Upcycling Ideas

Unmissable Upcycling Ideas For Beginners

Published: 18/02/2021

Find yourself staring at that tired old cabinet your gran gave you as a housewarming gift all those years ago but don’t quite have the heart to throw it out? Let’s face it, there’s only so many times you can call something ‘shabby-chic’ before giving up the ghost and calling it for what it is: busted! But what if we told you there was a way to keep all those sentimental items in your home without having to sacrifice style? Yes, it’s possible to enjoy the best of both worlds - and all you’ll need is a couple of tools, some decorating essentials, and a dash of creativity!

Just in time for National Old Stuff Day, we’re celebrating all things upcycling! Okay, so National Old Stuff Day may sound like something your five-year-old would make up, but it’s actually a real calendar event that’s enjoyed by many eco-lovers all across the world. Observed every year on March 2nd, this event is dedicated to showing some love to all the old bits and bobs you have around the house. Whether it’s a pair of jeans you don’t wear anymore, a retro dresser that needs a spruce up, or an awesome find at the charity shop, National Old Stuff Day is the perfect excuse to give upcycling a try and breathe new life into all your old gear. 

Upcycling is a particularly trendy hobby right now - and for good reason! Not only does it help to reduce the impact we have on the planet, but it also saves a pretty penny and can totally transform tired-looking items that have been crying out for a touch of TLC. So arm yourself with brushes, grab your sander, and break out the needle and thread, because things are about to get crafty! Whatever you’re upcycling, here are some great ways to get started and some fab ideas to give a go.

How to get started

How to get started

The toughest part of any task is knowing how to get started. Thankfully, we’ve got some top tips for where to begin when taking on a new upcycling project. The best part? They’re even simpler than you’d imagine!

Step 1: Inspiration. Available anywhere, finding inspiration for your project can come at any time. There are all kinds of social media groups, forums, and accounts dedicated to upcycling projects where you can go for inspiration and instruction whenever you need it. Save them to your camera roll or to your favourites for when you’re ready to get started!

Step 2: Find a piece you want to transform into something new. Sometimes the inspiration for a project doesn’t strike until you see that almost-perfect item, so don’t be afraid to go on the hunt. Finding a piece in a charity shop, second-hand shop or car boot sale can really get the ideas turning, especially if you can see potential in the item. Pick it up, take it home, and you’ll have something ready to be remade in no time at all.

Step 3: Gather materials. This may sound obvious, but collecting all your materials, tools, and supplies together is essential to getting your craft projects underway. Making sure you have a good range will help you get started much more easily and will prevent any unnecessary back and forth trips to the store. A comprehensive beginners list could include everything from a selection of high-quality paints and primers, to hand tools and hot glue. The supplies you’ll need will vary from project to project, so always take a look at what’s required before getting started.

Top tips:

  • Think outside the box… or ladder, or chest of drawers. Even the smallest thing can be made new again, so don’t hold back on stretching your imagination. 
  • Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Sometimes we make errors or wish we had done something differently, but it’s important to not let it get you down and to learn from your mistakes. Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from trying again!

Quick ‘n easy

Quick ‘n easy

Taking on an upcycling project doesn’t need to be a huge commitment. Even the smallest change can make a huge difference to your home. If you’re looking for something easy to do, here are some cracking ideas to get you started.

Don’t throw away that tin can next time you have beans on toast (or Weetabix…) - paint it and turn it into a pen pot for your desk. Organisation made easy! Just make sure you get rid of all the sharp edges first. You can use some coarse sandpaper to do this or take a hammer and use it to fold over those sharper segments.

Got a couple of bricks lying around? Fill the holes with soil and turn them into an industrial-looking planter for seedlings or flowers. These look fantastic as they are, but you could even paint the sides with colourful patterns to really add a splash of personality to your garden.

Found an old piece of furniture that could do with a bit of TLC? Or recently redecorated your home, only to find your favourite furnishings no longer tie in with your interior? Sand it down, give it a fresh lick of paint, and restore it to its former glory! If you’re upcycling an old cabinet, use some vibrant wallpaper on the sides or insides of the cupboards for added personality.

Intermediate projects

Intermediate projects

Ideal for taking up a rainy weekend or a bank holiday, these slightly more challenging upcycling projects are a great excuse to get stuck into a project. While they take a little longer to do, that rewarding feeling you’ll get when you finally complete that last finishing touch will make it well worth the effort! 

Turn a rickety old wooden ladder into a stylish towel rack by sanding it down and treating the wood with furniture wax to give it some protection from damp. Prop it up against the wall in your bathroom and hang towels from the rungs for a cheap and shabby-chic way to dry your linen.

Top tip: Got a bunch of single socks cluttering up your drawers? Use them as an inexpensive alternative to a wax cloth for all your woodcare needs. Just make sure they’re not too fluffy, though!

Wooden crates are a brilliant way to add a rustic look to your home or garden, making a fabulous storage solution for all those bits and bobs that want tucking away. Arrange a selection of old fruit and vegetable crates in a configuration of your liking and connect them together with screws. Paint in any colours you like and, just like that, you have a charming set of storage crates for any room in your home. We recommend using smaller crates as a spice rack in the kitchen and larger crates for all your kid’s toys - with endless possibilities to explore, the only limit is your imagination! 

Upcycling also gives you the opportunity to make anything you’d like that much more unique. If you find yourself wishing your flat-pack furniture had more personality, why not add some brightly coloured wallpaper or craft paper to the underside of shelves, inside of drawers or on the back panel of a bookcase? This nifty trick provides a much-needed pop of colour and point of interest to an otherwise plain piece of furniture. What’s more, with no paint splashes to worry about, this is a fantastic, mess-free way to personalise your possessions.

Challenge accepted!

Challenge accepted!

An ideal undertaking for an extended period of free time, these larger projects require a bit more dedication but are well worth the effort. Get stuck in and have fun making something entirely new from something old!

Visible mending is a great way to spruce up some old clothes. It’s a method of fixing clothes in a way that’s designed to be seen. Some people take part in visible mending to help them appreciate their clothing more, while others use it as an opportunity to customise their style. Whether you’re a fan of sashiko (a Japanese method of using decorative stitching to mend and maintain fabric) or full-on embroidery, fixing your clothes is a great, thrifty way to make them last longer.

Sometimes, as hard as we try, there are pieces of furniture that simply can’t be sanded down and repainted to restore to full function. Instead of resigning these to the fire or dump, why not turn an old bookshelf, cabinet, or chest of drawers into a kitchen playset for your children? With a little bit of inspiration, a coat of paint, and a set of pretend kitchen supplies, your little one can unleash their inner chef and enjoy a brand new play kitchen for a fraction of the price of buying new.

This is a fantastic video tutorial from MuralsbyMarcy on how to turn a nightstand into a play kitchen:

Waste not, want not

Waste not, want not

We’ve all heard the phrase “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, but who said your own pre-loved possessions can’t become your treasure once more? The act of upcycling can be as simple as reusing a chipped mug as a plant pot or adding a new coat of paint to an old piece of furniture, so you don’t even have to hit the second-hand shop to get started. With a wealth of opportunities at your fingertips, you can pick out the perfect project to suit your time, needs, budget and tools. So, this National Old Stuff Day, give upcycling a chance by giving one of these project ideas a go!