15 Letterpress Drawers Ideas For Repurposing Yours
Published: October 28, 2021
Photographed by: Jessica Hamilton on Flickr
Letterpress drawers can be turned from wooden antiques to flexible modern-day space savers. Learn your 15 best choices for any room in any household here.
Letterpress drawers make for smart and cheap organizers for anyone’s home. Made for the printing press, these have survived years and years of human innovation. What does this prove? That its design is timeless, and that its material is durable.
In an era where everyone doubts quality, why not turn back to the world of antique letterpress drawers, repurpose them, and then use them to add a unique flair to your household?
What are they?
With an aesthetic teetering both rustic and classic, letterpress drawers are wooden trays with compartments. These compartments will vary in size from large and wide to small and narrow. Because of this, letterpress drawers make for great home decor.
An antique decorative piece thrusting itself into the mainstream, letterpress drawers are also known as “printer trays”. Their original use was for the first printing press, but now they can be repurposed into anything.
The reason why letterpress drawers look so rustic and antique is that they are. Invented in the 15th century, these statement pieces used to be the bread and butter of print media.
When Johannes Gutenberg invented mechanical printing, the next challenge was to create an organized printing process. Letterpress drawers, or printer trays, exist for this very reason.
Each wooden box serves as a compartment for letters and numbers. Capital letters would be separated from lowercase letters too because they have different heights and sizes.
The printer trays also became important to anyone who wanted types of layouts for their newspaper — it housed these formats too.
Letterpress Drawers Now
As technology progressed, these letterpress drawers slowly lost their relevance. What used to be a must-have for every printing press became a footnote in its history.
Still, these printer trays are made to last. Originally, they were used to house type blocks both big and small. These were made of wood and metal, so this was not an unchallenging feat.
Benefits of Repurposing Letterpress Drawers
Using letterpress drawers for your homes is first and foremost a sustainable practice. Since these drawers can no longer fulfill their purpose, many of them sit in attics or basements never seeing the light of day.
They turn more rustic and tattered, even though they can spruce up any room they are in. Thankfully, with the rise of making sustainable choices, many opt to reuse these antique drawers for their homes.
If you want to use one but do not have one, consider visiting local antique shops or yard sales. These are a goldmine for anything with a rich history and strong aesthetic.
Letterpress drawers are a product of their time. As printing trays, they were time-bound to begin with. Technology continues to evolve, and the printing trays have been left behind.
However, to any household that believes that every piece of furniture tells a story, getting letterpress drawers is the way to go. These wooden compartments were a vehicle for early print media. Meaning, they have been crucial in spreading ideas around the world.
When it comes to historical value, letterpress drawers are some of the best interior design choices you can make.
The question of durability comes to mind whenever purchasing something of rich historical value. People may wonder if these antique items can survive longer than they already have — if they can withstand the weight of modern inventions, more importantly.
What makes letterpress drawers important is that they can. These compartments were made to last, and the fact that they can still be passed on from one household to another is proof of this.
However, if you want your letterpress drawers to hold many appliances at the same time, they may not fit. This is where its aesthetic value comes in.
Letterpress drawers have a unique look. Because they had such a particular use, there are not many drawers that have the same aesthetic value today.
If you want a woodsy, cottage core look to your rooms, a letterpress drawer will fit right in. Should your room be modern or minimalist, a letterpress drawer is what you need to add some life to your area.
These drawers function as a blank canvas because of their particular but muted aesthetic. Because of this, it can be anything you need it to be.
Repurposing letterpress drawers is a common practice already. Thus, as the years go by, more and more people find ways to reuse theirs.
These can be decorative or practical pieces. They can bring up the energy of a room or tone it down. Put toys in it, or pictures. The possibilities are endless, and these are exactly what this article is about.
15 Letterpress Drawers Ideas
One of the more obvious design choices for letterpress drawers is to add them to your crafting room. Beyond craft drawers, all craft room walls could use letterpress drawers.
Since these were made for a version of “crafting” anyway, many craft materials still fit in their compartments.
You can use letterpress drawers for your sewing rooms, fitting thimbles, cloths, and special needle boxes in each hole. Some might opt for a more decorative letterpress drawer, designing it with unused spools, needles, and threads. This by itself can bring a vintage vibe to your room.
For more general crafting needs, you can store your pens, washi tapes, paint, and (as it is its original purpose) ink inside your letterpress drawers. Keep your crafting materials at bay so you no longer have to search every crafting box you have by the time you need them. This is especially useful for those who are always looking to do arts and crafts to do at home.
To those who want to craft the letterpress drawers themselves, you can. Hailed as one of the most creative ways you can reuse a craft drawer, letterpress drawers are worth your precious time.
The simplest way to do this is by giving each compartment its color and look. Do this by cutting up pieces of paper or cloth to fit in each box, and filling each one up. As you do this, you will slowly but surely turn your letterpress drawers into colorful statement pieces.
You can even take this a few steps further and choose paper with obvious markings — like maps, old photos, and textures. Some even opt to put collages on their letterpress drawers. Writer/artists may also want to write on the drawers themselves.
Those who want less random looks for their letterpress drawers can choose colors that match their furniture and other home decors. The point is, you can do anything you want with these pieces of wood as long as you keep your options open.
Parents know the struggles of creating a child’s playroom. In many ways, you would want it to be as functional while keeping it pleasing to the eye.
Toy boxes are an obvious choice for playrooms. These can hold a lot of toys and keep spaces clean at the same time. However, the bigger the playbox is, the lower your kids have to go to find their favorite toy at the moment.
This is where letterpress drawers come in. Have your kids enjoy their favorite toys with a simple grab of the hand. This can hold action figures, matchbox cars, tiny Legos, and even stuffed toys. Little toys are all the rage, especially Shopkins, and these are perfect fits too.
Also, who is to say that only kids can enjoy this function? Many adults collect trinkets and other figurines too. They can display their collectible or vintage toys on letterpress drawers and keep them as decorative pieces for their respective areas.
4. Seashell Display
Another use for letterpress drawers that both kids and adults can bond over is its ability to be a seashell display. Throughout a person’s life, they collect “treasures” from natural habitats. This is not limited to seashells — this can include special rocks, mini fossils, and maybe even a branch.
The point is, these items can transport you to a different moment in time. You can even add your letterpress drawers to beach houses and farm cottages. Paint the drawers however you would like, as long as it matches the natural hues of nature.
Best for family rooms and staycation areas, turning your letterpress drawers into seashell displays is both sentimental and functional.
5. Vintage Postcards
On the topic of sentimentality, more items can transport you back to a special place. For some, this special place need not be a place they have gone to. A simple postcard from a loved one can be all they need to feel closer to a certain area.
Some repurpose their letterpress drawers into a shrine for their postcards. This might seem like a daunting task, but it is not. However, you have to be prepared to cut your postcards, so if you are not up for that it might be best to keep them in a box.
Imagine pasting different colored paper onto your letterpress drawers, but with postcards. Each compartment houses a different card for a particular memory. You can do this with paper cutters and measuring tape.
Take the measurements of each compartment and plan which postcard goes in which hole. Once this is done, cut your postcards to their allotted sizes and stick them to their areas.
By the time you are done, you have another statement piece that reminds you of the beauty of the world, your friendships, and your time.
6. Turn It Into a Table
While all of the letterpress drawers ideas on this list are functional, not a lot hold a candle to this idea’s functionality.
If you do not want to hang your letterpress drawers on a wall, consider turning them into a table. However, you should expect that this takes more work than the other ideas on this list.
To do this, you will need a table frame. Most people who push through with this idea opt for a clearer glass tabletop so that you can still see each letterpress compartment. Tables also need feet, you have to attach wooden legs to your letterpress drawers too.
7. Replace Your Jewelry Box
If you do not want to go through the hassle of customizing, you can also turn your letterpress drawers into big jewelry boxes. Since these drawers were made to hold small and slightly less small items, jewelry is a perfect fit for them.
All you need to do is to add screws and hooks to the wooden trays. You have the freedom to decide where you want to put them and how. Make sure your jewelry fits, though.
Why would you want to put your jewelry on full display? The same toy box idea applies. If you are an avid collector of jewelry, sometimes you have to rummage inside your jewelry box to find a necklace you always use.
Other times, finding your jewelry is not the problem, untangling them is. Using letterpress drawers can keep this from happening. Larger jewelry can even hang on larger hooks, which you can hammer into the bigger drawer holes.
Should you feel uneasy about displaying your most precious trinkets, you can design these letterpress drawers with unused jewelry instead.
8. Use it For Beauty
Beyond jewelry, letterpress drawers are also a perfect fit for beauty products. Essential oils, lipsticks, and nail polish are some examples.
Turn your letterpress drawers into a powder room’s most unique-looking storage space. You can add mini boxes for each compartment, too.
While this is not the most practical storage solution for bigger hair and make-up appliances, it is a smart choice for those with day-to-day beauty routines.
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9. Space For Your Succulents
You can also turn your letterpress drawers into a succulent display area. Planters are often sold alone or in groups of two, but they might be too big for your succulents.
Letterpress drawers are the perfect size to house your leafy friends. They can serve as vertical planters, too, if you add a platform or elevation for them. Their compartments can keep tiny amounts of soil at bay (which is enough for succulents).
If you opt to use plants that need water, just remember that you have to add a lining before adding your soil inside. Letterpress drawers are exclusively made of wood, and water can cause them to wear.
The easiest option for aspiring plant growers is to use their letterpress drawers for air plants. These are unique plants that do not have visible roots. What does this mean?
It means these plants do not need water or soil to grow. They mostly grow in tropical countries, where the humidity is enough to keep them alive.
Whichever you decide to put in your letterpress drawers’ planters, you can be sure that they will add a beautiful pop of green to your household. If you want a more minimalist approach, you can simply buy faux plants and put them inside. Some add glass tops to these planters, especially if a plant does not require much attention.
10. Crystal Collection Case
On the topic of bringing a natural earthy vibe to your home, using your letterpress drawers as crystal collection cases is another repurposing option for you.
For this idea, all you need are your crystals and letterpress drawers. To some, having the same crystal can usher in strong energy to their home. Others opt to decorate their letterpress drawers with different color crystals. Whichever you choose, make sure that the crystals are in different shapes and sizes, like the drawers.
Crystals are not everyone’s cup of tea, but those who believe in their properties see them as a source of healing and positive energy. Houses can carry these energies, as was once believed by the ancient Egyptians.
If you are not one for these mythical beliefs, there is no denying the aesthetic value of a crystal. Think of it as displaying rocks and seashells on your shelves, but with more color and playfulness.
There are many crystals to choose from, but one of the most popular ones is rose quartz.
11. Hang Your Scarves
Going back to the topic of beauty and fashion, letterpress drawers can also be a perfect place to hang your scarves. Make use of the same strategy when making spaces for your jewelry — hammer down a hook or two in each compartment.
Scarves may need larger hooks because they are longer (but not much heavier) than most jewelry. Should you find no scarves that fit your smaller compartments, you can also try hanging gloves and handkerchiefs in them.
This is best for people who have to constantly face snow, especially during winter. It can be a bit of a hassle to have to go through so many items before leaving the house — put up your letterpress drawers by the doors and watch yourself grab and go.
12. Display the World’s Wonders
Similar to displaying seashells, rocks, and fossils, you can also display even weirder natural phenomena in your letterpress drawers. The natural world has so much to offer, particularly those of animals from all walks of life.
If you have an interest in animal casings like crab shells or ostrich eggs, consider having your very own mini-museum using your letterpress drawers. You can put these in jars and keep them preserved for your children’s learning.
A display case filled with whimsy and wonder, you can also place jars with preserved animals inside. An example of this would be keeping the beauty of a butterfly or a spider. Gold and silver may need their respective special jars.
The idea here is that you can put anything and everything you want in your letterpress drawer — especially those that pique natural curiosities. Be careful not to be too whimsical though, as it might scare away your children or guests.
13. Memento Display Area
Earlier in this article, sentimental items such as postcards were suggested as a letterpress drawer idea. Take this a step further with a memento display area also made of letterpress drawers.
For most families, their heirlooms are kept away in a box in an attic, where it does not see the light of day. Even worse, it is not appreciated by its current generation. Of course, there are dangers to putting it on display, but this is where the letterpress drawers come in.
Each compartment has a specific size and can accommodate various items. So may your heirloom be an easily concealed necklace or a large gun from the war, you will find the space for it here.
People deserve to keep the spirit of their families alive. Better yet, they deserve to appreciate their history and to pass it on to the next generation. There is something sentimental about using letterpress drawers for this, an item with a rich history in and of its own.
14. Display Case for Ornaments
Letterpress drawers can also be used as display cases for ornaments. During the Christmas season, rustic and homey energy is needed, which is exactly what these drawers bring to the table. Once you get your Christmas ornament storage boxes out, go ahead and customize your letterpress drawers.
To display your ornaments on a letterpress drawer, you only need command hooks and a hammer. Decide where you want to hang your ornaments and hammer them away. Make sure these ornaments fit in the compartments, though.
People also choose to repurpose these drawers into advent calendars. While this is not one of the easiest Christmas crafts for kids, it does reap a timeless jewel. To do this, you will need chalk in addition to your hammers and hooks.
Use your chalk to draw days 1 to 25 in each compartment. After, proceed with the hammers and hooks. You hang a unique trinket in each compartment that will help you count down the days to Christmas Day.
These capture the holiday spirit best, so if you want an advent calendar that will last you until your great-grandchildren, consider making one with letterpress drawers.
15. Turn Them Into Sideboards
Last on the list is the idea to repurpose letterpress drawers into sideboards. Like the table, this transfers your drawers from wall pieces to floor pieces. Trust us, you will be thankful that you did it.
Also known as a buffet table or a credenza, sideboards are often found in the main dining areas of houses. These are storage solutions that double as decorative pieces because of their elegance.
Sideboards usually contain a house’s main cutlery, plates, and linen. These are made for easy access, which is the original purpose of letterpress drawers in the first place.
Should you need to serve people immediately, sideboards are there to ease frantic searching. Beyond being a kitchen item, sideboards can also be used for hallways, front door areas, and living rooms. These are to make entertaining guests faster and easier.
Portable pantry pieces for your kitchen are smart alternatives too.
How To Hang Letterpress Drawers
The question of “What can I do with letterpress drawers?” is easily answered. There are various ways you can spruce up these drawers, and in turn, spruce up your household too.
But before you can do this, you have to first learn how to hang them. Hanging them is no small feat: these are wooden drawers that were made to hold up to a hundred wooden blocks. They must be hung in a sturdy enough wall with sturdy enough hooks.
If you have ever hung an artwork, hanging letterpress drawers is a similar task. Get a wire hanging kit that best fits your budget and space and follow as directed. To measure your space accurately, measure three inches from the top of where you want to hang your letterpress drawers.
Next, attach your hangers to the back of your letterpress drawer. Make sure that this is balanced — you do not want it to be too heavy or too light on either side. By this point, you will have to thread your wire around the hanger. This may require you to use a crimper or pliers. Remember to keep your wires tight and twisted, when you start hanging important things in your drawer, you are at the point of no return.
To make sure your letterpress drawer does not move easily, use rubber grip pads. Attach these to its sides or wherever you think it may need them. A quick jolt should not be enough to cause your displays to fall — especially if you will be using them for a child’s playroom.
Letterpress Drawers: An All-Time Classic
Popular in the 15th and 19th centuries, letterpress drawers are historical artifacts that live until today. While their purpose as printing press materials has dwindled, their style makes them easy to repurpose.
What was once storage for type drawers, printer blocks, and stamps, now can be a place for postcards, jewelry, seashells, and more. People may scoff at the idea of repurposing these wooden drawers, but they are durable and sustainable choices.
As a bonus, their style has survived most of human history — nothing compares to their rustic and muted look. Houses tell the stories of those who live there, but letterpress drawers take it to the next level: they contain stories of the people we owe our lives, thoughts, and actions to today. That’s the beauty of wooden storage drawers, too.