How to Upcycle Old Furniture

What do you do if you need some new furniture for your home and can’t afford one of those expensive pieces from a brand name store? Want to get your hands dirty while creating a beautiful focal piece for your home? You may want to consider upcycling furniture.

Old French Furniture

Old French Furniture

Upcycling old furniture is the process of finding antiqued items that were abandoned and usually boring or unsightly in some way. The process of repurposing and restoring old items has become popular though television shows like This Old House, Rehab Addict and American Restoration (all of which I get through DirecTV ). Simply adding a new layer of paint or a touch of new fabric can create a masterpiece out of what was once garbage, and it’s surprisingly simple!

Step 1: Finding an item

The first step to upcycling furniture is, of course, finding the furniture you’d like to work with. A few places I like to begin searching are Craigslist, antique shops, flea markets, estate sales and garage sales, plus family members and friends, who might have old furniture hidden away in their garage or basements.

Intricate detailing and classic charm

Intricate detailing and classic charm

Really popular items these days are mid-century furniture, items from the Fifties – reminiscent of the Brady Bunch household. Old telephone tables, vintage desks and dressers, and especially old windows and doors are hot commodities for upcycling furniture. You’ll want to find the items with intricate detailing and classic charm, so that just a simple touch-up will enhance these features. You also want to make sure the items are not damaged beyond repair (i.e. rotten).

Antique doors and windows are extremely popular interior designs for simple touches of decor and detailing in the home, such as using an old distressed door as a headboard, or vintage windows as picture frames.

Old Door Headboard

Old Door Headboard

Step 2: Now what?

The big question, once you have your items, is “now what do I do with it?” It is important to first assess your project. Does the desk need to be stripped of paint? Does the dining room chair need to be reupholstered? Am I able to simply start painting? Each item is different and will need to be approached in varying ways.

If the item is battered or really out of shape, then it might need a good stripping and sanding. However, this is not always necessary, especially with newer pieces. If you don’t have a sanding tool, you can purchase simple sandpaper from the store to remove disfigurements and deformities in old wooden furniture. If you are looking for a quick solution, you can even use coffee grinds to get out dings in wood furniture.

If you are working with upholstered items, there is no need to get it professionally reupholstered, especially since that would cost a decent amount of money. Carefully remove the existing fabric by slowly prying it loose. It just takes a few steps to do an easy DIY reupholster.

If you don’t have the tools to strip, sand and buffer the furniture, there are also two types of paint on the market that are drama-free and allow you to go ahead and paint the furniture without any prep. These products are called chalk paint, such as the ones from Annie Sloan, not to be confused with chalkboard paint,  and milk paint, including Miss Mustard Seed which comes in powder form and must be mixed with water.

Provencal style French rush seat chair carving detail

Provencal style French rush seat chair carving detail

Step 3: Make it pretty:

The final and most exciting part of the furniture transformation is deciding on your finishes and making it look appealing! First, figure out what color scheme you want to go with. Then decide, do you want to create a piece that is more muted and neutral, or do you want a pop of color? Do you want a distressed look, or a modern look? Do you want to just use a stain on the wood, or paint it? If you are confused as to what finish you want, you can always consult a professional for their advice. Once you have the idea in mind, take a visit to a local home improvement store, and find the perfect fabric or paint for your project.

Make it pretty

Make it pretty

Another great way to spruce up a desk or dresser is to add new handles or knobs. If you are not using chalk or milk paint, make sure you use a primer on unpainted, wooden pieces to better seal in the color.

If you like the distressed look of upcycled furniture, you can go a few different routes: applying wax or using a dry brush or scraping with sandpaper/steel wool. This is a highly desired look for furniture today, and fairly simple to do. Make sure to use two layers of paint for the areas you plan to scuff since you don’t want to rub the furniture raw.

Upcycling furniture is a fun, creative and rewarding process. It takes old and drab, often unusable items, and breathes new life into them. The result is a unique piece that is easy on the wallet, which you can be proud to say you created.

Photo Credits

Old French Furniture – By French Finds on flickr – some rights reserved

Old Door Headboard – By Dave Jacquin on flickr – some rights reserved

Intricate detailing and classic charm – By Andy Roberts on flickr – some rights reserved

Provencal style French rush seat chair carving detail – – By French Finds on flickr – some rights reserved

Make it pretty – By Andy Roberts on flickr – some rights reserved

Guest Author Bio
Kate Voss

Kate VossKate Voss is a freelance entertainment writer from Chicago who loves restoring antique furniture. Her most recent project was upcycling her mother’s old trunk to be used as a coffee table.

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