-clutter form (since you might sit down to take off or put on shoes, or want to leave your bag somewhere that's not the ground). But elsewhere, especially along a hallway or living room wall, it isn't as necessary for seating—so heap it with plants and books and bottles instead.

Feeling fresh at The Boathouse Balmoral Beach in Sydney with @glampackersyd #traveldeeper

A photo posted by AFAR (@afarmedia) on

Ironing Board as Console

Narrow and rickety, vintage ironing boards might not be the best for steaming your clothes (unless you're the type who is ready to DIY a cover for it, and 10 points if you are). Others might use it the same way a narrow table would be in the hallway, for anchoring a piece of art above it or holding pretty things.

Photo by SF Gate
Photo by Vintageholic

Baskets as Side Tables

An oldie but a greatie, the idea of flipping over deep baskets to make small tables is fun, airy, and non-committal—the best kind of side table decisions.

Photo by Jen Gotch

Flat File as Linen Cabinet

Antique cabinets with very, very skinny drawers are difficult to repurpose in the obvious situations (because do you have a map collection that needs sorting? do you want to put a single shirt in every drawer?). Linens—especially for the table—are an excellent example of something that would find a happy home in a piece of furniture like this.

Photo by Magnolia Market

This article originally ran this day last year, but we brought it back to inspire a little pre-spring rearranging.

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Top Comment:
“There is a strong tendency among modern products, furniture included, to engineer them so that they can be made out of practically nothing yet be strong for one particular way of using them.”
— Smaug

Do you have any furniture that you use in a completely unexpected way? Share your ideas in the comments.

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


ktr February 22, 2017
I used to use an overturned garbage can (the round one from ikea) as a night stand.
Amanda S. February 22, 2017
Maya D. February 23, 2016
Not bad : some old wood.
Amanda S. February 23, 2016
I use an Ikea 3 drawer dresser to hold my liquor plus the shelving around my fireplace to hold my glassware - plus the mantel for my wine rack. A little complex, but it works. Inside the dresser I keep candles, linens, & board games. I'm able to keep my entertaining goods where I use em.
Amanda S. February 23, 2016
Ooh, mantle as wine rack! Love that.
Commenter February 22, 2016
Smaug February 22, 2016
One reason would be that most cabinets, especially modern ones, have very little structural integrity unless they're properly installed. Particle board cabinets in particular (and most of them are nowadays) have almost no resistance to racking, making them a dubious choice to put on wheels. There is a strong tendency among modern products, furniture included, to engineer them so that they can be made out of practically nothing yet be strong for one particular way of using them.
Amanda S. February 22, 2016
That's a great point! I only meant that a cabinet works well for holding your bark cart essentials; putting wheels on one would be a mess!
tia February 22, 2016
I was actually just thinking about switching out the console in my dining room for an armoire to act as a pantry.
Amanda S. February 23, 2016
Please report back and let us know how it works out!
Samantha W. February 22, 2016
This is so smart, helpful, and true! I use an old beside table as a bar cart/pan storage, wooden boxes turned on their sides as plant stands, and our old metal record stand as outdoor grilling equipment storage.
Amanda S. February 23, 2016
Record stand as grilling accessory holder!! I'm coming over.