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Upcycled furniture ideas: Tips from an interior designer

We've got cost-effective ways to completely transform your space, straight from a designer.
Woman paining a wooden chair yellow, outside on her patio
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/ Source: TODAY

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It wasn't that long ago that my husband sent me a text while walking our dog. It was a photo of an old kitchen table and four chairs that had been tossed out by a neighbor.

The pieces had "good bones," as they say, but since the full extent of my furniture upcycling skills up until that point had been spray painting flower pots for my garden, I wasn't sure what he expected me to do with the old dining set.

Courtesy Terri Peters

"If there's anyone who can make it perfect for our house, it's you," he texted.

Suck up.

Courtesy Terri Peters

So began the frenzy of texts to my friends who are known to upcycle furniture regularly. After getting some words of encouragement and tons of advice for chalk-painting, I decided that was the route to go.

Much to my surprise it turned out beautifully. As I redesigned our breakfast nook area around the beautiful new table and chairs I had created, I was bitten by the upcycling bug.

Courtesy Terri Peters

Since then, I've refinished our bar cart, spruced up old mirrors from the thrift store for my entryway and purchased an old cabinet on Facebook's Marketplace that I repurposed into a small cabinet for dishes I want to display.

Whether you, like me, are seeking out pieces to upcycle, or just want to spruce up your space without buying a completely new table or chair (or are trying your hand at the viral TikTok trend of transforming your side table) there are plenty of ways to repurpose your existing pieces and refresh your home.

Rebecca Hay, an interior designer based in Toronto, says with the right materials and techniques, it's easy to master upcycling furniture. In fact, Hay works sustainable techniques into many of her own projects and designs.

Here are some small ways Hay says you can make a big impact on furniture that's in need of a little bit of love — or just update a tired space.

Paint

While painting over a piece of furniture's original design or finish may seem scary, Hay says there are plenty of paints, like chalk paint, which is a decorative furniture paint, that are very forgiving.

"Some of my favorite ways to upcycle are with paint," Hay said. "It's a great way to take an old wooden piece of furniture and breathe new life into it, and chalk paint is fun because it doesn't require a professional or primer."

1. The Spruce Best Home Chalk Paint

Created in partnership with Killz, a sealer and stain blocker, this chalk paint comes in a variety of colors, from bright coral to warm white.

2. Waverly Inspirations Chalk Paint

My favorite thing about this chalk paint is that it's also sold in stores at Walmart, making it a snap to pick up more if you run out mid-project.

3. Rust-Oleum Chalked Paint

Another reliable brand of chalk paint comes from Rust-Oleum. This Chalked Paint is also available in tons of classic colors like blush pink and coastal blue.

4. FolkArt Home Decor Chalk Paint

From Tuscan red to Victorian pink, the sky is the limit when it comes to the array of shades available from FolkArt. As a bonus, this brand is often sold in craft stores, making it a good one to save on when coupon specials arise.

Fabric

Hay says reupholstering furniture is another great way to upcycle.

"I love recovering a seat cushion with a modern print," said Hay. "Often sofa and chairs are solidly built and structurally sound, they just need a little modernization with fun fabrics."

(While fabric choice is, of course, subjective, here are a few fun prints we love.)

1. Waverly Santa Maria Desert Flower Duck Fabric

Bright, colorful and vibrant, this duck fabric, a heavy woven fabric, would be perfect for anything from an old armchair to a vintage footstool.

2. Mill Creek Blue Fog Fabric

For an outdoor dining set or a coastal-themed chair, this coral-print outdoor polyester fabric is guaranteed to bring the ocean vibes.

3. Rose Satin Jacquard Coral Fabric

In the mood for something fancier? Jacquard fabric, often silkier with a woven pattern, is another great option for reupholstering furniture.

Embellishments

From wallpaper to knobs, Hay says it's easy to spruce up any furniture with a few quirky embellishments.

"Try peel-and-stick wallpaper at the back of a shelving unit or replace wooden shelves in an armoire with glass shelves and remove the doors," the designer suggested. "This gives it a light airy vibe and is a great way to display items."

1. Wallpops Grassweave Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper

This bright cheerful stick-on wallpaper will brighten up any room with its ivory colors and woven appearance.

2. Opalhouse Celestial Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper

Navy and gold are incredibly elegant. We can't get enough of this peel-and-stick paper from Target, which is perfect to update bookshelves, small furniture or whole rooms.

3. NuWallpaper Brick Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper

Give shelves a brick look with this light and airy white brick-printed wallpaper.

4. Dritz Home Ceramic Embossed Flower Knob

Changing out the knobs on old (or new) furniture to these flowery ceramic ones will instantly update the look of the piece.

5. Franklin Brass Nickel Fulton Knob

When changing out several knobs at once, such as on a dresser, consider saving money with a bulk pack, like these classic silver ones.

Rugs

Maybe you don't have the time to completely remodel a piece of furniture, but still want a new feel for your home. Adding a vintage rug is an easy way to change the look of any room, according to Hay.

"They're a fun way to add character to your space," she said, adding that she usually sends out vintage rugs for a professional cleaning. "This way you can be confident that you eliminate the dust mites and any dirt. And, a professional can add a protective layer to the rug to help add to durability."

Nervous about purchasing a rug secondhand? These options have a vintage look but are brand new.

1. Rugs.com Oregon Rug

This area rug comes in several neutral colors and has low piling along with an imprinted woven design.

2. Well Woven Adeline Bohemian Rug

Boho is in — have you seen the popular "nap dress"? And we love the boho vibes we get from this stunning, colorful area rug.

3. Rugs.com Brighella Round Rug

Whether your style is bright and colorful or subtle and gray, this round rug's beautiful shape and design will give any room a vintage vibe.

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