Singer sewing machines with a scrolled, cast-iron treadle base were manufactured from the mid-18th century to just over 100 years ago. If you have an antique Singer base, you also have a charming and quirky new table, kitchen island, potting bench or sink cabinet that works as well in a traditional cottage as it does in a modern loft.
Whip Up a Clever Table
Remove the tabletop and machine from the decorative iron base, if they are still attached. Most of the old bases are discovered in secondhand and antique shops and have long since lost their working parts. But an attic inheritance or an estate sale might yield a sewing machine and base in salvageable shape -- you'll have to decide if the piece is worth preserving intact. Recycling the base is a DIY job that can mean either a good cleaning or a complete refinishing. Wipe the base down with a soft damp cloth to remove dust and surface grime. Do a second pass with a sponge and gentle detergent for a dirty machine. Keep water away from the flywheel mechanism, especially if it still turns.
Basic Desk or Table
After a rinse and drying, either coat the base with a clear sealer or paint it. Rubbing off rough spots, worn areas and peeling paint with steel wool provides a surface for several coats of a good metal paint. Check your paint brand to see if it requires a primer. Once the base is a gleaming black, or forest green, chalky whitewash, or fire-engine red, add a table-size slab of thick hardwood, slate, heavy shatterproof glass or marble. Use the hardware fitting on the base to fasten the top on the underside, or just set a heavy glass or marble top directly on the base. To add extra height and stability, attach a 3/4-inch stained plywood board to the top of the base and set the glass or stone atop on the wood.
Your solid new table works easily as a kitchen island. Use either a thick slab of butcher block or a marble top, raised on a plywood base for the cook's convenience, as the island surface. Ornate iron S hooks hang off the scrolls of the base to hold colanders, utensils and potholders. A couple of beat-up wood stools or simple aluminum dining chairs invite cozy late-night cups of hot chocolate or use of the island as a breakfast or lunch bar.
The foyer table is either a dumping ground for keys, mail and random gloves or sunglasses -- or an imaginative showpiece you'd never dream of cluttering. A sewing machine base and an old type drawer are the start of a table that's a naturalist's or collector's delight. Clean and paint or seal the base and clean the large, skinny type drawer. Fasten the drawer, open-side up, to the base with bolts that can be removed if you want to disassemble the table. Place a treasure trove of seashells or a curated group of small collectibles in the individual compartments that once held movable type. Cover the drawer with a custom-cut piece of clear acrylic or glass -- either may be drilled with a glass/tile drill bit, so you can secure them to the drawer, but the glass might be so heavy you won't bother. The pedal platform near the floor will hold a green plant or a painted porcelain pot. A gallery spot or pendant lamp that trains a beam of light down on the table adds drama to the entrance.
The base of the sewing machine slips easily into a narrow powder room to hold a stone or faux-finished wood counter and a vessel sink. Lacquer or paint the base -- one pretty choice for a powder room is a faux verdigris finish of green turquoise applied over the metal and clear-sealed. Top the base off with a small marble top; stonecutters often have leftover ends after a big kitchen renovation, and you may be able to find a discounted slab of stone. Or use reclaimed barn wood or a thick piece of ornate hardwood for a vanity top. Wood will take sturdy screws that should be slightly shorter than the thickness of the wood. A tinted glass or copper vessel sink sits on the counter -- you'll need to drill one or more holes in the counter for the plumbing or have it done at the quarry. Vessel sinks come with mounting instructions and hardware. If you're handy with simple plumbing, you can mount and hook up the faucet yourself.
By the Rocker on the Porch
Distress an antique Singer base and whitewash it for shabby chic-style, or paint it with old-fashioned opaque chalk paint and protect the finish with a clear sealer. Treat a reclaimed mullioned window like a table top and lay it flat on the base, securing it under neath through the wood window frame. The porch table will look more harmonious if the window frame and the base are similarly distressed and painted, but an eclectic porch can handle a hodgepodge mismatch if it's interesting. Keep a small green plant or a pitcher of garden flowers on the table and some home-crafted coasters to go under the mason jars of lemonade.
Old windows are not a safe choice for tabletops where there are small, rambunctious children because the original frames are not fitted with safety glass.
Paint the sewing machine base to match your wrought-iron bistro set or to flatter the decor on your balcony. Then screw or bolt an old wood farm crate to the base, open-side up. Cram the crate with flowering plants, lush ferns or pots of herbs for an instant garden with big impact in a small space. A pint-sized wooden trug or a wicker basket to hold a few gardening tools and a watering can fits on the treadle platform at the bottom of the base.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .