How to make upcycling look high-end

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You can master the art of high-end results from upcycling projects so you don’t end up with something that looks like a kids project.

80% of my apartment is decorated with secondhand furniture I’ve rescued from a fate with the dumpster. I’m really proud of this achievement, but I can see a glimmer of judgement from people when I tell them. They think about the yuck factor of where someone else’s furniture might have been. I’ve always found this really odd.

I grew up in India and would see poor people everyday on my way to school. People with no limbs rolling around on a skateboard begging for money followed by their brood of hungry children. Having this experience made me very pragmatic about what I’m able to put up with. No perceived discomfort is more important to me than the wastefulness I feel buying new brand things when there are easily accessible and affordable secondhand options.

This doesn’t mean I lower my standards. I’ve inherited my mum’s exacting expectations and control-freak habits, so I’ve developed ways to get magazine style outcomes at very little cost and get exactly what I want. You can too…

1. Not everything is worth upcycling.

Only choose items with good bones. Yes, this is one of those interior decorating terms, but it should be your mantra when upcycling. It means, putting lipstick on a pig doesn’t make it a princess.

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Patience was key in finding this solid wood dining table and chairs on eBay for a sum total of $30! This is actually my second attempt. The first set I bought for my meals area was a flimsy laminate set that I hoped I could bring back to life with a splash of paint. What I got was a colour that wouldn’t adhere to the surface and a laminate layer that was peeling off. I sold it back on eBay and found this gem.

Just like buying ‘fast fashion’ won’t make you look chic. Cheap, synthetic materials will always look cheap and fake. Don’t settle for laminate or veneer. Look for solid wood and no structural damage.

2. Preparation is key.

Before you paint anything, please please please clean the piece thoroughly! This cannot be overstated.

It’s one of those things that will make the painting process so much easier because you’re not brushing around particles of dirt that are getting in the way of a smooth finish. And if working with wood furniture, use wood filler to fill any holes in the surface to avoid bums and holes that might make the piece look cheap.

Just like when getting ready for a night on the town, no outfit is going to overcome the fact you haven’t showered or washed you hair. It. Will. Show. Take the time to clean and prepare your piece properly for professional finish.

3. Colour requires restraint.

Looking through misguided Pinterest inspiration, the biggest mistake people make in upcycling is choosing outlandish colours. Just like over-accessorising and using too much make-up won’t make you look classier; it’s just a messy distraction.

When choosing the fabric for this DIY armchair reupholstery project, I had the urge to choose a fun pattern for the fabric, a completely different fabric on the back, and bright red on the wood trim. This would have made the chairs look like a joke.

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Even if it’s a feature piece, choose sensibly. I can’t tell you which colour to choose; it depends on your style. Just know that elegance lies in simplicity.

4. It’s all in the detail.

High-end furniture is distinguished by the extra effort put to get it from 90% to 100%. It’s probably the hardest final stretch but it’s the difference between a cheap DIY project and something that looks custom and professional.

Just like before you leave the house you smooth out any hair fly-aways, iron your shirt, and straighten your tie. Don’t let your hard DIY work go to waste at the finish line. This is a hallway table I bought on eBay for $30. I used two coats of a high gloss clear lacquer to get a strong sheen and protect the finish from a lot of usage. Without it, the piece would have been scratched up and tainted before I knew it.

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You might not have had the same upbringing as me to help you really appreciate upcycling, but it’s amazing how limited money, big dreams, and grit can get make you comfortable with a lot. So get out of your comfort zone and start upcycling!

Have you ever upcycled anything?

I’d love to know, so tell me in the comments below, send me a private email or message me on Twitter @decoreducation.

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