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Upcycling: sanding back old furniture and rediscovering old memories


May 10, 2019-

I pointed at the worn out dusty cupboard and said: “Ba, this one.” It was hidden underneath a huge pile of wooden furniture under the makeshift shed. My father adjusted his glasses and walked towards the cupboard, manoeuvring his way through pieces of old wooden blocks. He then slowly ran a finger over the furniture and smiled back at me.

When I saw the cupboard a few weeks back, I thought it would be a perfect piece to be repurposed as a dresser for my room. It wasn’t anything striking, rather the opposite--it was covered in thick dust, the white enamel paint had significantly faded and an aluminium panel was nailed over its top. But I somehow felt it would just work fine.

For  most parts of my life I didn’t really notice that cupboard. It later occured to me that it was the same cupboard that sat quietly at the back of the kitchen storeroom while I was growing up. But, when I was 20, our family moved houses. It travelled with us to our new abode, but as the new kitchen was refurbished, it no longer fit. And so, it was pushed out to the shed with all the old furniture that did not make it into the new house.

But now that we are refurbishing once more, I wanted to scour through the crowd of old friends--not because I was attached to them, but I didn’t want another pile of old furniture spilling through the temporary shed over the next few years, which has now become more permanent. It has become somewhat of a purgatory for our furniture.

The idea for repurposing old furniture came to me after binging on YouTube DIY videos where people make it look so easy.

However, when the carpenters pulled it out of the shed, they weren’t happy. After scanning  their disappointed faces, I quietly asked my father, “Why is it so ugly?” His eyes sparked with a kind of amusement. He let out a quick laugh before telling me it was the first piece of kitchen furniture he ever bought. After eight years of marriage and two children, my parents had finally decided to leave the joint family home, but they barely owned anything.

When they moved into the three-room house, for a family of four, the only furniture they had was what my mother had brought in marriage. So, for kitchen, my father bought this 2.5 by 4 feet cupboard. It served two purposes--a stand for the gas stove (hence the aluminium panel on top) and cupboard for storing condiments. And there was it--my parents’ first kitchen.

Of course I was too little to remember this.

Over the course of the next three days, the carpenters whined over the fact that they had to work on the old wood, that the measurements were so off that they had to build uneven drawers--among many other things. My father even suggested we drop this repurposing and buy a new one instead. But I insisted.

After hearing about its history, whenever I look at this cupboard, I feel like it is looking back at me too. Although I barely remember when it first came to us, it is a reminder of all the other possessions that we acquired for the first time--the first dining table, fridge, microwave oven. But it wasn’t the possessions that mattered; the cupboard is a piece of nostalgia and a reminder of my parents’ struggling days.

Later, after many firsts, we lost count of the materials we managed to accumulate over the years. Many of the old ones were replaced to make room for the new ones--they drifted into the background as naturally as how we leave our past behind. But unbeknown to us, we had left a piece of us in those things even though we eventually grew out of them.

After the woodwork was complete, it was time to paint the cupboard, which now housed drawers in each cell. When  finished, the insides of the cells still had traces of the enamel paint that they said they couldn’t get rid off. But the drawers hid the most of it.

A few days after I placed it against a wall in my room, my brother made a passing comment, “It doesn’t have a clean finishing.” I didn’t say anything but I liked it like that--with traces of old wood, old paint and old memories. It has its own stories that it tells in its scars, marks and uneven cells. It is not really supposed to be brand new because it already has a personality. It is a testament of my parents’ history.

Published: 11-05-2019 07:00

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