We’re in the early planning stages of another project, and I’ve started to notice a pattern here. Often projects start out with stuff we’ve found, which gets stored deep in the recesses of the garage and is completely forgotten, but gets triumphantly unearthed a couple years later, at which point we become infatuated all over again with its potential. Case in point, this solid-wood door, circa 1950s. It’s huge, leaning against the narrow side of the garage now, so a larger photo isn’t possible, but take my word, the door is pristine and a lovely golden color. One edge became slightly termite-chewed during storage, but that can be easily cleaned up with a saw.


Like all our projects, the early stage revolves around deciding what it will be. There can be — let’s see. How can I put this? — spirited disagreement in these early stages and sometimes even — yes, it’s true — diametrically opposed opinions on the thing’s ultimate purpose.

For this door, I can vividly imagine a built-in bench for an awkward space against the east wall of the house in the biggest outdoor patio we have. Marty sees workbench. The common ground is, we both see a functional bench of some sort from this beautiful door, but in one version it gets the crap beat out of it as a workbench, riddled with gouges from hammers and saws. In another version, it has cushions and pillows and an iPad open to The New Yorker. It’s a conceptual gulf, to be sure, but one that can be bridged, as they all have been, by judicious argument and persuasion. Defending one’s position helps sharpen rhetorical chops too.

We are mad about benches here. Indoors a bench is a low bookshelf, both underneath and on top. A bench provides extra holiday seating around the table. A bench is a coffee table. A bench is anything you need it to be at the moment you need it most.

For small houses, small patios, I’m convinced a bench is the answer to nearly every spatial question.

I’m fairly certain the door was intially going to be a table. I’m even more certain that it will not be a workbench.
But since I’m only the persuader, not the builder, the outcome is still uncertain.

via Riazzoli 1/12

Every project starts with some aspirational/inspirational photos.
Although this isn’t a bench but more of a divan, this is the general idea of the envisioned use. (via Riazzoli)


Although open and free-standing, a concrete bench at Reuben and Paul’s Rancho Reubidoux is about the right size.
Where does Reuben find this great stuff, and how does he get it home?

Great seating at New York City’s Battery Park, but too municipal for a home.


Water garden doubling as a bench from which a Narcissus can ignore the water lilies and gaze at his own reflection.
A bigger project than I can manage at the moment.
(Robert Smaus’ 1990’s Los Angeles garden)

Potted’s built-in bench for California Home+Design showhouse at The Hollywood Lofts has the proportions I’m after.

With each successive “planning session,” I can feel my opponent weakening. I’m not above using the blog as a bully pulpit. I’m Martha and he’s George arguing about what to do about the “baby” in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? except not quite that nasty and we laugh more.

Right now, I think bench has got the edge.

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8 Responses to bench

  1. reuben says:

    Hi, Denise … I confess I love a bench, too and search for them constantly in all sorts of materials. The benches you show in your post came from craigslist and cost about $500 … Although the sellers assured us that two men could move them, it was not the case and we actually had to pay nearby spectators to help us load them on our truck; altogether it took six men to move them! … Once we arrived home with them we nearly killed ourselves unloading and moving them into place again … It was worth it because we love them and they’re perfect but bench love can take a toll if one’s not careful. Good luck with your project, can’t wait to see the outcome!

  2. Kris P says:

    Admittedly, I lean toward the sitting-type bench too UNLESS the work-type bench will help get you other garden structures down the road…

  3. Any old piece of wood can become a work bench…but an old, beautifully aged one, well it should become a useful work of art (a piece of furniture like a bench!). (Maybe your case would get stronger if you started sourcing fabulous workbench options and leaving pictures laying around?)

  4. Sue says:

    I stink at repurposing found items. Years ago I hauled an old iron bed frame out of someone’s trash because I thought it would make the perfect _______ for the garden. To this day it’s leaned up against the back of my garage. Maybe I could turn it into a bench?

  5. Denise says:

    @Reuben, I appreciate the raw story behind these amazing finds of yours. It all looks so effortless once it’s at the Rancho!
    @Kris, that’s a fine point I’ll have to consider.
    @Loree, funny you should bring up sourcing photos of workbenches, because I did just that and found amazing garage porn that incorporates the garage as an outdoor room — I’d probably turn the house into an “outdoor room” if I had the chance!
    @Sue, we gave away a bunch of stuff to neighbors a few weeks ago that I kept around for years waiting for a brainstorm that never came. But I can see an outdoor bed/divan would be a nice summer addition for you, Nick and the Twerp.

  6. Jessica M says:

    Love these photos! Can’t wait to see who wins in the great repurposed door showdown of 2013. The first image alone sets me solidly on team bench — don’t know how anyone could argue with that!

  7. Rita says:

    Denise, my husband and I have done a ton of home projects – so I know and feel your pain! One small suggestion you can take or leave: if you are planning on placing a cushion on the bench, you might want to make the bench to the measurements of store-bought cushions. Unless you are happy to get custom cushions made for you. The endless selection of fabric out there is too much for me!

  8. Denise says:

    J, you’ll be among the first to know!
    Rita, thanks so much for that thoughtful suggestion about the cushions.

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