Upcycling tips to make the most of what you have

Revive and reuse are the key words of 2021. Here’s how to bring them home…

1 Liven up home textiles with Journeys in Natural Dyeing (£21.99, Abrams2 & 3 Give old furniture a fresh start with paint – or try something more elaborate, like gilding, says Amy Howard in Rescue, Restore, Redecorate (£18.99, Abrams)

You’ve had the same console table in your hall for years. It still does the job and you’re still attached to it – so much so that getting rid of it would be a wrench. But its handles are dated and its wood has dulled to an unattractive shade of mud. Do you chuck it out and buy a replacement? Not if your new year’s resolution is to be more conscious of waste. Spending needlessly on new items is just not the way of it anymore – and certainly not when there are so many creative solutions out there. 

Take that console and reclaim it. Imagine painting it teal and replacing the ’90s ironmongery with upcycled reflective panels. It’s a transformation you could be proud of. The thrill is in the completion, of course, but the actual process can be very rewarding too. Where does your DIY journey start? Well, just by reading this, it has already begun. As Amy Howard, designer, teacher and all-round home-furnishing guru puts it: “Learning to rescue, restore and redecorate furniture starts with the imagination.” 

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Left: Walls in Lemon Salts; skirting in Hurlingham; beds in Lolly Pop, from £26 per litre, Mylands 1 Sanpu Sanyo apron for crafters, £65, Nimi Projects 2 Profilo corner guards, £178, Arte 3 Brush, from £13.95, Annie Sloan

Don’t begin with anything too complicated if you’re a DIY novice. “Pick up a smaller piece of furniture, perhaps a side table or cabinet,” suggests upcycling expert Caroline George, founder of Edinburgh design consultancy Roc Studio. Think about colours that tie into the room and look for standout details such as curves. “If your table has legs that are a great shape, for instance, that could be your starting point. Keep it simple and fun to begin with.”

Don’t restrict yourself to furniture either. Revamp window areas by injecting personality into curtains or fabric blinds with a patterned, textured or fringed border on edges. “Don’t worry if you’re not confident with a sewing machine: a tape measure, fabric pins (to hold the border in place) and good-quality fabric glue to attach it with can work well,” says Marisa Gutmacher of Samuel & Sons, suppliers of tassels, fringing  and trimmings. 

Changing the lighting – by which we mean the lamp­shades – is another effective and easy way to refresh a room. “Glue or stitch a fringed or beaded border to the edge of the shade in contrasting or similar colours to add interest, movement and texture,” recommends Gutmacher. 

Hollie Moreland, creative director at David Hunt Lighting, suggests making up your own rules when it comes to colour, texture, shape and size: “Take anything from a vintage table lamp to a Flemish chandelier and transform it into a striking statement piece with an eclectic mix of bright colours or bold patterns.” 

1 Chestnut Pink, £26.16 for 1 litre, Colourtrend 2 Pumpkin, £16.95 for 1 pint, Old Fashioned Milk Paint 3 Creme de la Rose, £18 for 2.5 litres, Crown 4 Bee’s Knees, £21 for 750ml, Valspar at B&Q 5 Vintage Denim, £25 for 1 litre, Designers Guild 6 Get Plastered, £49.99 for 2.5 litres, Dowsing and Reynolds Right Souris, Buckram, Hainsworth, Lansdown, Cobble, Wick White, from £50 for 2.5 litres, Cox & Cox

And what about walls? A fresh coat of paint is an easy hack but what if there’s a textured wallpaper already up? You might think removing it and starting with a clean wall is the only way forward, but there is an alternative, according to Philippe Desart of wallcovering designers Arte. “You can make an uneven surface appear less noticeable by applying lining paper and then your new wallpaper on top,” he says. “I’d suggest opting for heavier textures such as velvet or 3D embossed foam – these not only look sophisticated but will provide depth and pro­nounced structure to the wall, masking any imperfections underneath.”  

Looking for further reading? Check out these 6 books for the eco-conscious