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How to upcycle your old furniture

How to upcycle your old furniture

Upcycling has been a popular trend for the last few years in interiors and it doesn’t look set to have run its course anytime soon. Transform preloved pieces from drab to fab by giving them some TLC and a revamp to bring them up to date with our simple guide.

Upcycling is all about getting thrifty and doing something hands-on, either as a way to save money or as a form of artistic therapy. Upcycling may sound like a daunting word to some, but it covers all manner of projects; from the small, such as simply painting a picture frame, to the large, like rebuilding a piece of furniture or reupholstering an armchair.

It allows you to create something unique that fits in with your taste and style, and add character to your home with handmade charm. Here's how to get started:


Hit the shops

Dining chair upcycled in Annie Sloan’s Napoleonic Blue Chalk Paint and Copper gilding wax

If you don’t already have a preloved piece at home to use, check out local charity shops and car boot sales to find a project to work on.

eBay is a great online marketplace for sourcing inexpensive furniture, as are Gumtree and Freecycle in your local area, but ask to see the item before buying as photographs can be misleading.



"Upcycling is the perfect way to transform something quite cheaply whilst still expressing your creativity"

- Annie Sloan



Be careful to look out for the tell-tale signs of damage when purchasing your piece, as it can difficult to tell the condition of older pieces. Check the wood for any small holes as this could be a sign of woodworm which is tricky to treat and will destroy the piece over time.

Look for any broken parts—whether that be a cracked shelf inside a cabinet or a wobbly leg on a dining chair—and decide how easy it will be to fix and whether you have the knowledge and skills to do so.


Getting started

getting started with upcycling
Console table upcycled in Annie Sloan’s Giverny Chalk Paint

Depending on the type of project you’re going to tackle, the tools you will need can vary.


For furniture involving wooden surfaces, invest in a sanding block as this is a must-have for stripping back and smoothing the wood, making it ready for priming and painting later on. 



"I find that taking a piece of furniture that may have seen better days and transforming it into something new, with just a little bit of love, time and paint, can be utterly therapeutic"

- Annie Sloan



Choose the correct grain of sandpaper depending on your surface—a fine grain will be suitable for a quick rub down if the wood is in good condition, but you may need a medium or very abrasive grain if old paintwork needs to be removed.

Primer can be coated over most surfaces to give it a smooth finish that paint will adhere to evenly and is recommended for projects involving painting over woods or metals, which paint can sometimes struggle to fix to and can later flake off.


Make it your own

make it your own
Chest of drawers painted in Annie Sloan’s Amsterdam Green Chalk Paint

Furniture or chalk paints are perfect for adding colour to your piece and they come in a wide range of shades for you to choose from. Some furniture paints, such as Annie Sloan and RustOleum, don’t require a primer underneath and so can be applied directly to most surfaces to help save time and effort.

To add decorative touches to your piece, consider using a stencil to apply a pattern or motif in a different coloured paint. Stencils can either be bought or made by hand using acetate if you’re after a unique design. Apply paint to the area to be stencilled using a soft foam pad and build up the paint gradually in thin layers for a neat finish.



"With my paint, there is no need to prime or sand first, just get painting! You can even paint over existing handles and knobs if you wish"

-  Annie Sloan



To achieve a distressed, vintage-inspired look, why not use fine sandpaper to remove parts of the new paintwork and expose the woodwork below? Do this along the edges of the furniture and over any panelling to make the effect look realistic.

To make your furniture durable and hardy for use in the home, complete the project with a layer of wax or varnish. Waxes can be applied in different colours depending on the wood you’re covering—a dark wax is perfect for mahogany and walnut woods, or go for a clear soft wax for painted furniture. Remember to buff the wax once it has dried to give the piece a subtle sheen.


Outside the box

Image via Dan Duchars

If painting your piece won’t create the look you want, there are plenty of other options to try when it comes to decorating your project.



"Spend your time thinking about how to inject colour into your interiors. My top tip is to use one of my neutrals as a base, such as French Linen, and then pair it with a colour, like soft Antoinette or punchy Barcelona Orange, for a pop of colour" 

- Annie Sloan 



Decoupage is a popular way to add colour and pattern to a surface, using specialist papers and decoupage glue. Cut the decoupage paper into pieces and stick randomly to the front of a chest of drawers for a playful patchwork design, or use an off-cut of wallpaper to cover the surface of a bedside table.

Use a credit card to remove any air bubbles as you’re sticking the paper down, and remember to seal any paper projects with varnish to make sure it is durable for everyday use.


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