5 Tips for Upcycling Newbies

From hip coffee shops to killer patios and your tiny studio bathroom–every space has the potential for great style. When you’re on a tight budget, though, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged by the prices found at big decor stores.

Thankfully, there’s a better option.

Photo by seaasparagus

Photo by seaasparagus

Upcycling is the growing trend of refreshing, repurposing, and reusing old items to create something even better. It can be as simple as repurposing old hardware or as involved as using wooden crates to build a giant storage system. No matter your budget or your goals, there’s an upcycling project out there for you. These tips will help you get started.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Stealing is bad. But sharing is good! DIY-ers of all kinds love to share and discuss ideas, building on the successes of others, and learning from their failures. Especially if you’re just getting started upcycling, it can be immensely helpful to see what’s already been done.

There are plenty of places to find great upcycling ideas. Pinterest, of course, is a treasure trove; you can search for specific projects using its robust tagging system. If you come across an old wooden crate, for instance, try searching Pinterest for “wood + crate + upcycle,” and see what your next project will be.

Pinterest isn’t the only resource out there for finding upcycling ideas. Many dedicated upcyclers run websites and blogs dedicated to sharing resources and ideas. Check out Upcycle That, Upcycle Magazine, and We Upcycle, for starters.

Use what you have

This is the “golden rule” of upcycling, but it’s easy to forget. Inspiration can strike from a number of resources, but inspiration isn’t always practical.
My neighbor did that awesome thing with a shipping palette. I need to go find a palette, too!”
Before you run out to hardware stores begging for palettes, stop and think. Could you achieve the same look or concept using something you already have? What else could you create with a similar style but different materials?

Photo by BSquaredInc

There are many treasures buried in your house, you just have to know where to find them. Here are a few places where upcycling materials are just waiting to be found:

  • Garage
  • Attic
  • Crawl space
  • Basement
  • Back yard
  • Storage units
Take advantage of anything and everything you find. Which brings us to…

Know when to say “no”

Use everything and anything you find, within reason. It’s important to make sure any pieces or supplies you plan to use are structurally safe and sound. After all, it would be a shame to spend time, money, and love on a project, only to have it collapse into splinters.

Always do a simple “shake test” to see how stable a piece of furniture is, especially before buying it. Make sure any and all hardware is functional and not rusted. If your piece is going to hold heavy loads, always test it with a little more weight than you’ll eventually have, before putting in the work. Here’s a handy tip from the Thoughtful Women blog: If you have any furniture you got from your grandparents, it’s probably a good candidate; newer furniture is built less sturdily.

Start simple

While it may be tempting to dive right into an elaborate overhaul, it’s best to walk before you run. Almost all upcycling projects require a foundation of the same skills: sanding, priming, painting, and some basic carpentry. You’ll want to try your hand at some smaller projects to ensure that you’ve mastered the basics, before tackling something major. The Interiors Addict blog suggests starting with an old picture frame. You could also try a small end table, plant stand, or stool. Once you’re wielding a hammer and a paint brush like a pro, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things!

No shortcuts!

Once you’ve found the perfect piece to upcycle, it’s time to dig into a serious upcycling project. Now is not the time to cut corners. While it can be tempting to skip a step here or there because it doesn’t sound particularly important, your end result will suffer for it. Always take the following steps, if your particular piece requires:
  • Remove hardware before painting
  • Sand and prime before painting
  • Repair grouts or imperfections using wood filler
  • Carefully apply painter’s tape if using a second trim color
If you’re using wood, don’t forget to finish the piece with a laquer or finisher, and remember to weatherproof any outdoor pieces with Danish Oil or an oil-based urethane wood stain to keep it looking good.

Photo by SignsbyJacki

Photo by SignsbyJacki

Upcycling is a fun way to give your favorite household goods a new life. Look for old windows, dusty dishes, stray pieces of wood, used furniture and more. Before you know it, your house will be trendier than the coffee shop across the street. The best part: you’ll have enough money left to go grab a hot beverage and brag.


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