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Tag-Sale Upgrades

Blueprint, September/October 2007

You know that lonely chair left on the curb? Those aggressively uncool tag-sale lamps? Your sad stack of mismatched frames? Others may overlook them, but we see potential. As these five quick upgrades (and countless teen movies) prove, an outcast is often just a makeover away from being an object of envy.

Junk Jewels

Flea markets are Blueprint's favorite places to prowl for ideas (find one near you at When you discover that special something, don't be shy about haggling. Nine times out of 10, there's room to negotiate. Just respectfully ask, "Can you do any better?'" If they say no, chances are it's still a great deal.

Frame of Mind

A little green semi-gloss paint turns a ragtag crew of (glassless) frames into an artful display. We rounded up these $1 to $10 orphans at a flea market. Benjamin Moore latex gloss paint, $19 per quart, in Golden Delicious (390), Perennial (405), Olive Tree (392), and Apples and Pears (395), for stores. Bench (similar to shown), $2,300,

Fold-Up Bed to Bang-Up Table

A foldable cot makes most people think backache. Senior editor Rebecca Robertson thought coffee table. Typical. The daughter of antiques dealers, she's programmed to see hidden possibilities. Like the time she realized that four 18-by-26-inch baking sheets fit nicely atop her spare military cot. To create the table at left, she just painted the parts -- stainless steel, canvas, and all. "I like how it has distinct sections, and how during a party you can bring the trays into the kitchen and load them up with hors d'oeuvres," she says.

Table How-To

Your dad might have one of these wood-and-canvas military cots kicking around his attic. If not, nab one on eBay. They're cheap to ship because they fold, and easy to update with some oil-based paint. Use a muted palette, as we did, or paint each tray a different bold color. Standard Army cot, about $25, Bowery Kitchen Supplies trays, $12 each, Fine Paints of Europe semigloss paint, $40 per liter, in E8-37 (cot) and E8-43 (trays), for stores. Jasper Van Der Hurd 6-by-9-foot Alhambra carpet, $2,700,

Quirky Art to Pretty Smart

A pedestrian painting becomes priceless when turned into a timepiece (and conversation piece). So dig out your magnum opus from Art 101, or that anonymous $2 portrait from the church bazaar. Any subject will work, but we recommend using a painting on board, not canvas, which can sag under the clock parts thereby ticking you off. Battery-operated clock kits are cheap, take minutes to install, and come in too many styles to count. The hands can be subtle or big and bold. Quartz clock movement, $5,

Camp to Lamp

Two kitschy fixtures caught Rebecca's eye as she tchotchke-surfed eBay, and she just had to reinvent them: "I wanted the focus to be on the lamps' amazing shapes, not all the colors. To make the duo more contemporary, she spray-painted them (plus some new shades) in glossy head-to-toe taupe.

This statuesque pair cost us about $45; to finagle your own, search for "figural lamps" on eBay. As for the shades, go with very thick paper so the light spills out the top and bottom, versus shining through the sides (and illuminating any streaks once the shade is painted). Lamp shade, $33, Fine Paints of Europe interior gloss paint, $40 per liter, in E6-57, for stores. Neisha Crosland by Stark Wallcovering "Hollywood Grape in Marigold" wallpaper, $228 per roll, Pacific Design Center, 310-360-6418

Tired Chair to Piece of Flair

A neat new seat needn't have a hefty price tag -- or even come from a store. This one reminds us of a Le Corbusier bathroom stool, but it's actually a $30 garage-sale score (if you're lucky, you can find similarly cool free ones on the street during furniture-pickup night). We rejuvenated the find with appropriate upholstery: a mint-green bath towel. "It's soft and welcoming, and you can choose a color that matches your decor," Rebecca says. If it gets worn out or you grow tired of it, just tear it off and use a different towel.

To shine up the chair's chrome frame, Rebecca employed a quick trick her dad uses for his bike: buffing with aluminum foil. Crumple up a piece and rub away the chair's tarnish as if you're using sandpaper. "It sounds like it wouldn't work, but it does!" Rebecca promises. To reupholster the chair, she unscrewed the cushion and cut out a circle of towel that was a few inches wider than the seat. Then she draped the circle over the cushion and used a staple gun to attach the towel to the underside.

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