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A Beginner’s Guide to Upcycling

Written by MS
24/05/2021 10:00:57

If you have ever read a blog on our site before, you’ll know that we return to two key topics time and again. Here at The Plastic People, we are champions of DIY projects and sustainable home improvements - whatever form these may come in. At the heart of all that we produce is a focus on keeping costs low so all people can achieve their dream home! 
This week’s blog is no different, of course. We’re going to be thinking all about the basics of upcycling to equip you with all the tools you need to become a furniture expert. Upcycling is great because it’s practically a cost-free activity that is sustainable and requires little technical knowledge. 
Make sure to check out our Pinterest account for hundreds of ideas on upcycling, home decor, and more! You can follow our page and browse our existing posts by clicking here. We update our account every week with brand new content. 
What is upcycling? 
The concept behind upcycling is fairly straightforward. The activity is all about reuse and the transformation of waste/old products into new pieces. Upcycling can refer to the rejuvenation of home furniture, but some people upcycle clothes and even artists to create their work from waste materials. 
The term comes from the recycling process wherein items are routinely downcycled to their basic components. Upcycling is, naturally, the opposite of this. What typically attracts people to upcycling is its environmental benefits and low cost. The barrier to entry is incredibly low too, as they are projects available for all skill levels. 
Breathing new life into your old home decor objects used to be costly, but now everyone can attain their dream home with a little know-how and good old-fashioned elbow grease! 
What can be upcycled? 
We are focusing mostly on homeware and interior styling in this blog. Here are some of the most home items that are upcycled:
  • Chairs and sofas
  • Cushions and other soft furnishings 
  • Dining tables 
  • Bedroom furniture (bedside tables, bureaus, etc.)
  • Lamps 
  • Shelving units 
This is by no means an extensive list. You can upcycle any home furniture item that has a decent, sturdy frame or shell. If it can stay upright on its own, then it can be upcycled! 
Now, it’s worth clarifying what exactly it means to ‘upcycle’. We think about this term in the broadest sense. For us, upcycling can be as basic as sanding down and repainting old chairs - and as complex as completely retrofitting an old storage trunk and turning it into a coffee table or bar. 
Sourcing Materials 
Part of the fun of upcycling actually comes in the preparation process. Sourcing and picking your furniture items, additions and paints, for example, can be a really enjoyable experience! To keep costs low, we’ve put together a list of the top spots in which you can find products to use for upcycling:
  • Car Boot Sales and Antique Fairs: If you are on the hunt for solid furniture items and a bargain, then we would recommend attending a few car boot sales and antique fairs in your local area. Not only are these events a great weekend activity for the whole family, but you can notoriously find a wide range of hidden gems. 
  • Online Marketplaces: Sites such as Gumtree and social media platforms such as Facebook Marketplace are full of people listing their old furniture items at rock bottom prices. Have a quick scroll through your local pages and groups and might even find some people giving away items for free!
  • Material Wholesalers: If you require cheap materials, such as fabrics and textiles for upcycling cushions and chairs, then make sure you look for local wholesalers. This will be a lot cheaper than heading to your nearest hobbyist store. For instance, we supply a wide range of plastic materials at reasonable prices - and we cut our products to any size or shape! Click here to find out more. 
  • Charity Shops: Places like Oxfam and the British Heart Foundation have stores across the UK, and they are just full of gems waiting to be uncovered! At relatively low costs, you can find everything from materials to furniture, and even the tools you might need. 
The Necessary Tools 
Though upcycling is an easy and low-cost DIY activity, there are some necessary tools you should keep on hand to ensure you make any quick repairs. We recommend having the following items on hand:
  • Sandpaper (of a few different grits)
  • Paintbrushes and paint
  • Handsaw 
  • Hammer and nails 
  • Tape measure 
  • Stanley knife
  • Adhesives and glues 
  • Foam/cushion stuffing for upholstery 
Top Tips for Upcycling
Once you have all the necessary tools, materials and furniture items, it’s time to get upcycling! Here are some quickfire top tips that will help anyone new to the upcycling game:
  • Preparation is key: Make sure you have a clear idea of what you are looking to create. Having extra materials on hand will allow you to mess up and have a few goes if necessary. 
  • Keep it simple: For your first few upcycling projects it’s probably best to keep it simple. Maybe work on sanding down and painting some furniture items before you go to reimagine the wheel! 
  • Look for inspiration online: The internet is an expansive archive where people have documented their own experience with upcycling. Take a look at some guides for tips and inspiration before you get started. 
  • Be patient: Some DIY projects take time, and so you need to be prepared to really apply yourself. For instance, many furniture items are going to require multiple layers of paint, and it could take several days until your upcycling project is complete. 
  • Most importantly… don’t give up! Practice makes perfect, and this could not be more true of upcycling. With every project you take on, you will learn more skills and improve. Over the years, you will learn how to make amazing furniture we’re sure! 
That wraps up our blog on upcycling. We hope you feel more confident and ready to tackle the world of DIY home design and decoration. On our website we have a range of guides already uploaded on upcycling projects (such as making your own mirrored furniture), so make sure to check them out! 
If you have been inspired by this guide and are working on your own projects, we would love to see them! Get in touch and send across any photos to our social media (@barkstonplastic on Twitter and Instagram), or send us an email to  
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