pencil sketch design of monks bench

Making a monks bench from reclaimed hardwood wardrobes

re-im-ag-ine / verb

  • reinterpret (an event, work of art, etc.) imaginatively; rethink.

With a specific space in mind, this monks bench was designed to perfectly fit next to a french door leading out to the garden. This modern take on the classic monks bench had an entirely different start in life and now has little resemblance to the furniture it was created from.

By re-imagining an Edwardian era mahogany wardrobe (complete with chalk paint no less!), along with another 1950’s art deco inspired piece, I took elements from each and transformed them into something new.

 

An initial sketch-up on the computer helped me to visualise how I might be able to make this project a reality. I've been using SketchUp for a while now and find it a really useful tool for testing out measurements to scale before the saw comes out and its too late! 

     computer generated 3D design concept for a monks bench

 After carefully dismantling the wardrobes into their component parts, work commenced on making the new parts. Central to the design was keeping the doors from the Edwardian piece with their decorative details, cutting down the width to make 3 equal sized back panels.

edwardian era wardrobedisassembled wardrobe in workshopmonks bench components being glued and clamped

For finishing, Farrow and Ball Pigeon colour paint was chosen to complement the paint on the walls and tie in with the rest of the woodwork in the kitchen. However, I like the contrast between painted surfaces and a natural wood finish in my furniture, so decided to leave all the shoe divider components and the little shelf sanded back. You might be surprised to learn that some mahogany is quite a light coloured wood when left unfinished. With this piece I used liming wax to further lighten the hardwood and make those parts stand out against the green. 

     front view of monks bench with decorative back panels    angled shot of monks bench with shoe storage finished in farrow and ball pigeon colour paint

This has been one of my favourite projects to work on. You never really know how old hardwood furniture will behave when disassembled and cut up. It often warps and twists, and very old pieces can be so dry and brittle the hardwood easily splits.

That said, a lot of old wardrobes like the ones I used were made from quality timber that can stand the test of time and are still perfectly usable if a careful approach is taken. 
So while in one way it seems a shame to undo the craftsmanship undertaken approximately 100 years ago, this re-imagining has ensured something of it lives on with new purpose for years to come.
extreme closeup of the monks bench storage dividers, showing a wicker basket and pairs of shoes
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