Ideas for cheap, mobile furniture?
July 28, 2010 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Furniture ideas for the perpetually mobile. For better or for worse, I've been changing living spaces about every six months. I'm sick of lugging furniture but don't want to live completely out of boxes. What are your ideas for cheap, compact, very mobile solutions for (at least) a desk, dresser, and full-size bedframe that doesn't require a box spring? Bonus points for book storage ideas and organizational pieces. Real furniture or makeshift (i.e. tupperware bins) OK.

I have thought about using tupperware bins for the clothes and linens and whatnot. I would rather not use a mattress on the floor as a bed, but I've done it before. I don't have a ton of scratch for this endeavor, nor access to a bandsaw and drill and whatnot to build my own solutions, so simple is the name of the game.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (24 answers total)
I can't help with the others, but get a platform bed with wood slats — much easier to manage than a boxspring and much more comfortable than a mattress on the floor.
posted by enn at 9:00 AM on July 28, 2010

You could do worse than to pick up a few GORM units from Ikea. (These are the super cheap shelves made out of 4" slats of pine.) They go together fast, break down fast, don't look too bad (esp if you paint them), and there are a variety of shelf sizes. For a desk, use two 18" GORM with a plank stretching between shelves at knee height. Instead of a box spring, use a standard rollaway bed frame (the angle-iron rail variety that folds up) with a couple sheets of plywood on top of a few two-by-fours cut to stretch across the frame. You can put an air mattress on this, or just sleep on the floor.

Store stuff on the shelves as-is and/or put it in totes to fit the shelves.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:04 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

For years I had my mattress resting on two pieces of plywood cut to size which were resting on plastic bins similar to these

I had the size that fit 4 to each side, and could easily pull out one at a time for access to the stuff inside them.

I had a great mattress, and everyone who ever slept here raved at how comfy it was. No one could tell that the bed was essentially just storage bins (I had a dust ruffle covering them).
posted by newpotato at 9:05 AM on July 28, 2010

I'm not sure about some of the big furniture, but I've used a large ball as a desk chair for years. The balance ball kind, supposed to be good for you, but I think just comfortable. Each time you move, you can just deflate it.
And it's not that quick or easy, but if you have a bedframe made of wooden slats, you can just take it apart with a drill each time, and move the pile of lumber. Not sure if that's easier than box spring. I also recommend a foam bed. It's comfy, and if you want, you can roll it up while moving, or have it cut in a few pieces and use it as a coach during the day.
Good luck on the rest of your furniture.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:06 AM on July 28, 2010

For most of my 20s I stacked milk crates on their sides and used those as bookshelves; when I moved I simply used the crates to lug the books to the next landing spot.

I feel sure there is a similar, but more stylish alternative to this. Wooden wine crates, perhaps?
posted by padraigin at 9:06 AM on July 28, 2010

Folding tables with a carrying handle like this one are pretty fantastic, though it might be a bit big for your living spaces. Toss on a nice tablecloth, and you're set.

Collapsable hanging shelves are handy for shoe storage or other items that don't stack nicely on their own.

If you get crafty, you could make this suspension shelf (it seems to be a prototype that was copied on a lot of websites, but seems straight forward enough).

Another prototype you could probably make yourself: PLoP! shelves.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:09 AM on July 28, 2010

I too try to keep my things as mobile as possible.

For my bed, I took two relatively clean shipping pallets that had "feet" (really just thick wooden dowels set into holes drilled on the underside-- sorry, can't find a picture) off the burn pile at work, slapped some green deck paint on there to seal them, and threw on a twin mattress. Most comfortable bed I've ever owned, and super-portable because it breaks down into two flat shipping pallets and a pile of what looks like belaying pins. I can fit it into my Honda Accord, no moving truck necessary.

It's also nice because, if you turn the pallets the correct direction so they're about as wide as a twin mattress but longer, you have a little extra space on the end to do whatever with. I threw down a meditation mat and some comfy cushions to make a reading nook, and it conserves space while serving the same need as an armchair. If you had a low desk, you could also use that extra space (with cushion) in lieu of a desk chair. The pallets are also the perfect height for putting storage bins underneath.

Another excellent investment was a collapsible kitchen butcher's table. It's a series of metal posts with feet that support two wire racks at adjustable heights. The basic shape looks something like this, but without cross-supports and with two extra wire racks underneath the wooden top. I'm currently using this for my desk, and it's the best ever for several reasons-- the wire racks pop off the posts so the whole thing comes apart to take up almost no space whatsoever, and the wooden top just rests on the posts, and is therefore removable. The way I have mine set up is, I use the bottom rack to put tupperware boxes of desk storage stuff in (like desk drawers), the top wire rack is my actual desk... and then, if I need a work bench for projects, I just lay my speakers sideways, fold my laptop down, and put on the heavy wooden top. Viola! Instant work bench, with all of my desk stuff neatly tucked underneath it.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:11 AM on July 28, 2010

The old standby for books is cinderblock shelves. Cheap, flexible, and extremely mobile.

You can get boards cut to any length you want at a hardware store or Home Depot. To make the shelves look a bit nicer, you can stain or paint the boards, and you can substitute something else for the cinderblocks (I used glass bricks).
posted by googly at 9:15 AM on July 28, 2010

Just saw this today, an Ikea hacked platform bed made from 12 LACK side tables. Breaks down into very small and light pieces. I bet you could find several storage bins that would slide under, and store shoes or books there. A few pieces of cloth/cheap flat sheets and sticky velcro tape would make a tidy looking dust ruffle.

I'd forget about dressers, if possible, and go with hanging cloth clothing organizers, like This, or this. A chest of drawers is probably the heaviest piece of furniture, aside from a sleeper couch. These cloth drawers/slots plus a cardboard box cut to size make a great alternative.
posted by fontophilic at 9:21 AM on July 28, 2010

Casulo - An Entire Apartment’s Furniture in One Small Box
posted by mireille at 9:24 AM on July 28, 2010

Can you get most (or all) your books on iPad/Kindle/whatever?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:27 AM on July 28, 2010

Best answer: Pragma folding bed frame. I swear by mine.

Steel, folding, no assembly, lightweight, room underneath for a bunch of boxes.

For my little table that carries my computer, lamp, and a small stack of papers/books, I have an extremely sturdy little folding table like this:

Dressers? No way, I live out of a big suitcase that I lay down on top of empty moving boxes within the closet, and then use hanging closet shelf organizers that pack down to nothing.
posted by Ky at 9:28 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ikea has good tables with legs that screw on -- they are very solid feeling, and make a great Kitchen table and/or desk, also coffee table heights. You mix and match legs and top -- get any top you want (shape, colour), pick out legs that go well with it.

You have to install the socket for the legs on the table top, but after that whenever you need to move you just unscrew the leg from the socket, and you have a table top & lightweight legs to go.

(Not all of the legs work this way -- but the cheapest ones do).
posted by jb at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2010

Oh- scratch my earlier suggestion. Looked for a price after posting (sorry) and realized that just because I want something to be real and in production does not mean that it actually is.
posted by mireille at 9:42 AM on July 28, 2010

Ikea also has storage systems based off of lightweight aluminum frames and wire, plastic or cloth drawers. When empty, the aluminum frame can be moved very easily, even at 5-6 feet tall; the wire & plastic drawers stack into each other and the cloth drawers (the prettiest -- and relatively sturdy) flatten for moving.

Buying all the parts for a clothes storage thing cost us less than a chest of drawers would have -- and was very portable.
posted by jb at 9:45 AM on July 28, 2010

Milk crates are everywhere. People actually toss them in the trash, they're that ubiquitous. They can be wire-tied together (and later cut with a sharp knife when the urge to migrate is upon you) for sturdiness and can be used to store and transport most anything that'll fit inside, books, music, clothes, etc.. A few placed strategically will support a plywood sheet that will, in turn, support a mattress or sleep pad. I myself have used a string hammock I made years ago, which are also available most anyplace, inexpensively. This can be rolled up and placed literally in a grocery bag or hung from a peg on a wall, to afford more space for whirling dervishes and swinging cats.
Military surplus, unfortunately, glommed onto the idea that their munitions and comm gear boxes were actually really good for this sort of thing, so now they rape you for them, unless you find one more banged up, yet serviceable and can talk the clerk into letting it go for less. Surplus does have a range of soft canvas bags which are rugged and reasonably priced, on the other hand, which may suit your style as well. I recall one online surplus vendor had a field expedient desk, which collapsed into a very, very small package for a song. I was impressed and urge you to scour the net for such deals. It's a lot like shopping at TJMaxx or Building 19. You go twice a week, get known, convince the clerks to let you know when good stuff arrives and plan accordingly. Serendipity is my pal. Make it yours.
Good luck. The nomadic life isn't for sissies.
posted by girdyerloins at 10:21 AM on July 28, 2010

It's kind of dated, but you might get some good ideas from Nomadic Furniture (and its sequel)(also, combined). My dad had copies, and I was fascinated by them when I was younger. They include actual plans for quite a few home-made items, like a dining set out of a 4x8' sheet of plywood, or chairs made out of cardboard.
posted by timepiece at 11:12 AM on July 28, 2010

The IKEA storage system jb is talking about is called Antonius. I use it for my dresser too - it's great.
posted by synchronia at 12:14 PM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

What are your ideas for cheap, compact, very mobile solutions for (at least) a desk, dresser, and full-size bedframe that doesn't require a box spring? Bonus points for book storage ideas and organizational pieces. Real furniture or makeshift (i.e. tupperware bins) OK.

Flat packed furniture is your friend. It's easily dismantled and usually lightweight as well. There are quite a few foldable bookcases out there - try The Container Store. The bottom line, though, is that furniture is furniture, whether it folds up/comes apart or not.

1. bed - is there a reason that you don't want to put a mattress on the floor? I mean, either you want furniture or you don't. If you don't, you should start with eliminating the unnecessary stuff, like a bed frame.

2. desk - do you require a desk? Do you use a desktop computer or otherwise actually need to sit down at a dedicated workspace? If not, who needs a desk? Get a small file cabinet or drawer unit if you have desk-related objects that need to be organized. Bonus: if it's on wheels, it will be that much easier to move.

3. dresser - plastic bins would work, though I'll say that if you have so much in the way of socks, underwear, and t-shirts that you need multiple large rubbermaid bins to keep it organized, you should start by editing your wardrobe. What about one of these to hang in your closet? A rolling organizer/drawer unit thingie or two would work for this, as well.

4. book storage - please tell me if you come up with a solution better than "folding bookcase". I just moved to a new place, will be here only for a year or so, and don't feel like buying a big heavy bookcase for my books only to get rid of it in a year.
posted by Sara C. at 1:39 PM on July 28, 2010

Response by poster: These are great ideas, thank you! Like I said though, I have no access to a drill or any tools beyond a hammer and screwdriver, so DIY stuff is pretty much out.

Ky, the Pragma bed frame looks good, if a little expensive (when I say cheap I mean CHEAP), but I'd be willing to invest if it's very sturdy. Have you found it to stand up to, well, activities?

Sara C, I need the mattress off the floor because a mattress on the floor wastes vertical storage space, and because I'm finding by my age (mid-twenties) potential beaus are finding the mattress on the floor to be not so much "adorably bohemian" as "will you get your shit together, for Chrissake."
posted by Anonymous at 1:59 PM on July 28, 2010

(Yes, I remembered after the fact that it's not exactly the cheapest solution out there...) Uh, I can't offer specific anecdotal evidence per activities, but a twin Pragma frame is supposed to withstand over 1000 lbs, so that may be something to think about. At the very least, the frame's cool factor may be impressive for those potential beaus? (Heh)

Otherwise, the various other "stacking" and simpler DIY solutions offered above would be cheaper, true, and also easily disposable if you're more likely to pack and run. At the very least, throwing out the idea of a wood dresser and going for closet hanging shelves or stacking plastic bins (warning - they will smell a bit, since I have a number of those too for off-season storage) will save a lot of back-breaking work, money, etc. As for books, I keep them in office boxes I store under the bed frame because I only need specific ones at any given time. *shrug*

Special note: For people really serious about minimalist and highly compact living arrangements, I suggest looking at what the Japanese do. I've seen a brilliant solution where a nice wooden bed platform is used not only for the futon mattress but (because the traditional futon is always aired/stored away during the day) as a nice table; a traditional Japanese table is close to the floor, negating the need for extra chairs.
posted by Ky at 2:39 PM on July 28, 2010

I'm finding by my age (mid-twenties) potential beaus are finding the mattress on the floor to be not so much "adorably bohemian" as "will you get your shit together, for Chrissake."

Then you should probably just come to terms with the idea that you, unfortunately, need real furniture in your life. Bitch to move as it is. Because every single suggestion I've seen here is in the realm of "I hope you aren't too aesthetically oriented".

Another suggestion, re both beds and dressers: this, from IKEA. Only $350 for an extremely classy combination bed frame and dresser.
posted by Sara C. at 6:29 PM on July 28, 2010

Response by poster: I don't mind the collapsible shelving, milk crates, etc, the mattress on the floor though, apparently that crosses the line? And like I said, waste of vertical space.
posted by Anonymous at 7:24 PM on July 28, 2010

As long as you don't want to jump on your bed, you could assemble a milk crate bed "frame".

Sorry I missed the lack of tools in the original question, but one revised suggestion that you could do with limited tools: the PLoP shelves, made with heavy grade cardboard and wooden dowels. You could get the dowels cut down at most hardware stores where you'd buy the dowels, and you could make holes in the thick cardboard with a flat-headed screwdriver.

If you get into cardboard, you can make simple shelves or sturdy chairs, and lots more. Some might require a hot glue gun, others only require patience, precision, and a sharp blade.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:23 AM on July 29, 2010

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