National Upcycling Day 2021: Why refinished furniture is best!

Rivington Drinks Cabinet with geometric stencil

Why professionally refinished or upcycled furniture is better than buying brand new furniture!

Although the term ‘upcycle’ has been around since the 1990s, its popularity only really started to grow a decade later and has culminated with a substantial increase in people upcycling and buying refinished furniture since lockdown began. This upcycling craze subsequently led to an Upcycle Revolution and the creation of National Upcyling Day last year, with the aim of highlighting ways to upcycle more and throw away less.

To mark the second National Upcycle Day on June 24th 2021, this article talks about:

  • What the Upcycling Revolution is all about and why it isn’t a new concept
  • The impact of discarded furniture and textiles on the environment
  • Why upcycling and in particular furniture refinishing has become so popular in the last 18 months
  • Benefits of buying refinished furniture or upcycling your own
  • 10 things a good professional furniture refinisher can offer

 The Upcycling Revolution: an old concept?

Upcycling is the practise of transforming old unloved items into beautiful functional pieces using creative flair and imagination, making them more valuable and desirable.

Nathan Drinks Cabinet with diamond geometric design

Although upcycling is a fairly new term, it’s not actually a new concept, but rather one that has evolved throughout history.

Anyone who bought their first homes in the 1980s and 90s like me, may well have subsequently indulged in a spot of rag rolling, marbling and stencilling as a way of creating a cheap handmade paint effect on walls or furniture rather than purchasing expensive wallpaper.

I remember my husband coming home from a trip abroad to find that my friend and I had rag rolled the rather large kitchen in yellow and orange. My parents still have the coordinating seat pads for the pine table and chairs in their home today! I loved it at the time…it gave the kitchen character.

Similarly the Victorians also loved a bit of faux paint work, recreating marble on fireplaces or inlay on pine tops. Faux woodgraining; giving wood the appearance of something more expensive, was also popular. ‘Fake what you can’t afford’ was definitely their mantra.

The impact of discarded furniture and textiles on the environment

This may seem an obvious one, but did you know that according to the North London Waste Authority's report, a staggering 22 million pieces of furniture are discarded in the UK each year?

That's 670,000 tonnes of furniture and 310,000 tonnes of textiles sent to landfill by UK householders every year. A fifth of this furniture is reusable in its current state , much more if people are willing to make a small repair.

If you've watched the BBC Series Money for Nothing, you'll know that the opportunity to pick through furniture waste at the local tip is a dream of most furniture refinishers. Our imagination runs wild when we see 'naked' furniture! 

The rise in popularity of upcycling and furniture refinishing during lockdown

This basic upcycling concept has sparked an exciting revolution during lockdown.

The upcycling phenomenon continues through popular TV with The Great British Sewing Bee showing how something as diverse as a parachute can be transformed into a dress. Here's series winner Serena's interpretation. 

Serena Sews blue parachute dress

I absolutely love these up cycled bags and home furnishings from Carol - The Denim Upcycler. It's shocking just how long Denim takes to break down in landfill, even then it will leave a plastic skeleton. Carol's work is an example of true upcycling and it's beautiful too!

To learn more about Carol's creations and the impact denim has on the environment, follow @thedenimupcycler

Range of up cycled products from The Denim Upcycler

 As a professional furniture refinisher myself, I was getting maybe 5 enquires a day during lockdown asking me to source drinks cabinets or bureaus. It seemed that everyone was either missing the pub and wanting to recreate their own at home or were finding different ways to create compact workspaces that were beautiful too. Our homes have become all important.

Nathan Bureau in navy blue with gold geometric pattern

With shops closed, people suddenly finding time on their hands, money tight and homes under the spotlight, an entire new generation of upcyclers and furniture refinishers were born. It’s been a fabulous opportunity for those with untapped creative skills and environmental awareness to transform their homes whilst lowering CO2 production and the amount of waste in landfill.

Finally, creative wellbeing has also been an overriding factor for me. Whilst the world around has been in disarray, the short journey to the workshop for a day releasing my creative energy into a beautiful piece of furniture has been my saving grace.

Benefits of furniture refinishing / upcycling

The opportunity to work with master craftsmen from the past

For me furniture refinishing is all about pairing the new with the old; the creative skills of contemporary furniture artists working hand in hand with traditional skills of master craftsmen from the modern era. 

For furniture refinishers opting to work with good quality modern furniture pieces, the creative world really is their oyster. These gems may need a really good clean, sand and some sympathetic restoration which is hard work, but from that point in we are working on the most fabulous canvas. A canvas that was lovingly created 60 – 100 years ago from the best materials.

To upcycle well is to truly appreciate the craftsmanship and skill that went into making the original item of furniture, to be able to fix the flaws and enhance its beauty.  

Michele from The Pheasant Plucker's Wife is incredibly good at this. In her signature style, she takes worn and unloved furniture from the Edwardian period and reimagines it with beautiful Art Nouveau wallpaper from the William Morris archives. Take a look at her website where you can see her Percy Bureau in all its glory.

Edwardian bureau up cycled in William Morris Acanthus wallpaper

Naked Edwardian bureau

Statement furniture and unique style

The last 18 months have really given us the opportunity to reflect on ourselves and our lifestyles and hopefully make changes for the better. We are all unique and quirky in our own way and our homes should reflect that.

Furniture upcycling is the perfect way to create a centrepiece for our homes, furniture that reflects our personality and the way we live our lives. Good quality, second-hand furniture is a blank canvas waiting to receive any colour or design we choose. My furniture design and commission service is a perfect example of how to achieve your unique look.

So, be an individualist and only invest in furniture you love. Trends will pass but true style remains.

Stag Minstrel Tallboy painted in Ash Grey

Stag Minstrel Tallboy in Ash

Love your family heirlooms

The general public are far more aware of the worth of a piece of furniture these days and 18 months of missing our loved ones has resulted in people hanging onto furniture for its sentimental value.

Take your Gran’s sideboard for example. You can guarantee that when she bought it 60 years ago it was a huge investment, but she bought it because she loved it. The next 40 years is a long time for you to hang onto something that you don’t love. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so sympathetic upcycling is the perfect solution.

1940s Beautility Sideboard with walnut grain and dark green and gold accents

1940s Beautility Sideboard

10 reasons to enlist the help of good professional furniture refinisher 

On the other hand, there’s a lot of debate about whether we will regret this upcycle revolution in the future. As we eagerly grab our sandpaper and paint, are we actually ruining some of our most valuable items of furniture? This is where professional advice can be invaluable.

As a professional furniture refinisher, I will always try to work sympathetically with the piece and value its worth in its unfinished and refinished state. Likewise, refinishing does not always mean applying paint. It’s simply the process of removing the existing finish, cleaning and restoring where needed and then applying a new finish. This often simply takes the form of oil, wax or polyurethane topcoat.

In general, a professional skilled in furniture refinishing will:

  • Know how desirable the furniture is in its current state and only look to elevate its worth
  • Respect other people's workmanship and the heritage of the furniture
  • Showcase the work of traditional craftsmen in the best way possible
  • Know the value and appreciate the true beauty of the furniture and help customers to do the same
  • Cherish quality crafted wood pieces
  • Give the piece a nod to the past and the life it’s had. It’s not a factory item so it may not be perfect
  • Understand that it’s a one-off purchase and ensure it’s fit for the next 50 years
  • Identify the maker, understand the history and value, restore the furniture to glory and provide instructions for its care
  • Work with customer to design sympathetically with history and style
  • Honour the furniture by making it into a much-loved item.
If you'd like to find out more about professional upcycling for interiors, visit The House of Upcycling where you'll find a Directory of Upcyclers and Industry Partners.

    Beautility sideboard ready for upcycling

    Beautility Sideboard

    In short, with the help of master craftsmen of the past, furniture upcycling is fantastic opportunity to create a beautiful unique statement item for your home, whilst helping reduce environmental impact. That’s why buying refinished furniture is better than mass produced alternatives.

    Visit my gallery to see some of my upcycles or get in touch if you’d like to chat about working together to design and commission a refinished item of furniture

    I'd love you to share any upcycling you've done during lockdown. Follow me on  Facebook or Instagram and tag me with your upcycles.

    2 comments

    • An interesting read. Your work is beautiful and I love that you respect the furniture and workmanship. In these days of mass-production, it’s great that we can have a truly unique, one of a kind, piece of furniture in our home!

      Lesley
    • Brilliant article – it’s made me think differently about refinished furniture rather than automatically buying new!

      Pamela Rae-Welsh

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