The downlow on upcycling

Inject a touch of vintage style into your home

As the saying goes, “they don’t make them like they used to”. So, when it comes to one-of-a-kind interior design, more and more homeowners are turning away from mass-produced furniture in megastores and looking towards the past. Scouring antique shops and pottering around vintage markets for preloved furniture, vintage fabrics and curios is all part of the fun. But where do you go to seek out one-off items? And how do you transform them to create ‘new-fashioned’ pieces for your home?

What’s upcycling?

For some, upcycling is a pushback against today’s throwaway culture and a nod to make-do-and-mend eras. For others, it’s an enjoyable, creative hobby. Either way, upcycling involves repurposing, revamping and reimagining something preloved. Put simply, it’s about giving an old item a new lease of life.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean restoring 18th-century mahogany chairs. And you don’t have to live in an ancient cottage for upcycling to work in your home. Think industrial chic – factory lights, filing cabinets turned trendy storage, and tables made from old pipes and timber. Or look for bright, floral patterns and retro Ercol chairs to introduce some born-again sixties style into a contemporary apartment.

Where to go treasure hunting

Some upcycling projects can begin at home. Love the fabric pattern on an old dress, skirt or coat, but dislike the style? Give the fabric a new lease of life by transforming it into cushion covers. Or, if you want to add some global or vintage touches to a room, you’ve the perfect excuse to set off travelling. After all, inspiring flea markets and thrift stores are dotted around all four corners of the globe – and treasure hunting is all part of the fun.

European capitals play host to some of the best-loved vintage bazaars and stores, including Portobello Road in London, Monastiraki in Athens and Paris’ Marché aux Puces. US travellers make a beeline for Bushwick and Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, or Melrose Trading Post (with over seven miles of stallholders) and Rose Bowl Flea Market in Los Angeles. As well as upcycling projects for your home, both American cities are perfect places to top up your wardrobe with designer vintage clothing.

If you find yourself in South America, Buenos Aires’s San Telmo Antiques Fair is a sight to behold – just keep money safely tucked away from roaming pickpockets. The same goes if you’re getting happily lost in the labyrinth-like souks of Marrakech.

What to do next

Some market finds will slot straight into your home, while others need a little TLC. But that doesn’t have to mean a huge amount of elbow grease. When it comes to furniture, don’t be put off by pieces covered in thick varnish or paint. The best chalk paints on the market will happily go on with the bare minimum of preparation – instead of endless sanding, just a quick dust will usually do. Look for brands such as Annie Sloan and Frenchic for shades to suit every taste.

Before you pick up a paintbrush or fire up the sewing machine, look to the internet for inspiration. Websites such as Pinterest are brimming with transformation ideas from other upcycling enthusiasts, while online tutorials can get you swiftly up to speed with basic revival techniques. Then get stuck in and transform your home with one-off pieces that have a truly personal touch.