With the cost-of-living crisis looming large, it’s no surprise more and more of us are choosing to work with what we’ve got, instead of buying new. The pre-loved market is thriving, offering rich picking for those tackling upcycling for beginners as well as keen renovators with a few DIY skills already under their belts.
Breathing new life into old furniture, homeware and other items can transform them into highly desirable pieces. Whether you’re doing it to repurpose at home, sell to make some extra cash or just to flex your creative brain, upcycling for beginners is currently booming in the world ofeasy DIY projects.
‘The good news is that upcycling is something that everyone can learn how to do, as it's often just the right approach that's needed,’ enthuses Ryan Calvert, product manager,Hiatt Hardware.
Upcycling for beginners
From finding the right project to setting up your workstation like a pro, there’s top tips to cover all the basics with our upcycling for beginners’ guide. It’s time to grab some overalls and get to work but be warned –the upcycling bug is seriously addictive!
1. Identify the best hunting grounds
The first part of any upcycling journey starts with sourcing a suitable item to revamp. Furniture is popular, but you could also repurpose clothing, toys, Art, home accessories and so much more. One of the best places to look is within your own home –anything a bit unloved, broken or outdated are rich pickings.
‘Get the word out to friends and family; it is amazing what people forget they already have (or have two of). Speaking to local house clearance and decluttering services could also yield a treasure trove – we often come across many brand-new and unused items in the homes we clear, that are unwanted,’ suggests Arslan Malik, managing director,WasteMove.
‘Many charity shops deal solely with furniture. Let them know exactly what you’re looking for and they may give you a first look at suitable items when they arrive. Finally, it’s always worth browsing Facebook marketplace and preloved.com, especially if you can arrange transport,’ adds Arslan.
2. Seek out fresh ideas
Stuck for upcycling inspiration? There’s a huge upcycling community online, and in magazines, with lots of super-friendly, crafty people really pushing the boundaries and happily offering practical advice and ideas.
‘Pinterest is one of the best places to find interesting upcycling ideas! Similarly, check out the #upcycling hashtag on Instagram. There are a few amazing creators such as@repurposed_refinished_upcycled, as well as some more general Instagram accounts that showcase a variety of creators,’ says interiors expert Lee Trethewey, fromSustainable Furniture.
‘You should also research past trends for great upcycling ideas. If you want to restore anything back to its former glory, it helps to look at the period it came from in the first place to get the best results.’
3. Set up your space
Upcycling can be a messy, time-consuming process, and you’re more likely to see a project through to completion if you have a dedicated space to set up and work. Ideally, a craft room or shed somewhere you won’t have to pack everything away again before you’re done.
‘Depending on what you’re working on, the space should ideally be well-lit, spacious enough to work comfortably and well-ventilated, especially if you are sanding and/or varnishing,’ advises Ryan Calvert, product manager atHiatt Hardware.‘Accessibility is also important, in terms of being able to easily walk around and reach the piece you are upcycling. For furniture, get a couple of wooden planks to sit the item on at waist height, so you’re not bending down all the time.’
4. Don’t neglect the prep
‘Prep work is the most crucial part of any upcycling project and can be the key to ensuring you nail it first time. Firstly, don’t rush especially if you’re a beginner, allocate at least double the amount of time you think a project should take,’ says Nick Ee, product training manager,Black + Decker.
‘Rushing might cause you to overlook important details or make mistakes that require you to redo certain parts, like sanding the project, and ultimately lead to wasted materials, time, and money.’
5. Get the right tools for the job
Different projects require different tools, and it’s worth making sure you have everything you need before you begin, especially if there are any niche needs that you won’t be able to pop out for easily.
As your upcycling journey progresses, you’ll start to establish a basic tool kit, which should include basic items like masking tape, a tape measure, good-quality brushes, sandpaper and sanding blocks, a power drill and a cordless screwdriver.
‘Make sure to check your tools are in good shape, inspect the power tools for any signs of wear such as frayed cords, cracks, loose parts, and any other issues that could affect the performance,’ adds Nick Ee, fromBlack + Decker.
6. Look for ‘good bones’
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to upcycling but having a good carcass to work on makes a massive difference, especially when it comes to furniture.
‘If you’re spending your energy creating a unique piece – particularly if it is to resell – then look for a good solid, well-made piece of furniture to start with. Solid wood, dovetail joints, carved details all make a beautiful upcycle,’ says StephBriggs, co-founder ofLa Di Da Interiors.
‘Having said that, if you're creating something for your own home and you have the perfect piece of flat-packed laminate MDF that you just want to update and change the colour, that can work too, provided the piece is still in good condition.’
7. Don’t over-complicate things
Any successful upcycle needs to be an improvement on the original and look as professional as possible. If you don’t yet know what you’re doing, you can end up creating something that looks worse than it did before you started!
‘A common mistake many beginners make is to be too ambitious with their first projects. Start small and invest in really good quality products, especially furniture paint and brushes,’ says StephBriggs, fromLa Di Da Interiors.
‘If you’re completely new to it and you’re looking to do a larger project, such as several pieces of furniture in one room, then take the time to do a workshop. This will enable you to learn quickly and pick up pro tips.’
8. Make a plan
You don’t have to go into full spreadsheet mode, but jotting down a plan of attack before starting an upcycling project will help you stay or track and avoid mistakes. It can also help to identify any special tools or equipment you might need and establish the desired outcome.
‘Trying to do too much on one piece is an easy mistake to make, planning your upcycling beforehand limits this,’ says colour and paint expertAnnie SloanCBE. ‘Consider what you’re going to do before you do it, but without overthinking to the point of inertia. Decide what style you want before you start and make sure that it suits your home and your personality.’
9. Adopt sustainable practices
Saving another item going to landfill is a huge part of upcycling’s appeal but you can take it one step further by taking care to think sustainably during the process. This might include buying locally to reduce your carbon footprint and checking out the environmental credentials of any additional materials or finishes you need.
'Upcycling is a brilliant way to become more eco-conscious in the home, especially if you’re wanting to revamp old pieces into fresh new products. When this is done through using eco-friendly materials, such as eco-friendly paint, it becomes an even more impactful approach. By upcycling you’re also choosing to and minimise the demand for new products,’ agrees Jon Mee, technical advisor,Earthborn.
10. Hone your selling skills
Once you’ve been bitten by the upcycling bug, you’ll quickly wind up with more beautifully completed projects than your home can handle! Selling online is the easiest way to offload your loot; Dwain McDonald, CEO ofDeliveryApp, offers a few easy ways to improve your chances of success.
‘A picture is worth a thousand words, and in online selling, it can be worth even more. Take clear, well-lit photos from multiple angles to showcase your items' condition and unique features,’ he says.
‘Provide accurate and comprehensive descriptions of the items you are selling. Include information about condition, specifications, dimensions, and any notable features. Research the market value of similar items and set a competitive price. Reasonable pricing increases the chances of attracting potential buyers.
‘Opt for a reputable courier service to ensure safe and timely deliveries. Reliable courier services will enhance customer satisfaction and build your reputation as a trustworthy seller.’
What is the bestselling upcycled items?
‘The best-selling upcycled items vary greatly seasonally and regionally,’ says Steph Briggs, fromLa Di Da Interiors.
‘However, they all tend to have several key components: They’re beautifully made, for example antiques that have been cosmetically damaged and refinished. They have been immaculately done; flawless smooth painting, perfectly applied decoupage and beautifully finished.
'The biggest key to successful selling is the staging, lighting and photography of each piece, being able to offer a nationwide delivery service opens up the market too.’
What products can be upcycled?
If you are giving something a new lease of life, then technically it qualifies as upcycled, and the possibilities are virtually endless. However, some items definitely make easier and more popular upcycling projects than others. Furniture tops the list, especially thanks to the wealth of chalk paints and other revamping products aimed at DIY ease now available.
Less obvious choices can yield greater satisfaction, and many people relish the challenge of repurposing household waste into useful items. Think jam jars and shoe boxes into pretty storage, old pallets into tables, and unloved clothing into blankets and cushion covers.
Where do I start upcycling?
If you are upcycling with the aim of making some extra money, or starting a side hustle, it's important to start by working how much the project will cost versus what you may expect to sell the finished item for.
'Calculate the budget for your project. Some high-quality tools can be expensive, so weigh up which tools are necessary and how often you will need them,' says hand tool expert Beth Priestley, from Toolstation.
'You will need to research the tools required for your specific job. Take a look at buying guides and how-to guides online to get your started. You might already have some but may need to buy others; this will help minimise how much you need to spend. Also, remember to prioritise - some may be essential, and others may be optional but very helpful.
'Multipurpose tools can help you to save space and money and means your budget stretches further. You may find that specialist tools give a higher quality result, but if you’re just starting out then multipurpose tools are perfect.'
Finally, don't forget safety. Ensure you have safety wear if needed for your project (gloves, goggles, a mask and appropriate safety clothes).
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
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Identifying Suitable Items for Upcycling
When starting an upcycling project, it's important to find suitable items to revamp. Furniture is a popular choice, but you can also repurpose clothing, toys, art, home accessories, and more. One of the best places to look for items is within your own home. Unloved, broken, or outdated items can be great candidates for upcycling. You can also reach out to friends and family, as they may have items they no longer need. Local house clearance and decluttering services can also be a source of treasure troves. Charity shops and online platforms like Facebook Marketplace and Preloved.com are worth exploring as well [].
Seeking Inspiration for Upcycling Ideas
If you're stuck for upcycling inspiration, there is a vast online upcycling community that offers practical advice and ideas. Pinterest is a great platform to find interesting upcycling ideas. You can also check out the #upcycling hashtag on Instagram to discover creators and their projects. Additionally, researching past trends can provide great upcycling ideas. Understanding the period an item came from can help you achieve the best results when restoring it [].
Setting Up Your Workspace
Creating a dedicated space for upcycling can make the process more enjoyable and efficient. Ideally, you should have a well-lit, spacious, and well-ventilated area to work comfortably. If you're working on furniture, consider using wooden planks to elevate the item to waist height, reducing the need to bend down constantly. Accessibility is also important, allowing you to easily move around and reach the piece you're upcycling [].
Importance of Preparation
Proper preparation is crucial for a successful upcycling project. Take your time and avoid rushing, especially if you're a beginner. Allocate more time than you think you'll need for the project. Rushing can lead to overlooking important details and making mistakes that may require redoing certain parts of the project. For example, sanding the item thoroughly before painting or varnishing is essential for achieving a smooth finish [].
Essential Tools for Upcycling
Different upcycling projects require different tools. It's important to have the right tools for the job before you start. As you progress in your upcycling journey, you'll establish a basic tool kit. Some essential tools include masking tape, a tape measure, good-quality brushes, sandpaper and sanding blocks, a power drill, and a cordless screwdriver. Before starting a project, ensure that your tools are in good shape and inspect them for any signs of wear or damage [].
Choosing the Right Piece to Upcycle
When selecting a piece to upcycle, there are no hard and fast rules, but having a good carcass to work on can make a significant difference, especially for furniture projects. Look for solid, well-made pieces with features like solid wood, dovetail joints, and carved details. However, if you have a flat-packed laminate MDF piece that you want to update and change the color of, that can work too, as long as the piece is still in good condition [].
Avoid Overcomplicating Projects
To ensure a successful upcycle, it's important to improve upon the original item and create a professional-looking result. Beginners often make the mistake of being too ambitious with their first projects. It's recommended to start small and invest in good-quality products, especially furniture paint and brushes. If you're new to upcycling and planning a larger project, consider attending a workshop to learn quickly and gain professional tips [].
Planning Your Upcycling Project
Before starting an upcycling project, it can be helpful to make a plan of attack. While you don't need to go into full spreadsheet mode, jotting down a plan can help you stay on track and avoid mistakes. It's also an opportunity to identify any special tools or equipment you may need and establish the desired outcome. Consider the style you want to achieve and ensure it suits your home and personal taste [].
Embracing Sustainable Practices
One of the appealing aspects of upcycling is its contribution to sustainability by reducing waste. To take it a step further, you can adopt sustainable practices during the upcycling process. This may include buying locally to reduce your carbon footprint and using eco-friendly materials, such as eco-friendly paint. By upcycling, you're also minimizing the demand for new products [].
Selling Your Upcycled Items
Once you've completed your upcycling projects, you may find yourself with more items than your home can accommodate. Selling online is a popular option for offloading your creations. To improve your chances of success, it's important to take clear, well-lit photos from multiple angles to showcase the item's condition and unique features. Provide accurate and comprehensive descriptions, including information about condition, specifications, dimensions, and notable features. Research the market value of similar items to set a competitive price. Choosing a reputable courier service for safe and timely deliveries can enhance customer satisfaction and build your reputation as a trustworthy seller [].
Best-Selling Upcycled Items
The best-selling upcycled items can vary seasonally and regionally. However, they tend to have several key components. They are beautifully made, such as antiques that have been cosmetically damaged and refinished. Flawless smooth painting, perfectly applied decoupage, and beautiful finishes contribute to their appeal. Staging, lighting, and photography also play a significant role in successful selling [].
Products Suitable for Upcycling
Technically, any item that is given a new lease of life qualifies as upcycled. The possibilities are virtually endless. However, some items make easier and more popular upcycling projects than others. Furniture is a top choice, thanks to the availability of chalk paints and other revamping products. Additionally, repurposing household waste into useful items, such as turning jam jars into storage or old pallets into tables, can be satisfying and environmentally friendly. Unloved clothing can also be transformed into blankets and cushion covers [].
Getting Started with Upcycling
If you're interested in upcycling as a way to make extra money or start a side hustle, it's important to consider the project's cost versus the expected selling price of the finished item. Calculate your budget and research the tools required for your specific project. Multipurpose tools can be cost-effective and space-saving. Prioritize essential tools and consider safety wear if needed. Online buying guides and how-to guides can provide valuable information for beginners [].
I hope this information helps you get started with upcycling for beginners! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.