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Out with the old – in with the new – a dive into the world of furniture upcycling

Furniture upcycling is a great way to give a new life to your old belongings, save money, and make a gesture for the environment. Learn more in this guide.

6 min read

In keeping with the arrival of spring, we’re exploring new beginnings in the things that feel most familiar to us. As the weather warms and the sunshine teases blossoms out of tree branches, the very fabric and furniture of our homes can be transformed with just a few simple steps.

Depending on your generation, the process of zhuzhing up outdated furniture could be coined ‘make do and mend’, ‘DIY’ or – if you’re in the current zeitgeist of this phenomenon: ‘upcycling’. We discuss why it’s so popular, what projects you could take on to try your hand at it and where you can find inspiration for your own endeavours.

Why furniture upcycling popularity has soared

Upcycling isn’t exactly a new concept. As long as there has been furniture, some people will have been dedicated to its upkeep for as long as possible. However, historically this fixation on the conservation of everyday furniture would have emerged more from necessity than lifestyle choice. The term itself was coined by German engineer Reiner Pliz in 1994. The overarching idea was to improve what you have and even to add value to it as a means of spending less on  buying brand new, reducing consumer demand for newness and encouraging greater environmental awareness.

With some of the public’s key concerns today falling into the categories of rising personal costs, the health of our environment and the impact of our shopping behaviour in encouraging waste, it’s no wonder that upcycling has stuck around. It’s also been suggested, by our Happy Home report, that part of what makes us happy is seeing ourselves reflected back in our homes. This means that if you spend time and energy breathing new life into existing pieces of furniture to make it suit your current style, it’s more likely to influence how positive you feel towards your home in general.

DIY furniture upcycling

Benefits of upcycling

Tom Revill, Plank Hardware Co-Founder tells us: 'In a world of mass production and homogenous design, upcycling is a brilliant approach to creating a home environment that feels totally unique. We’re often too quick to dispose of furniture that has perfectly good bones (made of quality materials, or is structurally sound), and we overlook the potential that it has. Quite often, all that’s required is a little vision, then a sand, paint and refresh of the finer details such as hardware.

Upcycling is also a far more affordable way to breathe new life into your home, not to mention a super rewarding pastime. You’re far more likely to treasure and care for a furniture piece that you’ve invested time and energy into, plus you’ll want to show it off to all of your visitors.'

Furniture upcycling: where to start

Depending on what furniture you’ve got at your disposal (or what you can find if you’re a big Freecycle fan!), the possibilities for refreshing your pieces are huge. Here are just a few quick introductions for how to upcycle different furniture types.

Reupholstering chairs

First off, there are ways to upcycle without doing it all yourself. If you’re not feeling confident in your capacity for DIY, rest assured that there are plenty of skilled upholsterers around that are qualified to take the lead. Come prepared with photos of what you’d like in mind or – if you’re really prepared – the fabric you’d like to be used. Search for an upholsterer near you on Yell.com and start your upcycle journey today.

For the more arts and craftsy among you, you might savour the challenge of taking on your chair redesign yourself. Here is a how-to guide designed for beginners by HomeLet for how to upcycle your chair by reupholstering it yourself.

You can also watch the video below to see how to upcycle an old wooden chair:

New cushions for sofas

If your sofa has seen better days but you’re not ready to let it go, unpick your existing sofa cushions to create a pattern for brand new ones. This is a fantastic option for the sewing-savvy among us who are looking to get creative. As with finding reupholsterers for your chairs, there are plenty of places you can check in your sofa to be suitably plumped and polished – try Plumbs for great value.

Upcycling sofa cushions

Wooden furniture refresh

If you’ve got a spare coffee table that someone forgot to use a coaster on, a battered bookcase or a lacklustre bed frame, be prepared to get your hands dirty before calling it a day and calling the dump.

Begin with securing the foundations of your wooden furniture – make sure screws are tightened and any sagging shelves are replaced with fresh planks of wood. Once you’ve got a solid structure, sand down the wood until the top layer of wood is buffed away and then brush or blow away the dust. Following this, opt for either a lick of paint or polish and allow it to dry naturally. For a more comprehensive guide to upcycling wooden furniture, Homebase outlines the steps.

Get inspired

If you’re at the beginning of your upcycling career and project inspiration would be welcome, follow accounts like @Joannecondon on Instagram. Joanne is a self described ‘Upcycling furniture expert’ and her grid is a fantastic resource for the revamping curious. Other great sources include The Upcycling Furniture Guide by SheerLuxe and @theshoestringhome on Instagram.

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