Upcycled furniture

March 2023

Styles change with the seasons, so keeping your home looking fresh and updated takes work. We all know how easily a coat of paint can transform a room, but what do you do when it comes to furniture?

“I was looking to furnish my apartment and had a hard time finding pieces that fit my style and budget,” says Julia Daniele of J.D. Woodcraft. “I regularly scrolled through Facebook marketplace and one day, I found two Mid-Century Modern dressers for my first ever project. I did minimal research, bought some paint, borrowed an orbital sander, and dove in! That’s when I discovered a true passion for taking something old and making it new again.”

That’s called Upcycling, a new and highly satisfying twist on the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ mantra of previous years. Upcycling furniture is the process of transforming unwanted products into new products of greater quality, because of their artistic, or environmental, value.

“I have always been passionate about re-cycling and re-using,” says Rosemary Bostrom of Life’s Rosie. “But when you upcycle a piece of furniture, it saves you money by changing what you already have into a unique masterpiece. I enjoy the creative and fun challenge of upcycling and doing my bit for the environment.”

“Every piece of furniture can be saved, whether in whole or to make something new from a piece of it,” says Maggie Erickson, of Vintage Twist Co.. “I just see something I like and can envision it in a different way. Being an artist and having a divergent brain allows me to explore many different styles and try new ideas.”

One amazing benefit to upcycling is the ability to restore or transform furniture that has been passed down, so that it’s not only about the upcycling; it’s about creating art from a little bit of history.

“Refinishing family treasures does not take away from the sentimental value if it’s more practical or if allows you to appreciate it more in its updated form,” says Daniele.

“Lots of vintage furniture is out of style and/or needs lots of repairs,” says Erickson. “So painting is a way to breathe new life into a piece so it can be loved again. Some antiques hold lots of sentimental value but may not be functional anymore. However, they can be refinished or even transformed into a more useful item in your home, ensuring that it will become an heirloom piece in your family. Something that comes with a story. I love that.”

Upcycling furniture doesn’t always have to involve major changes. Sometimes simple adjustments like swapping out hardware, changing the base/legs or refreshing the finish can also make a major impact and give a tired piece a new lease on life.

“The beauty of this art form is the creative freedom,” says Daniele. “If I want to try a new technique or idea - I just go for it. I don’t always take the style of furniture into consideration when planning the design but there are times when you may want to. Say you’re working on a Mid-Century Modern piece, you could incorporate geometric patterns or add a painted detail using oranges, browns and yellows that reflect this era.”

Refinishers may choose to restore something to its original glory or choose a fresh new look that better suits their home.

“When working with different styles of furniture, you can be as creative as you like,” Bostrom says. “You can go with very neutral and classic tones, or you can be creative with bright colours. Painting and designing your furniture can complement your existing styles or be painted to accentuate your existing pieces.”

“Sometimes a piece will inspire an idea, AND I let the muse carry me,” says Erickson. “There have been many times I set out with a specific idea but by the time I’m done, it’s better than I imagined.”

These refinishers all agree that knowing what your furniture piece is made of is key to getting the best results.

“Knowing if your material is wood, particle board, laminate, or veneer will allow you to narrow down your refinishing options,” says Daniele. “For example, if you have a solid wood piece, it can handle repeated sanding, whereas veneer can be easily damaged by sanding too much or using too harsh of a sandpaper grit, whereas furniture made from laminate cannot be sanded at all as it is a synthetic material. There are plenty of great techniques you can use to update laminate furniture but it’s good to know your options beforehand.”

“When I start painting a piece of furniture, it does take some thought,” Bostrom agrees. “First, I need to decide on a colour the piece will look good in. Once I have completed the colour, I usually then know if I want to add transfers, or stencils, or moulds. I let my imagination take me to the finished piece!”

We can all think of a piece of furniture that we had in our possession that we didn’t know what to do with. It either gets given away, sold, donated, trashed, or ends up sitting in the corner of a basement. I asked these artists how they find their potential pieces of art.

“I find wonderful pieces by checking our local thrift stores,” says Bostrom. “When I’m not busy painting, I can also be found browsing through the local Facebook marketplace ads or Kijiji.”

“Sourcing your furniture from thrift stores, estates sales, antique stores or your local furniture artist are great sustainable options,” says Daniele. “Going this route gets you one-of-a kind, quality furniture you can love for a lifetime.”

As someone who has dabbled in furniture painting, I asked these artists what other steps they recommended for beginners, or anyone looking to give upcycling a try.

“I would say to start small,” says Daniele. “Choose furniture that just needs a cosmetic update and doesn’t require any repairs. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed with the process of refinishing furniture on its own so adding repairs into the mix can made the job feel endless. You’ll quickly learn a lot through trial and error, and testing out a variety of products until you discover your favourites.”

“My advice would be to choose a smaller piece of furniture you already own,” says Erickson. “Watch YouTube videos, buy a jar of chalk paint and just go for it. You won’t learn anything until you get your hands dirty.”

“The best advice I can suggest is to make sure you prep your piece properly first,” says Bostrom. “Start by checking to see if it needs any repairs, then vacuum it and wash it inside and out with TSP (or like product) and rinse. I always recommend to scuff sand, or sand it down completely. Then you are ready to start creating. Remember to have patience with yourself and have fun!”

Following these amazing furniture upcyclers leaves me breathless at the originality and beauty of their work. Fortunately, they accept commissions! For more information, check Life’s Rosie out at www.lifesrosie.ca, on Etsy, Facebook and at Gallery 33. J.D. Woodcraft can be found on Instagram & Facebook. Vintage Twist Co. can be found on Facebook, Patreon, and YouTube.

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at www.hleightondickson.com

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