Upcycling Furniture & Home Decor For Dummies
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There are lots of reasons to get excited about upcycling. To begin with, upcycling is like modern-day alchemy. It transforms unwanted items into highly prized pieces. It’s like turning trash into treasure!

Another reason to get into upcycling is that it’s eco-conscious. In a world experiencing a garbage crisis, upcycling is a part of the solution. It feels positively magnificent to rescue and reimagine items headed for the landfill. Also, it’s downright thrilling selling pieces for a profit. That’s right — upcycling is an environmentally-savvy hobby that can earn you cash.

Photo of the before and after a desk was repainted ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
A chevron-inspired design dressed up this old desk.

Upcycling vs. recycling

Upcycling and recycling aren’t the same because they have different processes. With recycling, items are broken down before they’re reused. For example, plastic is shredded and melted down into pellets.

As the material is recycled, its value degrades, so the process of recycling is sometimes referred to as downcycling. For instance, recycled plastic isn’t as valuable as virgin plastic, and can only be recycled a finite number of times.

Whereas downcycling reduces the value of an item, upcycling increases it. The item is reimagined and reborn. It goes from being an unwanted discard to a highly sought-after and valued piece. It’s an inspiring journey!

Discovering the benefits of upcycling

The benefits to upcycling are plentiful, including environmental, creative, and financial. Here are some of the top advantages:
  • Good for the environment: First and foremost, upcycling is great because it reduces the waste that ends up in a landfill. Beyond that, as items are reused, the demand decreases for raw materials to create new products. This in turn lowers air and water pollution. It’s like a snowball effect for environmental conservation.
  • Encourages creativity: Upcycling ignites your creativity. It’s an innovative process with no limits. Plus, getting crafty and doing it yourself is satisfying.
  • Saves money: Upcycling furniture instead of buying it new can save you thousands of dollars. It’s also an attainable way to get custom, one-of-a-kind pieces.
  • Generates value and income: Upcycling and reselling furniture and home decor is an awesome side hustle. It’s a smart way to make money by being creative.
  • Beautiful: Upcycled items are often bespoke. These items feature custom artisanship and are stylishly unique.
  • Fun and accessible: Anyone can be an upcycler. With a bit of passion and commitment, you too can learn how. The materials are just waiting to be discovered, and finding them is one of the best parts.
  • Inspiring: The flash of inspiration to upcycle can come from the most unexpected pieces. That’s part of the magic. Once you start creating, you won’t want to stop.
  • Meaningful: Upcycled pieces have a history and character to them that you just don’t find with “fast furniture” (low-quality, mass-produced furniture that’s being rapidly bought, used briefly, and quickly discarded). The item has already lived a life (or two), and that makes it special. In addition, upcycling supports local artisans.

Starting with materials in hand

When you already have the materials, there’s a great opportunity to use your imagination. Do you want to repaint and refinish the item, or do you want to repurpose it into something completely new?

Think about what the item could become. For example, in Figure 1, on the left is a door that was converted into a table. On the right is an epic coffee table made from a dresser drawer.

To learn how to make the coffee table below, check out my book, Upcycling Furniture & Home Decor For Dummies.

Photos showing a table made from a door and a coffee table made from a dresser drawer ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Figure 1: On the left, a door table by Curtis Smletzer of Handy Father LLC. On the right, a gorgeous coffee table by Judy Rom, which she made from a dresser drawer found in an alley.

Working toward an end-use vision

Alternatively, you might have a piece of furniture or decor that you want to create, like a dramatic light fixture, and just need to find the supplies. You can repurpose glass plates and bowls into light shades, like in Figure 2. Charming glassware is waiting to be rescued at your local thrift shop.

Photo showing a cluster of hanging, glass pendant lights ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Figure 2: Roos Kalff of Studio Kalff upcycled this stunning cluster of pendant lights.

Fun, yet functional furniture

Sometimes it takes removing part of the original item to repurpose it. On the left of Figure 3, there’s an awesome bathroom vanity made from a dresser. Charlotte Smith. of At Charlotte’s House, refinished this piece and used a jig to cut out a place for the bathroom sink and faucet.

Smith also retrofitted the drawers so they’d still be functional. To finish the piece, she applied a heavy-duty sealant to the dresser to keep it from warping in the humidity of the bathroom.

Photos of a bathroom vanity made from a dresser and a cabinet ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Figure 3: On the left, a bathroom vanity by Charlotte Smith, and at right, a reimagined cabinet by Teofi González.

Sometimes the piece needs to be added to. On the right of Figure 3, there’s an IKEA cabinet that Teofi González, of The Kiyomi, transformed by adding a veneer cutout and gorgeous pastel hues. Trendy new legs complete the look.

The console on the left of Figure 4 appears perfectly worn and weathered. This stunning coastal look was achieved by painting it with multiple colors and layers, using salt wash for texture and then sanding it smooth.

On the right of Figure 4, you see a curvy, scalloped dresser that was completely transformed with a white, turquoise, teal, and deep blue ombre. The upcycler perfectly accented the piece with gold leaf to create a stunning geode design.

Photos of a weathered console table and a reimagined cabinet made from a dresser ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Figure 4: At left, a weathered console table by Michelle Dickson and Stephanie Hofer of Sunny Side Design. On the right, geode-design cabinet by Kate Anderson of KT Designs.

Eye-catching home decor

Home decor is important because it sets the tone for your home. Style is completely subjective, and you can express yourself in unlimited ways.

Vinyl records will always have that cool factor. Unfortunately, they’re often scratched beyond use. Turning them into home decor is a great way to keep the music alive. The top left of Figure 5 shows a record turned into a bowl.

Photos showing upcycled items ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Figure 5: Record bowl by Judy Rom of Upcycle That (top left). Skate decks suspended by aircraft cables by Judy Rom of Upcycle That (bottom left). Denim home decor upcycles by Claire Armstrong of Pillar Box Blue (top and bottom right).

The skateboard decks–turned–shelves shown in the bottom left of Figure 5 are ideal for a skater.

Denim upcycles are classic. You can turn ripped jeans into multiple creative home furnishings, like those shown in the top right and bottom right in Figure 5.

Lamps that light the way

Upcycled lighting will really brighten up your life. There are lots of inventive ways to reimagine items into lights. Repurposing an item as a lamp shade for a pendant light is one of the most effective ways to create a light source.

You can buy a pendant light cord from your local hardware store or online.

At the top of Figure 6, Heinz Beanz cans have been turned into funky pendant lights by Willem Heeffer, a Dutch designer.

Photos showing examples of upcycled items ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Figure 6

It’s also possible to make lamps out of electrical wire, light sockets, and a lamp switch wire and plug. The phone lamp in the middle left of Figure 6 was DIY-ed by Judy Rom and Bart Taylor with those items, a bit of imagination, and an old rotary phone.

A Sputnik-style light on the middle right of Figure 6 is a modern take on upcycled lighting. Sputnik lamps have multiple arms that each have a bulb. This kind of fixture became popular in the Atomic Age (1940–1960s) when the first satellite orbited Earth. This stunning Sputnik chandelier with Depression glass used as shades was designed by Jeff Risinger and Mark Winn of BootsNGus.com.

Multiple items look gorgeous grouped together as a chandelier. The bottom of Figure 6 features a stunning rainbow chandelier by Jeff Risinger and Mark Winn of BootsNGus.com made with painted mason jars. The center ring used here is made from solid wood. Additionally, the lids have been drilled to allow heat to escape so that the jars won’t overheat.

Gorgeous garden upcycles

You won’t believe the extent of what you can upcycle into planters. The top left of Figure 7 shows an incredible TV-turned terrarium.

Photos showing examples of upcycled items ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Figure 7

Covering plant pots with a burlap coffee bean bag is a delightful way to dress them up! The bottom left of Figure 7 shows the look.

Upcycling is a fabulous way to embellish your garden. The right side of Figure 7 shows some lovely garden markers made with vintage silverware. The names of the herbs have been hand stamped onto each one. They’re positively delightful!

Smart storage solutions

There are scads of ways to upcycle for organization. Crates are particularly practical. You can repurpose vintage fruit or wine crates to hold shoes, toys, books, towels — you name it!

Figure 8 shows an example of how to stack and style crates in a foyer.

Photo of wooden crates being used as shelves ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Figure 8: Wooden crates are both functional and decorative

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Judy Rom runs Upcycle That, a website dedicated to everything upcycling. Judy aims to inspire readers to reuse items to enable a more beautiful, sustainable, and rich lifestyle.

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