Baboon Redux – Beer Bottle Lamp

Header Image of bench made from skis by Victor Grigas /
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Today’s post was first published in 2011,  by Jim (who used to be) from Clark’s Grove.

As an impoverished student I learned to do a lot of improvising. In those days I got by with shelves made from boards and cement blocks which were also found in many other student apartments. I even had a guide to living as an impoverished student that gave all kinds suggestions for living cheaply. It gave a recipe for cooking a tasty chicken dish to serve on special occasions, along with instructions on making your own beer, and talked about using colorful cloth to cover worn out sofas and other things.

Most of the improvised things from our student days have been replaced by items that cost a little more and don’t need to be covered with colorful cloth. The lamp made from an over sized beer bottle is no longer in use. The board and block shelves were replaced by less rugged shelves made with 2 by 2s and boards and those shelves were finally replace some that were purchased at a furniture store.

We are still making use of some used furniture that we refinished during our student days. One of these items is a Hoosier cabinet that we bought for next to nothing at a back street auction house. We painted this cabinet and used it for many years before stripping it and giving it a coating of polyurethane. We even found a source of hardware that matched the style on the cabinet and replaced a broken latch. This cabinet has a lot of interesting features and is still in use for storing dishes and other things in our dining room.

There are some other pieces of refinished used furniture that we are still using. Most of these refinished items came from relatives. They include and old arts and craft styled oak kitchen table. The legs of the kitchen table were not refinished and still are covered with the old wood finish and decorative stripes of green paint. We are also using a refinished dresser that might be made of maple and a small refinished table made from some kind of fairly good looking wood. An old oak dresser has been stored for many years in our basement waiting refinishing, but I doubt that I will get around to working on it and I think it will end up as a donation to the Salvation Army.

The most treasured remnant of impoverished student days is a homemade spice rack still being used in our kitchen that is seen in the picture. It was made from some rustic wood slats that came from an old wooden orange crate and is filled with sets of recycled glass jars of various kinds. This is one of the few times that my tendency to hoard all kinds of things, including used jars, paid off. It isn‘t a highly attractive item, but it has a ‘folksy’ look that keeps it from sticking out like a sore thumb. It could use some new better looking jars with better looking labels on them. This spice shelf is a well liked reminder of the days when we didn’t have much money.

It can never be replaced.

What’s your greatest low-budget improvisation?

51 thoughts on “Baboon Redux – Beer Bottle Lamp”

  1. Loving it! Back (30+ years ago) during my “military days”, I actually used a large wooden spool (which apparently cable wire was originally rolled on) as a coffee table. Sorry, I don’t have a photo of it. No such thing as cell phones or digital cameras back then….

    Liked by 4 people

    1. My grandfather had three or four wooden spools of assorted sizes that he had painted, maybe with the intent to use them as side tables and such on his back deck. Probably a fine idea until the grandkids got ahold of them and let our imaginations find new things to do with them (besides using them as tables and chairs for ourselves). Great fun to sit on the middle part and roll forward on them, pushing on the outside edges like you might a wheelchair wheel – we would race down the sidewalk on those things hoping we hadn’t picked the one that pinched in one spot (a pinched back of the thigh slows down your racing pace).

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Morning all! I don’t know about improvisation but my whole house is full of furniture that I’ve scrounged over the decades. Except for the sofa and my current bedframe, I don’t have any new furniture – everything from garage sales or being given away by friends/neighbors or even saved off the boulevard! I call my decorating style “Early American Jumble Sale”.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. As in my home, VS…most every thing is recycled from family, friends, thrift stores…even a tv. I think I bought a brand new stool once. I especially love the history of things from family or that I have had for most of my adult life.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. We bought our Juliet Avenue bungalow in 1976. With no free funds, we struggled to fill empty rooms in our new home. We visited Saint Paul’s last surviving cooperage, which I remember as having the name of Greif Brothers. It was a survivor of an earlier century, a queer old factory that was powered by spinning rods in the ceiling that fed huge leather belts that came down to individual work stations where they cut, shaped and assembled staves into barrel. The factory looked like something from a Dickens novel.

    We bought three barrels, two cheap ones that were about 30 inches tall, and one small fancy barrel (fancy because it was stained and varnished). We used the big barrels as end tables until first one, then the other, broke up. I still had the fancy little barrel sitting near the piano when I left Saint Paul.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I have four chairs in the dining room that I picked up free within a time frame of a couple of years, glued & clamped to repair loose joints, then painted and recovered the seats. I used the same color paints on all of them, but painted slightly different designs. They don’t match the dining room table, and they don’t match each other. It suits me to have things a little on the ragtag side.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I’m not sure this fits the question of “low budget improvisation.” In the 1960s we had a surefire low budget way to evoke romance. All it took was an old wine bottle covered with different colors of candle drippings. Preferably a Chianti bottle with a wicker base. Turn off the lights, slap that thing on the table and light the candle. Set the record player to play a Johnny Mathis album over and over. Oh, the memories!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Good morning. We did find a place to put up the home made spice rack when we moved to Minneapolis not too long ago. Many of the recycled bottles have been replaced by Penzey spice bottles.

    I haven’t sent in anything for posting on this blog recently. I hope to get back to submitting material for posting before long. There have been many things that have taken up my spare time adapting to life in our new home here so I decided, at this time, to not set aside time to put together material that could be posted here. I very much appreciate all the efforts other Baboons have put into sending in items for posting.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. welcome to the big city jim. there are many distractions. its so nice to have your input on the topic of the day. it keeps us grounded and focused on ideas of what view of a seed saver would be


  7. Wait, let me see if I understand correctly? Allthe stuff we scrouge and make do with was once bought by someone brand spanking knew and they got it because they chose it from amongst other equally functional things?

    That’s too much choice and decision making for me.

    Improv and make-do are a way of life here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We have furniture they we got from my parents and other relatives that wasn’t new when they bought it. I have a dresser that my father and mother bought second hand when they were first married. My Dad told me that it should have a marble top which he never got around to replacing. My parents put a small woven rug on top of the dresser in place of the marble top and we are still using that rug to cover the top of the dresser.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. To tell you the truth, the vast majority of the furniture in our house is a hand-me-down from someone, somewhere, with the exception of the few pieces that husband (once a furniture maker) made. (I’ll not embarrass him by telling anyone that he made the bookcase that covers one entire wall in our living room.)

    It was made when we first moved into the house thirty-six years ago. He didn’t approve of my previous bookcase (heavy boards salvaged from a construction site and concrete blocks), but we didn’t have money to buy (or make) a fancy bookcase, so he sprang into action with two-by-fours. The intention was that it would be replaced somewhere down the line with a bookcase that he would actually claim as a piece he had made. Obviously, that has never happened, and I feel reasonably sure that it never will, and that’s fine with me. It’s sturdy, functional, and a bit funky; what’s not to like about that?

    Judging from the baboon abodes I’ve seen, and what I’ve read on this blog, we seem – as a group – to lean toward shabby chic interior decorating; lived in and comfortable as opposed to posh and to impress the neighbors.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I finally decided to recycle all the Polymar Fruit Spread jars I had been saving to put honey in from the bees I raised…never got that much honey, so…but they also would make lovely spice jars. Meanwhile I started collecting old porcelain spice jars inspired by the two I bought at an antique store in Sweden. so…guess I’ll let those jars go…finally.


      1. Thank you. VS, but…well, I’m still consuming apricot spread from new jars and so will not need any more. 🙂 One whole shelf of them in the basement is on the way to the recycle shed.


  10. Low-budget improvisation? – let me count the ways! There are old orange crates (painted white) used as little shelves all over the house, a desk from a board across two file cabinets, half a ping pong table for a table in the “miscellaneous room”, and I believe there is still a bricks-and-boards shelf somewhere in the basement. A former media center (painted very artfully, found at a yard sale) is the “pantry” at the bottom of basement stairs, and we still have a wine bottle lamp Joel made in high school. And like many of you other baboons, most of the rest of the furniture is hand-me-downs from someone, like the (gorgeous) oak table from PJ and Hans.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. In recent weeks I’ve been an intermediary in a kind of negotiation with my aunt, who is trying to shed some things after moving into a small space an assisted living facility. She has in her closet three small vintage suitcases, the kind people used in the 30’s and 40’s. My niece the younger has said she wants them. She plans to use them as a side table, the three suitcases stacked on a base with decorative legs. You see these kinds of things on Pinterest and DIY network & such. My aunt can’t seem to get past the notion that suitcases are for carrying clothes when you travel, not to be used as a decorative accent, so for now the suitcases remain in her closet. In the meantime, my aunt is trying to give my niece all kinds of other things she doesn’t really want.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Having just assisted our friend, Philip, in divesting himself of many of his treasures, I sure can relate. It has made me very mindful of how much “stuff” we have that has much emotional value, and very little value in terms of cash.

      In Philip’s case, we inherited a very nice “Tiffany” type table lamp. He refused to take any money for it. Instead I agreed to try to sell a bunch of lithographs – all professionally framed – on Craigslist. Of course, I couldn’t sell any of them, which is what I expected. That’s when I told one of those little white lies. Hans could use two of the frames, and agreed to pay me what he thought the frames were worth, $20.00. I told Philip I had someone who offered me $120.00 for the lot, would he sell them for that? He said, yes, let’s just get rid of them. I gave them away on Freecycle, and paid Philip $120.00 for the lot. He was happy, and I no longer have six pieces of framed art in the back seat of my car.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I thought so, BiR. These were really lovely lithographs, but not what most people would hang on their walls these days. I think the newly divorced father who picked them up was really looking for something to hang on his walls, so I feel good about that. And it gave Philip a little money, that no one knows he has, to spend on whatever he chooses. I’m still looking for a home for the two small lithographs that husband took out of the frames. Anyone?


    2. i think a simple agreement to use them on a trip to madison would satisfy both parties. a fun weekend a good score of vintage stash and a sense of contentment knowing that the use of a traditional treasure has benn appreciated. does she have the makeup suitcase with the sliding tray on top and a mirror on the inside of the lid?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Pretty much every set I ever designed was based on low budget improvisation. I have a friend who used to joke that if I ever got a “real” budget to work with, I wouldn’t know what to do. Crowning achievements include a set for a children’s show (I have forgotten the exact title – it was based on a Chinese folk tale) that I put together for $50 – mostly with stuff already at the theater, including some really old and stinky paint – we had accidentally overspent on the winter show, so we had $150 between the costumer and I to spend and she needed fabric more than I needed non-stinky paint. Also built a set for “Mulan” on $300 – that one had to be almost all new pieces because the theater had very little storage space. I borrowed a couple of platforms, but the rest was new materials and all fresh (non-stinky) paint…oh, and it all had to be built in a church fellowship hall, transported by SUV to the performance space and I had no way to “fly” drops or anything else and blessed little wing space so 90% of the set was on stage the whole time. Yep. That was a fun design challenge: at least six different major settings changes, all had to happen without taking things on and off, nothing could be attached to the floor and it all had to break down to pieces smaller than 4×8 feet. Some days I miss those challenges. Other days I remember the late nights and think better of it.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Brava, Anna. I am constantly amazed at what set designers are capable of achieving without a lot of resources. Several (perhaps all?) of our local theaters perform amazing shows with very little in the way of sets or props. I’ve been particularly impressed with Latte Da, Ten Thousand Things and the Moving Company.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. mylife is acollection. i never part with anything. my family is not happy about this. my warehouse is not happy about this. i have many many many recycled things some that are waiting for their purpose in life to be made apparent. im waiting.
    my bookcase that was the biggest challange in moving was the result of my not knowing the rules of furnature making. the rules that all furnatre people know is that piece needs to fit through doors and around corners like staircases and hallways. i made the bookcase for the wall in my basement 4 or 5 houses ago. the room was 12 feet wide so i made this unit 11 feet wide and 8 feet tall. when it came time to move it the next house was cooperative although the movers noted that 11 foot long cunnks fo bookshelves are inconvienient to handle even through the big doors at either end of the move. the next house was tough and this house needed to be lifted form the walkout level to the deck on the main level to the deco on the upper level and into a crleared room that awaited its confifuration before set up. this may be it or this piece but then again…. it would make a wonderful office piece , it holds gobs and gobs of stuff. books art crespondance. acts asa 11 foot wide shelf for a headboard. i can put a multitude of sins at my crown to be dealt with in the morning. pizza, computer hat bookshoes bottles and projects all within reach. today the wood would be expensive but in the day i believe it was about 100 dollars with my new air powered nailing gun. i made it right after i made my 30×60 deck on my wonderful house with south facing privacy in edina. next week i begin recycling my goodwilll collection and doing the electrical hook up on the hot tub i sniped off a patio last month.

    Liked by 1 person

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