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How to Upcycle Furniture

March 29, 2023
Woman scraping off old paint from a chair

For years, fashion aesthetics have naturally made their way into home décor. Home design and fashion are both ways we express ourselves and connect with others. Sustainability is at the forefront of both industries right now, and just as clothing design has moved away from fast-fashion, so too has home décor.

2023 home décor and design trends include an appreciation of vintage and the reuse or reinterpretation of old pieces. It’s all about finding antiques, collecting items from different eras, and putting them all together to create a style that is totally personal and one-of-a-kind.

Upcycling furniture is a great way to revamp your home décor without spending a lot of money on new pieces while minimizing waste. Keep reading to learn some tips and ideas for upcycling furniture.

Woman painting wooden furniture purple

What is upcycling?

Upcycling can mean various things, such as repurposing or restyling something unwanted into something usable – like turning an old cabinet into a home bar. Or, it can mean upgrading something worn out and tired into something with a wow factor, like reupholstering old barstools to fit today’s style of living.

All you need to do is upgrade the look and feel of an item to enhance it in some way. Sometimes this means completely changing the function; other times this simply means giving an item a much-needed makeover.

Where can I find vintage pieces to upcycle?

You can find some treasures if you’re willing to put in the time. Start with family and friends to see if they have any pieces they’re ready to part with; rummage through neighborhood garage sales; explore local thrift stores; scope out online options like Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and OfferUp; check estate sales and swap meets or flea markets.

Bedroom details in Residence 2 at Hyde Park at BLVD by Brookfield Residential in Dublin CA

What do I need to know before starting an upcycling project?

The idea of upcycling a piece of furniture can be a bit daunting at first, but it’s not too difficult if you take the time to understand the steps of your project to make it successful.

1. Start with a vision

Before you jump into an upcycling project, think about the style, purpose, and look you want to achieve. Do you want this piece to seamlessly blend with your existing décor? Or do you want to create something bold and dramatic to make a statement in the space? Are you creating a new function for this item and how will you make it work?

Look for inspiration on websites like Pinterest and Instagram and create a mood board to help guide your design choices.

2. Know your skill level

You need to be honest with yourself: how handy are you really? Are you willing to put time and energy to a big project? Do you need another set of hands to help? Do you have the necessary tools? Sanding down and staining an old dresser is a completely different project compared to converting that same dresser into a bathroom vanity.

Reupholstering with fabric and tools

3. Choose the right pieces

Look for furniture that has good bones, but needs a bit of TLC. It’s always great to find furniture in good condition, but even damaged items can be salvaged. The best pieces to upcycle are those that were well-made and built to last to start with, such as woods like oak, pine, and mahogany.

Other solid materials like veneer, metal, glass, ceramic, stone, resin, plastic, and fabric can all be upcycled if you properly prepare the project. If you don’t take the time to do the right prep work, your piece won’t stand the test of time.

4. Gather your materials and prep carefully

Before jumping into your upcycling project, you’ll need to figure out how to properly prep your furniture piece. What is the piece made of, and how has it been finished? If you want to paint natural wood that has been waxed, you’ll need to remove the wax beforehand. Glass and ceramic pieces typically need a primer before you can paint to ensure it bonds successfully to the surface.

No matter what you decide to upcycle, some common elements you may need include:

  • Well-ventilated space
  • Drop cloth
  • Plastic bowl with water
  • Cloths
  • Basic tools (screwdrivers, pliers)
  • Wood filler
  • Sandpaper or electric sander
  • Staple gun
  • Primer, paint, sealer
  • Brushes

In order to ensure your piece’s longevity, good prep is key. If you’re going to be painting or staining furniture, make sure to thoroughly clean the item, sand off any existing sheen, and clean off all the dust.

Primary bedroom details in The Collection Residence 1 at Playa Vista by Brookfield Residential SoCal

What are some easy upcycling projects for beginners?

The best part of upcycling is that anything can be repurposed. From small home décor items like picture frames, vases, and lamps, to large furniture pieces to be used in kitchen and bathroom projects. The easiest projects for beginners to upcycle include reupholstering, painting, or staining.

1. Get creative with paint

Painting is one of the easiest and most impactful ways to upcycle furniture or décor. If you want to make a statement piece out of your repurposed furniture, use a unique item and bright, bold colors. A great starter project is converting a dated side table into a vibrant nightstand. Another fun play on paint is to paint the exterior of a piece neutral and add a vibrant color to the interior. It’s guaranteed to make you smile every time you open the drawers.

2. Experiment with upholstery

If you have an old chair or barstools that need a new look, consider reupholstering them. You can choose a fabric that complements your décor or go for something bold and unexpected. There’s an abundance of resources to teach you how to reupholster a chair, making it a relatively simple entry project.

Dresser detail in Arborel Plan 3 at New Haven by Brookfield Residential in Ontario Ranch CA

3. Update the hardware

Swapping out the knobs or handles on a piece of furniture can make a big difference without much work. Look for unique or vintage hardware to add character and charm. Measure the opening to ensure you buy the right size, unscrew the existing pulls, and screw in the new ones. It’s a project that can take less than five minutes. For a more dramatic upcycle, add a fresh coat of paint beforehand.

4. Refinish or stain wood furniture

Wood colors and finishes are constantly going in and out of style. Just because a piece looks dated doesn’t mean it needs to be discarded. Refinishing or staining wood furniture creates a brand-new look. It’s a fairly straightforward process but may present some challenges if the piece has detailed grooves or layers upon layers of paint.

Vintage chair makeover with paint and fabric

The best part of upcycling is there aren’t limits to what you can create. It’s a sustainable, cost-effective solution to revamp your home décor and do your part to minimize waste.

Be sure to check out the Brookfield Residential blog for more design advice, homebuying insights, mortgage tips, and more including how to arrange your furniture like a pro and the most popular home décor and design trends of 2023. You can also explore where we build and connect with our sales team when you’re ready to learn more. We’ll be expecting you!