Thrifty Think Pad

Transform a spare room into a superfunctional work space -- without busting your budget.

Basement castoffs -- including a vintage chair, metal kitchen table, and basic wood dresser -- serve as the cornerstones for a new home office. Paint and slipcovers refresh the retro relics, while reproduction and vintage accessories, such as the salvage wall cabinet above the desk, keep the space functional and fun.

If the lines of these mid-century furnishings don't reveal their age, their retro hues sure do. Together, red and blue sing a nostalgic tune.

In this cozy 8-x-8-foot room, space-saving slatwall steps up to the storage challenge. More commonly used as retail store display, the 4-x-8-foot panels -- along with a mix of brackets, shelves, bins, and other accessories -- work wonders for stylish organization.

Stuck in the '70s as a dated dresser, this hutch gets some modern attitude with a chopped-off top and a fresh coat of paint. Wrapping paper and red fabric cover canvases to become artwork on the cheap.

Save scraps of art paper to decoupage onto plain trash and recycle bins.

A capiz-shell chandelier may cost a few clams, but the style statement is priceless. A few splurges may be necessary to pull together a great-looking room on modest means.

Sign letters offer vintage character; when secured to a shelf top, this one becomes an unexpected bookend. Slatwall brackets come in a variety of depths to accommodate various shelf sizes.

Paint an old metal tray to make a magnetic board, handy for posting photos and notes.

By combining found furniture and basic office supplies that we already had on hand, we pulled together this office's sweetly retro look on the supercheap:

  • Desk lamp = $15
  • Vintage sign letters (auction) = $11
  • Wall cabinet (salvage yard) = $10
  • Vintage tray (antiques shop) = $3
  • Cocktail mixer (used as vase) = $2
  • Artwork = $25
  • Wastebasket, recycle bin = $10
  • Throw pillow = $5
  • Floor pillows = $12
  • Ceramic vases and pencil cups = $12
  • Paint = $8
  • Lava lamp = $7
  • Red clock = $5
  • Blue mesh bag = $3
  • Rug = $135
  • Slatwall panels, hardware, shelves = $110
  • Chandelier = $99
  • Total: $472


Like what you see in this story? As of 2005, the items featured in this story were available from these manufacturers.

Flooring -- Armstrong World Industries; 800-233-3823; Paint Pale Sea Mist -- Benjamin Moore; for the location nearest you, call 800-672-4686; Slatboard -- Paxton, Des Moines; 515-283-2137. Slatboard accessories -- Spacewall Display Systems; 800-892-0698; Floor mats -- The KoKo Co.; 888-873-5656; Chandelier capiz shell -- West Elm catalog; 866-428-6468; Paper art Neo Tokyo gift wrap -- Anvil Paper; Message boards Bits Magnetic Notice Board -- IKEA; in the United States: 877-345-4532; in Canada: 888-932-4532; Wallpaper, desk chair slipcover fabric -- Urban Outfitters; 800-282-2200;

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