How to Upcycle Old Appliances for Function and Decor

One person’s trash is another’s treasure. When it comes to appliances, we’re talking about big trash, so turning them into treasure requires a bit of creativity.

By thinking outside the (ice) box, you could find yourself rewarded with a bespoke piece of furniture or unique storage from something that would otherwise be sitting in a landfill.

Before we dig into some inventive solutions for upcycling old appliances, let’s consider whether their time has come.

Should I Repair or Replace My Appliances?

In today’s disposable society, we’re quick to replace appliances rather than repair them. Most of us wouldn’t prefer it this way, but it’s a simple matter of economics. When it costs nearly as much to repair an appliance as it does to buy a new one, it makes financial sense to go with a new model.

However, many appliance repairs aren’t as overwhelming or expensive as they might seem. Before you trash your washing machine, dishwasher, or fridge, do some research to see if a DIY fix can prolong its life.

Another consideration, however, is that older appliances use more water and electricity than newer, energy and water-efficient designs. You might be doing your utility bill, and the planet, a favor by going with the upgrade.

At some point, they will stop working. However it happens, sending large appliances off to the landfill is a massive source of waste for our shrinking planet, so make good use of them whenever you can!

upcycled tea kettle planter

What Can I Use an Old Refrigerator or Freezer For?

When a refrigerator or freezer becomes dated, it may not fit into your interior design theme. However, if it’s still functional, you can move it out to the garage or shed and use it as a beverage fridge and food overflow option.

When it churns out its last breath of cold air, though, it’s time to convert it into something new.

1. Pantry

How about adding additional storage to your kitchen? The refrigerator and freezer both offer built-in shelves and a closing door. What more do you need?

To convert your appliance, allow it to defrost and cool completely. Thoroughly clean the interior and exterior to eliminate any bacteria that can lead to mold growth.

Since you’ll be keeping it upright and unplugged, you don’t really need to remove any parts or make other changes. Just make sure it’s clean and dry before adding your food for storage.

As a working pantry, your dated and broken appliance will likely be visible, so you may want to dress up the exterior look. This is where the artistic edge comes in.

Grab some appliance paint, large stickers, or faux paint materials to create a design that works for you. Go subtle with a solid color or bring out your inner hippie with some colorful flowers.

2. Storage

Need some blanket storage or a place to hide the pet supplies? Think of an old refrigerator or freezer as a closet. Leave it as is or dress up the exterior for additional storage space that also reduces environmental waste and keeps you from buying additional furniture.

3. Ice Chest

For this upcycle, you’ll want to remove the working components in the refrigerator or freezer, such as the evaporator cell and fan, compressor, and condenser fan.

You can remove the door or doors if you want an open cooler. Or you can leave them attached for additional insulation for your cooler.

Either way, lay the appliance on its back. From here, you can add a decorative wood accent to the outside, paint it, or add a mosaic if you like.

Since these appliances are insulated to keep in the cold, they work as a cooler without a lot of effort. The door becomes a lid, if desired.

Note—this is not intended to be plugged in. As a cooler, you will fill it with ice and watch it melt.

Hot Tip—Drill a hole in the bottom of the appliance for easy drainage. You can either let it drip out freely or you can insert a simple on/off drain plug to control the flow.

4. Gun Safe

With thick metal sides, it’s certainly not easy to get into. Plus, turning a fridge or freezer into a gun safe is an easy task. Simply convert it as with the other storage solutions above. For safety, you should keep guns and ammo in two separate locations.

To store longer guns, remove shelving and add padding. For handguns, leave the shelves in place.

Alternatively, store ammo in the door compartments and use the main compartment for other accessories such as targets, shoulder protectors, goggles, ear protection, etc.

Add a heavy-duty lock to the door and take care to keep track of the code or key required to open it.

5. Tiny Closet

With the door on or off, you can turn your old appliance into a closet with the addition of a clothing rod. Keep a shelf in the bottom for shoes or organizational totes. If you’re using a freezer-on-the-top type of refrigerator, the former freezer portion can also be used for shoes, purses, or other accessories.

6. Couch

Someone got really creative, or desperate, with this idea, but it’s become wildly popular across the internet. It started with Canadian designer Adrian Johnson and a design that relies on retro fridges adapted with upcycled car bench seats.

Expanding on that idea, any fridge or freezer could see a similar conversion. To achieve the look, start by removing the doors and hardware. Leave the look rustic or clean up the finish with paint.

Place the fridge on its back. Then cut away one of the long sides. This is where the seat will be. The other long side will be the backrest. For the ends of the couch, you can leave the top and bottom of the appliance intact or cut them halfway in height to create armrests.

With the frame built, add an existing automotive seat or equip your new couch with cushions. Remember the DIY throw pillows too.

7. Coffin

Yeah, we went there. It makes sense, though, right? We’re going to guess you can figure this one out on your own.

8. Bookshelf

refrigerator with books inside