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A Beginner’s Guide to Upcycling

Created: 30/07/2015

Purchasing new furniture can be an expensive business, especially if you’re unwilling to compromise on a table, sideboard or armchair that’s not exactly the kind of thing you’re after. However, you may have the perfect item already in the house or you may spot it for cheap at a car boot sale, and by applying a little effort and love it can become a unique piece of furniture for you to cherish forever. 

A Beginner's Guide to Upcycling

This is the beauty of upcycling, and here’s our guide on how you could achieve this in your own home before calling on the services of a South London handyman for the tougher jobs.

Refresh with a lick of paint

Sometimes a splash of colour is all that’s needed to reinvent a piece of furniture that’s completely on trend. With hundreds of paints now on the market in a range of styles, it’s never been easier to find a shade which is absolutely perfect. For the complete lowdown on paint, our comprehensive painting guide is all that you need.

If you are planning to go darker with your palette, for instance going from cream to brown, it should be absolutely fine to paint right over the dried paint – although it’s always recommended to apply a few coats to ensure even coverage.

Should you be going the exact opposite and aiming for a lighter finish, you should always prepare the area initially so the darker coat underneath doesn’t show through the lighter coat you’re about to apply. To do this you should sand off the paint/varnish, preferably with an electric sander, but if such a device isn’t available hand sanding is suitable – just be prepared for the extra ounce of effort. After you’ve taken most of the darker paint off, vigorously brush all the excess dust and dirt off, and then it’s ready to paint.

Getting that shabby chic effect

There’s absolutely no dispute that shabby chic is in fashion at the moment, with consumers who lack the DIY know-how or don’t have lot of time paying over the odds for truly unique pieces of furniture. Luckily for you, creating this trendy furniture for yourself couldn’t be easier, particularly if you follow these simple steps:

1)     Prepare the wood – as mentioned previously, those who make the effort to prepare the area will yield the best results. Because sanding also helps new paint to stick to the wood, don’t worry too much about an entirely even degradation because this will help towards the distressed look. If possible, try to remove all handles so the whole area can be painted easily.

Sand Paper

2)     Add the primer – usually water-based, acrylic primer ensures for a smoother finish and will make the area easier to work with. If there are any areas that you don’t wish to paint, make sure you cover them with painter’s tape beforehand.

3)     Apply two layers of paint – time to get the brushes out and apply two thin layers of acrylic paint, although you should always allow time for the first coat to completely dry before starting the second coat. We suggest using chalk paint for the ultimate nostalgic finish.

4)     Distress, distress, distress – Once all the paint has dried off nicely, you will need to start sanding off some of the paint with fine sandpaper. If you don’t know where to start, look at the piece of furniture carefully and work out which would likely get the most wear naturally. Think corners!

5)     Protect with wax – After you’ve reached a point where you’re done with sanding, wipe with a damp cloth to completely remove all of the dust and leave to dry. The last application should be a thin layer of furniture wax across the whole piece of furniture, paying particular attention to areas of exposed wood. Regular application of furniture wax will help to protect the furniture from wear and tear in the future.

Wallpaper isn’t just for walls

Another cost-effective method for upcycling, and one that’s even easier than painting, is adding a section of wallpaper. You may be thinking what would be the point and would it even work, but it’s truly one of the best ways to upcycle furniture and one that can be done incredibly cheaply if you happen to stumble on a reduced roll of paper.

From wallpapering the back of bookcases to covering individual drawers on a dresser, it can help a piece of furniture become a focal point of any room and offer a stylish product which all your friends and family will envy. Here’s just how you would go about it. Also, many wallpapers are now available by the metre rather than rolls, so it’s even cheaper!


1)     Prepare the area – As with painting, suitable preparation is key to ensuring you’re left with a smooth finish at the end. If there are any blemishes or small holes, you should certainly fill them and sand off the excess until smooth. Sanding the whole area prior to application also means the adhesive will stick a lot better.

2)     Know your measurements – Wallpaper is only available in single strips, so you have to make sure that you have the correct amount. Always remember, if you cut it too small it’s completely ruined, so go larger if anything!

3)     Use the adhesive sparingly and hang the paper – bubbles are the constant thorn in the side of anyone trying to wallpaper, so don’t go spreading vast quantities of adhesive on. Use just the right amount and you’ll get the perfect finish.

After all this, all that’s left is to stand back and admire your expertise; you won’t believe the difference that a sheet of coloured paper could make to your furniture. If it’s been a success, there’s a chance you won’t want to buy another piece of furniture from new ever again. If you would prefer to have an expert take on the job, the team at Handywork Solutions are more than happy to tackle the job. As well as offering professional carpentry, electrical and plumbing services in Beckenham and other areas, they will happily take on all manner of tasks around the home.

Take your upcycling outside

While the notorious temperament of the British weather means many aren’t particularly keen on relaxing in the garden all that often, it’s still one of the best places to find inspiring upcycling projects. From vibrant decking to changing the outlook of your garden furniture, there’s plenty of scope for upcyclers to explore.

Stained Decking

Your decking is a great place to start, and while you may think it’s easier to replace with new decking, reclaiming it is a lot cheaper and can be done with minimal effort. To find out exactly how we got in touch with Ronseal – the undisputed outdoor painting and decking experts.

1)     Clean the decking thoroughly – on a warm and dry day, use a stiff brush and clean the area using Ronseal Decking Cleaner to remove all dirt. After this use a pressure washer to rinse the cleaner away and allow to dry for a few hours.

2)     Add 2 coats of paint following the grain of the wood – when the decking is dry to touch, get your preferred colour of Ronseal Decking Rescue paint and start painting from the furthest corner. You should always follow the grain of the wood as this will ensure an even coat and an expert finish. When the paint is touch dry – usually around 45 minutes after application – it’s time to add the second coat. When this coat is dry your work is done and it’s time to sit back and enjoy your work.

A tip from the Experts

Upcycling has become a very big business in a relatively short space of time, with countless people all over the internet providing great inspiration and expert advice for the masses.

Just one of these sources is Remade in Britain, the one-stop resource for everything upcycled and recycled. As well as offering inspiration and information on how you can change your masterpieces on your own, it also serves as a marketplace for all manner of unique upcycled homewares; it means that you can enjoy upcycled furniture even if you don’t have the time to do it for yourself.

We were able to get in contact with Remade in Britain to find out what their inspiration behind upcycling projects is, and here’s their answer:

“The case is usually that the item in need of attention, inspires us the most, although talking to other upcyclers and looking online at sites like Pinterest do help. Mainly, we us the latter to learn about new techniques that we can then apply to our own upcycling.”
 - Remade In Britain

Below is a clip of the Recover Team, a retailer of Remade in Britain, transforming an outdated 1980s sideboard into a stylish and unique piece of furniture.

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