Friday, June 26, 2009

Recycling Retro Office Furniture

One of my favorite "green" things to do is to recycle furniture. I'd rather repaint and recover furniture than buy it new any day.

Last week at the local thrift I found a vintage retro HEAVY AllSteel filing cabinet with the original brass handles and five drawers, as well as being an unusual 10" wide. This isn't my first -people that know me well recognize that gleam in my eye, and generally run in the other direction 'cause moving these babies is hard work.

All Steel is an American office furniture company located in Muscatine, Iowa since 1912. They've been selling the government office furniture almost since before there was a government. All those dark olive desks and filing cabinets you see in the Army movies from the 1940s and 1950s? Every one of them is an All Steel.

On their web site is the All Steel motto:

"Together, if we widen our view, we can make a difference."

I love that.

After googling AllSteel, I also found

Turns out there's a big collectible market for retro office furniture. Seems people prefer filing cabinets that can actually hold all the stuff you file in them (without warping or falling apart at the seams). And they'll even sandblast your choice, and paint it any color you want.

Meanwhile back to my five-drawer find. I'm really, seriously, trying to get the house to look a little less like a disaster, so I'm shooting for built-in book shelves all around the outside walls -first in my office, then the livingroom, then the diningroom (which is actually our TV room - we haven't eaten at an actual table in years -probably because it's covered in books).

While I've got thousands and thousands of books, I've also got pottery, and various collectible "stuff", so I'm planning on painting the bookcases black, as well as my office furniture, on the premise that if everything is one color, the eye glides over the area, and it makes the space look bigger, plus it'll make my pottery stand out.

So my reclaimed file cabinet was ivory when I found it (originally olive green, but painted by the previous owner), and just like the Stones - I want it painted black.

Any normal person would take the hardware off, the drawers out, then have the frame sandblasted and then sprayed black. First - I can't afford that, and second - I'd never get it back together properly.

So I used painters tape to mask all the hardware, as well as the steel glides on each side of each drawer.

Then I used a coarse grit sandpaper to lightly sand down every surface I wanted painted (in this case, all of them). This isn't a "sand it off" job - it's a light, circular sanding - took maybe 10 minutes top.

After sanding, the first coat goes on with foam brushes. At this point it looks very Gothic - sortof like a Halloween prop - and for a minute there, it's almost stays that way (we are huge lovers of Halloween). But, no, I stay on track and apply a second coat.

And a third coat, and then finally, yesterday, a fourth coat.

Today, we moved it inside, took the tape off, and here it is. I'm hoping to get my office bookshelves built in during August, and then put the office back together, so for the moment, my spiffy new filing cabinet is stored next to all the packed away books.

And the open boxes of books, and the books on the table, and the ones stacked on the floor.....


  1. that looks amazing! What a find. So the sanding is to rough it up so the paint will stick?

  2. Exactly! And I used foam brushes to avoid brush marks.

  3. Seems people prefer filing cabinets that can actually hold all the stuff you file in them (without warping or falling apart at the seams)...... WOW! What a novel concept!

    btw - your cabinet looks great. I have a couple of old ones from the '60s. Wouldn't trade them for anything!

  4. Nice blog… you can find more office furniture collection from