Tuesday 18 June 2019

A beginners guide to upcycling

I know I hardly ever mention it, but I'm a huge fan of upcycling. I recently wrote a piece from the heart on what my little hobby means to me from a mental health point of view, so thought it would be a nice idea to share my top tips for revamping furniture, for anyone that hasn't tried it before and would like to have a go too.

There are very few things in my home that I haven't taken a paintbrush to. Being on a tight budget, I can't afford to replace furniture whenever my tastes change, or I fancy something new (which is a LOT), so for me, upcycling is usually always the answer.

It can be quite a daunting task to undertake though - my first upcycling project was our dining table and chairs, and I'm not lying when I say I sat staring at it for about 15 minutes, paintbrush in hand, terrified to make that first stroke. But I did it, I haven't looked back, and I promise upcyling is so much easier than it looks. I've previously transformed tables, chairs, wardrobes and desks over the past five years, and I've learnt from making (many) mistakes along the way, so here's my top tips to get started and upcycle your way to your dream furniture.

Consider the material
How you tackle a piece of furniture will totally depend on the type of material its made out of.

If its untreated wood, such as pine for example, you can literally paint straight onto it using normal paint (this is exactly how I upcycled my little girls' chalkboard table). If you want to lightly sand to even out any inconsistencies in the wood, that's great, but its not essential. For a knotty pine though, you'll need to treat it with a knotting solution before painting to prevent any knots from seeping through the paint (I did this when creating panelling using pine planks in my downstairs loo).

Varnished or treated wood will need a good sand first, otherwise the paint won't be able to stick. After sanding, you'll then want to use a good primer before painting your top coat on to make sure it definitely sticks (more on that below).

The IKEA play kitchen is made from varnished wood, meaning I needed to use a primer before painting
Melamine or coated mdf will have a smooth, almost plastic-y feel to it, meaning you won't be able to use just emulsion. There's a couple of options here, and which one you go for will totally depend on your preference. I've previously upcycled my melamine wardrobes, and although they were one of the trickest things I've ever painted, they were totally worth all the hard work.

Option 1 - Chalk paint
Your first choice is chalk paint. This is the paint that got me hooked on upcycling - its literally SO easy to use, and is the perfect starting place for beginners. There's no need for any sanding or priming, you literally just slap it on and you're good to go. The downside to chalk paint is that it can easily chip, so perhaps isn't the best option if your piece of furniture will get a lot of use, or is in a 'high traffic' area.

For example, I upcycled a vintage bureau using chalk paint, and its still in really great condition after a couple of years, because I don't use it everyday. However, my table and chairs - one of the first things I upcycled, also using chalk paint - is quite chipped four years on. If I was to re-do the table and chairs again, I think I'd use primer and emulsion (see option 2).

After you're all done its a good idea to apply a furniture wax, to prevent chipping. If you want to go for the shabby-chic look, then lightly sand back the chalk paint in areas that would naturally chip (on the edges and handles for example), before applying your wax.

Option 2 - Primer & emulsion 
If chalk paint isn't for you, another option is to apply a primer. This is the best choice for a varnished or 'difficult' surfaces, and if you invest in a decent primer (I'd recommend Zinsser's Bullseye 123 primer) there shouldn't be any need for sanding, even if your piece of furniture has previously had gloss paint on it.

After you've applied your primer you'll then be able to paint over the top with normal emulsion. This is exactly how I tackled my wardrobes, and meant I just needed to prime all over in one go - glass panels included! After that I applied two coats of emulsion. The good thing about this method is you won't need to wax as its much less prone to chipping.

How to upcycle furniture using chalk paint and wax. Upcycling and DIY furniture makeover tips.

Grab all the gear
If you can, I would recommend investing in some good quality paintbrushes, decent sandpaper (if you're using it) and a large dust sheet - I've learnt that one the hard way! I always feel tempted by bargains, but when you've got bristles falling out of your £1 paintbrush and sticking to your carefully painted furniture, you'll be cursing yourself. This isn't always the rule for everything though - if you're applying a wax you can buy expensive waxing brushes, however I find an old rag works just as well.

Think outside the box
You don't just need to stick to wooden furniture either - I recently painted my kitchen tiles using tile paint, and plan on doing the same with those in my en-suite at some point this year too. Its also possible to paint floor tiles and even fabric too (chalk paint is best for this) - you'll be surprised at what you can turn a paintbrush to!

Have you ever upcycled anything? What tips would you give a beginner?

Thanks for reading,
Sam Xx



  1. It's true that we can not buy new things each and every time when we desire, so it is better to upcycle. I appreciate you for sharing this beginners guide to upcycling.


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