Transformer Furniture From the '60s Is Still Relevant Today

These do-it-yourself designs from Better Homes and Gardens are still fun.

little kid on the left; teenager on the right

Bill Hopkins / BHG

Transformer furniture has been a feature of Treehugger since we started; these are designs that serve multiple functions so that one can live in less space and they can adapt to changing conditions. Perhaps the best-known example is the sofa bed.

Recently, I have been spending some time reliving my youth when I would look at my mom's Better Homes and Gardens Magazines. BHG is now owned by the same company as Treehugger, so I have been hanging out in its archives. In the late '60s, they did a series of do-it-yourself transformer designs and would sell the plans. You can't buy them anymore, but the ideas are still worth a look.

transformer desk for kids

Bill Hopkins / BHG

Conceptually, this desk transforms over time. BHG wrote: "As everyone knows, children have a way of growing up very quickly. Can you give a child anything that will last him more than a year or two? You bet, build him this progressive study-play unit and he'll thank you all his growing years—and maybe beyond."

So in the upper left of the header image, it's a bench and four plywood boxes that fit underneath. Then you turn the fixed boxes horizontally, and they become a desk. And when you put handles on the toy boxes, they become drawers.

In the final teenager version on the upper right, "the toy chest assumes a vertical position and becomes a cabinet with double doors and shelves for record and school supplies." See the page in the August 1968 issue.

Secret Sewing Center
A secret sewing center.

David Ashe / Bill Hopkins

This "secret sewing center" is interesting because while not a lot of people sew anymore, it would make a terrific home office. The top is 42-inch high to allow stand-up cutting without bending over, but it would make a perfect standing desk, with an external monitor mounted on the wall where the painting is. When you are too tired to stand, you simply pick up your notebook and move to the sitting part of the desk. This is how I work in my own home office.

home office all folded up

David Ashe / Bill Hopkins

When your workday is done, you just fold it all up and have a handsome cabinet. There is even room inside for the chair, but you could also use it in entertainment mode to watch a movie on that monitor. In this case, it's not just the furniture that transforms, but the whole room. More in the October 1968 issue.

Trundle open

Ving Smith / Ernest Silva / BHG

This is one of the wildest transformers I have seen, described as "an ingenious way to provide for two active youngsters in one bedroom." In this mode, it is a sort of partners' desk with a divider down the middle for a bit of privacy.

Trundle bed section

Ving Smith / Ernest Silva / BHG

When your homework is done and you are all tuckered out, you then clear off your desk, fold back the tops, push in the shelf support, put all the stuff from the desk back on top, and then pull out the trundle beds, remembering to fold down the legs on the upper one.

trundle beds open

Ving Smith / Ernest Silva / BHG

And—voila!—the kids can go to bed. This is a lot of work—a lot of moving parts to break if you don't do things in the right order, and a lot of little fingers to squish. It's probably a good demonstration of what you shouldn't do with transformer furniture. See it in the October 1969 issue.

Bench turns into a chair
Bench turns into a chaise longue turns into a table.

David Ashe, photos by Hopkins

Some are simpler, like this chaise longue that turns into a table or a bench from the June 1968 issue. The lesson from all of them: We can live with less stuff, in less space, and get more value if an object can serve multiple purposes. It's why we love transformers.