Despite being a lover of art, a fine art graduate (with First Class Honours), even working within numerous creative industries most of my life, I’ve never been particularly good at ‘crafting’. My strength is the ideas and vision part of the process I guess (without sounding too much like a pretentious twat), but I’ve never been that good at the execution part. In main because my hands don’t seem to be connected to my brain AT ALL, or at least the wires are a little frayed.
So when I knew that upcycling would likely be a large part of my process of decorating my first flat ( I am on a very tight budget) , transforming it from a shell to a cosy home – I was a bit unsure whether the results would be ones I’d be willing to share, or whether they would actually end up being down-cycles.
So far most of my upcycles and DIY’s have involved what I call a ‘whoopsy’ moment. That ‘uhoh’ moment when you realise you’ve definitely done something wrong – whether its mixing an ingredient incorrectly and having to wipe it off, using a product that isn’t quite right and having to do a hatchet cover-up job, or skipping a few parts of the advised process and realising they’re actually integral to creating a professional, or even acceptable finish. You get the idea. It’s definitely been a case of trial, and lots of error. On the most part it’s clear how important it is to do sufficient prep, but also do you due diligence in regards to what products you use.
I thought it might be useful to rewind to my first epicycle project, one I completed in the kitchen of my family home when we hadn’t actually even exchanged – I was clearly trying to go against my natural pessimism and live in hope that our plans to buy our chosen flat would all go through successfully. Despite the final contracts not being signed I did already know what colour my bedroom would be (to be fair I had over a decade to mull it over). To be honest I had created mood boards pretty much ten seconds after we made the decision to flat hunt. I knew what bedside tables I loved from browsing online and in person which in an ideal scenario I would buy, but I also knew that they were out of my price range. That said I was pleased that my financial position would mean that I would be taking an environmentally friendly approach to decking out my new pad by sourcing predominantly second-hand furniture and decor.
I thought to myself that whatever the outcome of the decor, and whatever other furniture I managed to source, some simple white bedside tables would likely work. So I thought I’d get cracking on those as my first foray into the world of up-cycling.
First mission was finding the raw material – the existing, preloved bedside tables. Every day the first thing I’d do, apart from refreshing my inbox to see if the vital documents had finally come from the solicitors, is trawl through Facebook Marketplace to search for a matching pair of blank canvas bedside tables that I could get to work on.
It didn’t matter what colour they were, what wood finish they had, if they had ugly handles or a few scratches and flaws. I was looking more at the silhouette and whether the shape/height would work, and whether it had a draw that wasn’t open – as much as I love the look of exposed shelves on bedside tables I knew I needed a drawer to hide my bedside clutter (and those things you don’t necessarily want people to see).
After a few attempts to reserve some pairs of tables where I wasn’t quite quick enough off the mark (good stuff gets snapped up quite quickly) I finally managed to secure the purchases of a set of John Lewis beside tables (£15 each). They were located just a few minutes down the road meaning that the transaction would even good on a carbon footprint level!
They were absolutely fine looking with their original warm wood finish, but I knew the likelihood that the wood would be an exact or complimentary match to other second-hand furniture we may find for the bedroom was unlikely, so it would make more sense to just embrace a full on makeover and turn them a versatile white.
At this point, prior to launching a home Instagram account, or being immersed in the home blogging community, my knowledge of the go-to products was limited. But from a few forums and feeds I noticed that Wilko Furniture Paint had recieved some positive reviews, so knowing their affordable price points I was happy to go and pick up a primer and top coat from my local Walton on Thames store.
I had always grown up in a house with doors and woodwork painted in gloss paint, so always presumed that’s just what you do. But someone pointed out that it’s not very current to go for gloss and that a matt or chalky finish is far cooler. Knowing that I’m a terrible spiller and need furniture to have a certain level of wipeabilty, I decided a satin finish would serve as a happy and sensible medium.
I started off my lightly sanding down, just to reduce any existing marks and scratches and to also provide a rough surface for the primer and paint to cling too.
I made sure to give the tables a thorough wash after sanding to make sure there weren’t any grains of wood that could interfere with creating a smooth finish.
I put a layer of primer on first, which delivers a translucent layer of white. It dums down the intensity of the brown wood underneath considerably. From painting my MDF wardrobes without a primer, and having to do over 5 coats, I now appreciate how helpful this part of the process is.
Once that had dried fully, which is fairly fast, it was time for the white furniture paint which I applied with a brush. I’d suggest that if you have a small foam roller to hand that you use that on any of the larger surfaces and use the brush primarily on the fiddly bits that requite precision to cover.
My memory is a bit wobbly, but I think it took 2 or 3 coats to create the full and even satin white finish, but the paint was easy to work with and even with the ill advised smaller brush I used the finish was fairly smooth. In hindsight and with more education thanks to the Instagram home community I’m now aware of Frenchic’s fairly revolutionary Alfresco range that has the most amazing coverage. When I used it on my UVPC door it only required two coats…and that was on plastic #miracleworker.
How could I make them a bit more of an exciting upcycling while maintaining their ‘go with anything’ aesthetic I thought. Knowing that any handles or fittings I would get for the bedroom would likely be brass/gold I thought I’d spray the side of the draws with gold spray. It wouldn’t be too garish as you’d only be greeted by the metallic when the drawers were open, and its glimmer would be completely hidden when static and closed.
I already had some gold spray, so it was no extra cost to the project which was a bonus. I did this part outside to avoid getting spray on anything precious in the house and to be in better conditions in terms of toxic smells. Unfortunately the day I chose came with some weather based challenges. Every time I sprayed from the recommend distance the wind took the metallic particles away and up in to the air and away from the wood surface it was meant to be decorating. For this reason I had to hold the can a bit closer meaning some areas it was a bit denser in colour and at times some of the product actually dripped down, which I had to mop up fast to avoid streaks.
Again to instil some secret wow factors into his project I decided I wanted to line the drawers, and knowing the handles I had my eye on I was looking for an oriental vibe to do so. So I ordered some wallpaper samples (I thought using different ones in each would be nice so that Si and I could feel like we have a unique one each).
The final part of the process was changing the handles and this was the main expense really. I would normally try and find a very affordable or even second hand options, but I’d already fallen too hard for these ones from Anthropologie and I have no regrets. I still adore them and I love how they link to Si’s Japanese heritage.
So that’s all it took, and it definitely saved me a worthwhile amount of money. I think you’ll be surprised at the feeling of satisfaction you get from upcycling too. Not only do you get to be the driving force behind a transformation which we all love – it’s why we love makeover shows afterall, but you learn new skills on the way while having that unique smug feeling you carry whenever you know you’ve got a bargain or saved some money.
I’ve done plenty of other projects since, so do let me know if you’d like more posts like this! Head to my home instagram to watch the videos of the processes, which in my opinion a much more fun way to to enjoy a makeover.