Upcycling is currently very popular in the interiors and furnishing world with many designer/makers focussing solely on upcycling furniture, creating unusual pieces from already existing items. This method sits well with the well-recognised consideration for sustainability in our designs and purchases. The image above displays several pieces that moved with the owners from their previous home and were reupholstered or refinished to refresh them for their new home. 

Renewing and repurposing furniture can also be a fun project, looking at how to change the item and then using a professional to do it or having a go yourself. Furniture and items aren’t the only things to consider when upcycling. Materials can be used for a different purpose to originally intended. You can look at fabrics such as curtains, scarves or even sweaters which can be used to make cushions or trims on existing cushions, curtains or even curtain ties. The benefits extend beyond sustainability as you can save money by changing a piece you already have. You can uplift your interior with upcycling: the old becomes new, the dated contemporary and the worn-out becomes revitalised.

http://martinogamper.com/ – Photo credit: Angus Mill
http://martinogamper.com/ – Photo credit: Angus Mill

Martino Gamper is a London based Italian designer with an array of award-winning furniture and object projects. His Off-Cut tables, shown in the photo above, are made from teak from English school laboratory tops, oak from Scottish church benches, and poplar from the London Patent Office.

The award-winning designer describes his concept as “Three types of timber are merged together to create the surface. Off-Cut reflects the fact that a dining event is only ever complete when the different people around the table share the same experience.”

At Tacoma based rePly Furniture unique, hand-crafted pieces are made from salvaged plywood from local cabinet shops. Pieces range from tables and chairs to cabinets and boxes. The plywood is layered beautifully giving an effect similar to marquetry.

http://www.replyfurniture.com/ – Photo credit: Steve Lawler

Honeycomb table by rePly Furniture

http://www.replyfurniture.com/ – Photo credit: Steve Lawler

Box made from salvaged plywood by rePly Furniture.

UK based Touchwood Vintage Designs can upcycle a piece that you already have, accept pieces you would otherwise discard and source pieces for you. From applying papers to using paint, pieces are given a completely new decorative and intricate look. 

https://www.touchwoodvintagedesigns.co.uk/ – Photo credit: Anna Moody

1950s upcycled sideboard by Touchwood Vintage Designs hand-painted in Fusion Mineral paint in a beautiful bottle green shade and finished in decoupage Cole & Sons designer paper creating a unique piece.

A great example of upcycling with a charitable purpose is homeless charity, Renu Barnabus, in Manchester, England, which provides opportunities to homeless people to upcycle furniture teaching them skills including repairing and designing. All the money raised goes straight back into the project.

Here we show 5 key ways to get started with an upcycling project:

Paint furniture

https://www.shalinimisra.com/ – Photo credit: Tom Sullam

When a piece is looking tired or you don’t like the finish anymore, painting is a simple and effective method to refresh furniture. You could pick a colour from other furniture in your room or an artwork and use that to tie your piece to the rest of the scheme. 

Salvage an item and repurpose it

https://www.shalinimisra.com/ – Photo credit: Vipul Sangoi

Visiting salvage yards is a great way to spend a day. You never know what you can find from vintage lights to old fireplaces and unusual decorative objects. Each piece will have a history. This staircase is given a curious design feature with an old survey ruler which has been repurposed as a handrail. It gives the ruler a new lease of life and adds a fun element in the design of this space. 

https://www.shalinimisra.com/ – Photo credit: Vipul Sangoi

You can use old pictures frames you have, or find second hand ones in charity shops, and use them for art or photos. This mix of frames in different styles adds a curious decorative touch to the bathroom.

Change or add an element to a piece of furniture

https://www.shalinimisra.com/ – Photo credit: Vipul Sangoi

You may have a table top which you love but the legs are broken or the look isn’t to your taste. One way to keep the piece usable is to change the legs. French company Tip Toe produces stylish metal legs with clamps that can be used with table tops. Another way to upcycle a piece is to add to it to make it more usable. The desk in this photo is an old sewing desk. It was repurposed as a study desk and two drawers were added to make it more practical for its new purpose.

https://www.shalinimisra.com/ – Photo credit: Vipul Sangoi

This desk was revitalised with handles taken from an old piece of furniture. They fit perfectly adding elegance to the drawer fronts.

Reupholster existing furniture 

https://www.shalinimisra.com/ – Photo credit: Mel Yates

The sofas in this reception room were loved by the clients and had moved with them from a previous home. We reupholstered them in new fabrics giving them a fresh lease of life and fitting them harmoniously into the new interior scheme.

https://www.shalinimisra.com/  – Photo credit: Tom Sullam

The doors of these wardrobes were reupholstered giving them a new look. The wardrobes needed a bit of freshening up so we chose a fabric that fitted well with the rest of the furniture in the room. Using fabric on the wardrobe doors adds a soft tactile touch to the textures of the furnishing.  These two methods are great ways of creating a completely new look.

Reclaim tiles

https://www.shalinimisra.com/ – Photo credit: Tom Sullam

Often reclaimed tiles are only available in small batches. A clever way to use them is by inserting them into timber or tiled flooring adding an interesting design element. They can be cut to size to match an existing tiled floor or inlaid grouped together in a hallway delineating the space or around a fireplace. You can also use reclaimed tiles for other small areas such as splashbacks in bathrooms or dotted throughout a splashback in a kitchen or on a kitchen surface. This room has many upcycled pieces including glass pendants that are repurposed from chemistry labs, the doors are reclaimed barn wood and the handles were salvaged.

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  • Shalini Misra

    Founder and Creative Director

    Internationally celebrated interior architect, designer and property developer, Shalini Misra has been creating spaces since she founded her multifaceted practice over 20 years ago. A qualified architect from the Delhi School of Architecture and Planning (SPA) in India, Shalini specialised in Urban Planning at the University of Columbia in New York before studying Virtual Reality in Architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, in London. One of House & Garden’s top 100 interior designers, Shalini is a British Institute of Interior Design (BIID) committee member, she is on the Advisory Board of KLC School of Design and on the Steering Committee of The Calico Club. She sits on the South Asian Acquisition Committee (SAAC) at Tate, and judges international design awards. Shalini is also a trustee and mentor of UK charity Vahani Scholarship Trust, a non-profit organisation that recognises the importance of opening doors for underprivileged children. Shalini also sits on the advisory board for Common Sense Media, a global charity dedicated to improving the well-being of children and families in the digital age.