There's a revolution happening in the world of interiors! The movement is one of upcycled furniture ideas to reduce waste and create a more sustainable future. Whether you call it revamping; repurposing; reclaiming; reimagining or salvaging it doesn't matter, it's all upcycling – the process of giving old furniture a new lease of life.
So what exactly does upcycling mean? Who better to explains than the king of upcyclying himself, designer Max McMurdo. In his new book 'Upcycling' he explains, 'The key part of the word 'upcycling' is UP – unlike recycling, which takes a material backwards in the chain to its original properties. Upcycling adds value to the item through clever design to make it more desirable, financially, aesthetically and emotionally.'
Upcycled furniture ideas
All it takes is a little imagination and a few simple tools to repurpose old to new – saving money and most importantly saving waste. From upcycling sideboards into fashionable statement pieces to making a bathroom vanity unit using an old table, there's an easy to follow DIY project for all.
Let our upcycled furniture ideas inspire your next DIY project, and once you're ready to get started, check out our guide to the best paint for furniture to find the best formulation for the job.
1. Surprise with colour
‘One of my favourite tips is to paint something neutral on the outside and then add a flash of vibrant colour on the inside' suggests Annie Sloan. 'It’ll make you smile every time you open a drawer or a wardrobe. Colour brings joy so be bold with it!'
Use this idea to invigorate an old pine chest of drawers, making the outside tonal with the rest of the room but adding flashes of accent colour inside to welcome a bright pop of colour when the drawers are opened.
2. Modernise a dated sideboard with on-trend colour
You want the overhaul to be chic, not shabby which means taking some time. So don’t rush in with an impulse colour choice or a time limit in which to get the job done, that’s when mistakes are made and dodgy paint finishes can ruin the overall look.
Annie advises, 'decide what style you want before you start and make sure that it suits your home and your personality. Trying to do too much on one piece is an easy mistake to make, planning your upcycling beforehand limits this’.
3. Totally transform the dining table
Annie Sloan advises taking a look at the dining table as an easy introductory upcycle project to make an impact. 'By their nature they are rather formal pieces of furniture; lots of straight lines and flat surfaces' Annie explains. 'Painting the legs of a table a different colour to the top is a wonderful thing to do if you’ve got a lovely old wooden table which has seen better days.'
'You can even leave the top unpainted whilst disappearing scuff marks and other signs of wear and tear on the stems with a pop of colour.’
4. Give a charity shop piece a new lease of life
Shop savvy to look for piece of furniture to upcycle. If it’s your first attempt, then a charity shop gem or an old stool might be a good place to start.
5. Turn a plain sideboard into a captivating cane creation
It's hard to believe this was once a plain white sideboard?! This incredibly impressive transformation is the work of the team at Furniture And Choice (opens in new tab) who gave the cupboard a lick of paint, staple-gunned cane webbing to the back of the doors and changed the handles.
Now it's an incredibly stylish addition for any hallway, living room or even bedroom – and at a fraction of the price of buying a similar design from scratch.
6. Use a stencil to give old furniture a new look
A sizeable piece of furniture is never cheap to buy new, so where possible try to recycle rather than replace. If you have an old sideboard or chest of drawers that is perfectly functional but perhaps no longer to your taste, consider giving it a makeover. A stencil is the perfect way to leave your own stamp in the process.
7. Construct a table from salvaged scaffolding
Designer and upcycling expert Max McMurdo (opens in new tab) shares his brilliant Scaffold-board kitchen table idea.'I’m a huge fan of flat-pack and modular furniture – these scaffold fixings allow you to create your own' he explains. The table is entirely constructed using scaffolding materials; the top is boards, the legs scaffold poles held together with scaffold mounts.
'With just the twist of an Allen key (hex wrench) you can remove the legs of this table, offering flexibility and convenient storage. Scaffolding is designed to support the weight of a team of workers, so it lends itself particularly to table construction. The industrial aesthetic contrasts the rustic boards with the cool metal poles for a robust yet stylish dining solution.'
8. Be playful with pattern
Table Painted In Old White And Graphite Chalk Paint, Pattern cerated using Tallulah Stencil, all Annie Sloan
If you’re feeling more adventurous, create a patterned finish. Annie Sloan suggests, ‘Encourage more playfulness and show this hardworking piece of furniture some love with colourful stencils!'
'Abstract patterns along the edges, overlapping folk designs on the surface, and freehand patterns in between – or just one of these touches - will elevate your four-legged friend from workhorse to show pony!'
9. Paint and wall-mount wooden boxes
Packaging crates become so much more when you give them a coat of colour and wall-mount them – as this example shows! Use them to curate thoughtful wall displays or as bookshelves. Just be sure to secure them safely, don't overload them if the wall fixings aren't strong enough to take the weight.
10. Update old chairs with a splash of colour and pattern
Look away now if you LOVE Mid-century furniture (sorry!). But if older design is not your thing, try updating any inherited old furniture with a touch of colour and pattern. Using a specialist furniture paint you can add personality to a wooden frame and give seats a new look with new upholstery – which is easy enough to do yourself with a staple gun.
11. Craft a side table using crates
Stack wooden crates, one on top of the other, to create an alternative side table. The open element of the design is ideal for storing everything you'd need to stow neatly beside the bed, from books to sleep apparatus. The distressed nature of the wooden crates is stylish as it is, but that's not to say you couldn't gently sand them down and give them a coat of paint to suit your bedroom colour scheme.
Attaching castors for feet allows easy movement and will reduce the imprint on the carpet. Because that's never fun is it? Read Lynsey Queen of Clean's genius hack to remove furniture carpet dents using ice.
12. Add playful patterns and colour to pieces for kids rooms
Perhaps you have a piece that has served you well for years in a living room or bedroom but you wish to give it a makeover fit for a child's room. Painting patterns on the front of the drawers is enough to totally revamp the look. If you are artisitic you may be able to draw the patterns on first freehand, alternatively you can make a stencil using card or source one to buy.
You can keep costs ultra low by using sample pots to carry out this savvy furniture makeover – making it cheerful and cheap at the same time.
13. Pretty up an heirloom wardrobe with a coat of pink paint
Do you have an old wardrobe that could use some TLC? How about giving it a totally new look with a simple coat of paint? Let this fine example inspire your own DIY upcycling project. This wardrobe transformation is the work of Ideal Home's Editor Heather Young who has upcycled an old family heirloom for her young daughter's room.
A few coats of Frenchic furniture paint has totally transformed the outdated wardrobe into a vision in pretty pink.
14. Make your own washstand using an old table
Refitting a bathroom is an expensive job, therefore saving money where you can is a welcome bonus. If you can't afford or even find an off-the-peg design that suits your space, why not consider repurposing a piece of furniture you already own? This gets the exact look you want and helps to cut costs.
The first rule of thumb is choosing a piece which is solid and sturdy to support the weight of the basin – remember that it’ll be much heavier once it’s filled with water. This characterful vanity unit is simply a repurposed kitchen table but consoles, dressing tables and desks all make ideal bases for a basin.
Find out more here: How to upcycle a vanity unit – to create a super-stylish piece of furniture
15. Save salvaged wood for shelving
Give simple storage extra finesse by using salvaged planks of wood to add character. Choose your desired length and cut to size before placing on wall brackets – which you can buy affordably from all good DIY retailers.
16. Give bedside tables a makeover
A set of bedside tables can go from bland to brilliant with a coat of pretty pink paint and new gold handles. Th paint of choice for this upcycling job is Frenchic, in a beautiful on-trend shade of Dusky Blush pink. We advise a light sanding then using a foam roller, apply a light first coat, being careful not to get any drips on the corners. Once this is fully dry, apply a second coat of paint.
17. Hang homemade storage hooks
Any piece of salvaged wood has the potential to be a stylish set of wall hooks. Allowing the beauty of layers of paint on a plank of old wood there's no need to sand or treat, simply source hooks to suit your taste and attached them to the length of wood. Secure to the wall and store in style.
18. Build bespoke furniture solutions with offcuts
Bespoke furniture is always a great way of utilising awkward spaces, such as alcoves, but building on specification is not a cheap option. That is unless you are handy with DIY and can try your hand at an upcycling idea, such as this corner seating area. Using offcuts of wood from other projects, or sourcing wooden planks second hand, you can create a totally bespoke seating arrangement.
Make comfy cushions using material scraps and wadding sourced from a local haberdashery.
19. Reuse a ladder for savvy storage
Give an old unused ladder a new lease of life by repurposing it as simply storage. Ideal as extra storage in bathrooms for towels or in kitchens for tea towels and table runners, a simply ladder is an attractive solution for somewhere to hang textiles. Give the ladder a fresh coat of paint to coordinate with the walls, to make it seamlessly blend in with the decor.
20. Give a hallway sideboard a statement makeover
That pine console with an orange-tinted varnish or polished cherry wood sideboard may have fallen out of favour with current trends - but it shouldn’t mean a perfectly sound piece of furniture should make its way to landfill. A simple lick of paint can transform a piece of furniture from unwanted eyesore into the hero piece of the room.
A statement upcycled sideboard is a great way to make a warm welcome in a hallway, as this Annie Sloan fixer-upper proves.
21. Create a bathroom caddy out of an old pallet
Remove the top plank from a wooden pallet and attached it at the bottom to fashion an enclosed shelf – and hey presto, you have a cheap upcycled bathroom storage caddy. Due to teh nature of bathrooms being damp you are best to give the wood a coat of wood protection, to ensure it's better suited for the humid environment.
22. Craft a coffee table using offcuts
For this simple coffee table idea you’ll need to cut a pallet in half, stack one piece on top of the other, then add offcuts to create a mosaic-effect wooden tabletop. Nail and glue together and just like that you have a low level coffee table for indoor or out. With the simple addition of castors the table becomes mobile.
23. Repurpose crates for savvy storage
The 'purpose' is what makes this an upcyling project, you don't have to do any work at such – unless you choose to give them a coat of fresh colour. Give a room a whole new savvy storage solution by upturning crates and mounting them to the wall.
What paint should I use to upcycle furniture?
The best paint to use to upcycle furniture is one that doesn't require a primer and one that's durable. Chalk paint is the primary paint for upcycling furniture thank to the winning qualities – chalk paint very rarely requires any preparation, such as sanding or priming, and can be used indoors or outside, on just about any surface. The most classic is the range at Annie Sloan, the original home of chalk paint for DIY projects. Artist Annie Sloan developed her unique furniture paint back in 1990, revolutionising the world of decorative painting at that time.
Annie's top tip, ‘Don’t overload your brush! This is such an important rule with all painting. You can add paint, it’s much harder to take it away! Too much paint can lead to oozing, smudging and general messiness. Every time you dip your brush or roller wipe it on a lint free cotton cloth or on your roller tray to remove excess product’.
As our appetite for upcycling grows so does the paint offering. There are now several popular furniture paints we see time and time again used for upcycling projects. The one that has grown in popularity across social media is Frenchic Alfresco paint, as used by our Ideal Home team members above.
Should you upcycle an heirloom?
Of course, if you think it holds value as an antique, then it’s worth getting it valued before the paint brush touches it, then it may be a case of refinishing and restoration. But if you plan to keep it and the main value is sentimental, then transform it into something that makes your home happy.
‘If it means you’re going to be able to live with a big piece of furniture that you’ve inherited or that has sentimental value but which you don’t love then yes, make that furniture work for you and earn its place in your home!’ says Annie Sloan.
‘We’re often told it’s sacrilege to perform any adjustments on furniture that you live with in your home – I’m quite certain your great-grandparents would prefer you to love their old dresser rather than simply lumping it’.
What can you make out of old furniture?
What can you make out of old furniture is best answered with what can't you make out of old furniture. If you have the imagination pretty much anything is possible , as out ideas above prove. You can make old furniture look as good as new with a simple coat of paint. You can even use old furniture as planters and much more!
Additional words by Michela Colling
Tamara was Ideal Home's Digital Editor before joining the Woman & Home team in 2022. She has spent the last 15 years working with the style teams at Country Homes & Interiors and Ideal Home, both now at Future PLC. It’s with these award wining interiors teams that she's honed her skills and passion for shopping, styling and writing. Tamara is always ahead of the curve when it comes to interiors trends – and is great at seeking out designer dupes on the high street.
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