Making Something Out of Nothing w/ Graham & Brown

When I hear the word upcycle, my mind tends to wander towards neutral tones with shabby-chic effects and the popular business venture that’s still finding its market today. What I don’t tend to think of is the kind of furniture I like.

I’ll admit that I’ve been very closed minded about upcycling in the past, assuming that my colourful and clean style couldn’t be applied to a piece of furniture on its deathbed.

However, when I was offered the opportunity to liven up a corner of my home as part of Graham & Brown’s Upcycling Challenge, I started to seriously think about whether I’d been a little too harsh on the trend in the past. Considering all my options for a good week, it was difficult to settle on what I could do to take part in the challenge. I couldn’t wallpaper any little alcoves in the house (since we’re renting) and I’d already got paint-plans for most rooms. Eventually, the stars seemed to align when my Dad scavenged some old cabinets from a skip (from an old church hall being cleared). They were in decent enough nick and with a little love I figured I could definitely add some life back into one and find it a home in my home.

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Decisions, decisions, decisions

As you can see below, the cabinet when it was found was a warm yellow, with blue inside doors and some industrial looking locks and closures on. The top of the cabinet was becoming unfixed and the base was almost disintegrating. Inside the wood was stained and old, but it had potential.

Since I’m a stickler for a pop of yellow, I decided to refresh its current colouring with Dulux’s Lemon Punch. A cool toned, bright yellow really makes a statement, especially when next to some darker tones. To break up the brightness, I got my hands on Graham & Brown’s Palm Leaf Green Wallpaper, where rich greens on a black background would contrast Lemon Punch wonderfully.

It’s kind of funny to happen upon this lovely botanical wallpaper now since just a few months ago I was looking for something so similar to decorate my bedroom (at my parent’s house) in. Thankfully, I have most of the roll left after this project, so will surely find another use for it!

Originally I had plans to paper the entire backing behind the shelves of the cabinet, but after cleaning down and sanding the planks, I thought they were too rustic and characterful to cover up – don’t you think? To appease myself I decided to lay the palm wallpaper on the inside panels of the doors instead, still giving a great contrast to the bright (and beautiful) yellow.

Getting my hands dirty

After all these decisions, it was time to actually get started on stripping the cabinet down and building it back up to be something great. Basically, now was the time to get my marigolds on and prep my piece ready for a fresh lick of paint.

The very first thing to do was to remove all of the unnecessary furniture on the doors. Unsightly locks, extra hinges and dozens of nails here there and everywhere. Just without all of the rubbish on the cabinet, it looked one hundred times better. Then the sugar soap came out and washing down the whole piece felt great. Even just with a scrub, the exposed wooden shelves and plank backing looked healthier and much richer.

After letting it all dry out for half a day, I then started to sand everything down (maybe I did this in the wrong order, who knows). I used a little vibrating hand sander and although it made my hands go numb after a while, it brought the best out in the exposed wood and took a good few layers off the painted sections. Just check out the before and after of the wooden planks – a quick sand has given a completely new life to that wood!

Using wood filler, I tried to smooth over the larger dents and chips, but quickly realised that every single inch could do with being smoother and less ‘characterful’, call it impatience or bad decision making, but I decided to embrace the bumpiness of the wood – that’s what upcycling is really about, anyway… right?

After the era of sanding and getting yellow dust all over me, I whacked on a white undercoat and was ready to open up that yellow paint.

It took two coats of the Dulux Satinwood and days between coats to get the coverage that I was after, but it has been worth the wait. It’s punchy, bright and whilst you can still see flaws in the wood, I like to think that as I haven’t tried to disguise them completely, they add to the overall piece. To finish off my vision all it took was an hour with that dreamy wallpaper, some double sided tape and a Stanley knife. Sure, I could have used wallpaper paste, but the double sided tape was less messy, quicker and quite a lot easier to work with. I cut each panel to size, taped it up and stuck it on, using a Stanley knife to clean up the edges.

Check out a range of my photos from the process, below!

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Reflections on the upcycle

Voila! Even though I’ve made it all sound fairly straight forward, the two-week long upcycle (obviously not 24/7) has thrown its fair share of challenges at me. The first challenge was of course where to let my little project live. We considered using it as a kitchen sideboard, but I vetoed that idea since I didn’t like the thought of edibles or crockery sitting in something that was once in a skip (I know it’s been cleaned but I’m just like that). It wouldn’t fit in the front room or lounge, but would, however, fit into my office.

For now, it’s living in my office as my only storage unit (definitely needed). It fits in the space well and only adds to my other colourful walls and door (of which I will be sharing here on the blog soon).

I do love my choices about colour and paper, the contrast is great and I have always wanted an element of botanical decor in the house. The one thing I’m not completely happy with was my choice of finish. I went for a Dulux Satinwood and whilst it looks great on my door and on fireplaces, on the damaged, bumpy wood it doesn’t look the best it could. The sheen does show up the imperfections and although I can live with it, I’m sure that a flatter, chalkier paint would have done the beautiful piece more justice.

Would I upcycle a piece again? Probably. If I come across a piece with a beautiful shape that is hard to find anywhere else then absolutely I would put the work in to restore it. However, I’m not going to be skip searching every other week. Overall, it’s been a great project that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. The one thing I can say with complete certainty is that everyone should try upcyling at least once (maybe twice). It doesn’t have to be like what you see on channel 4 and it doesn’t need to end up miles away from your personal style. Trust me that if I can make it work, you probably can too. My only other statement would be to probably use a more forgiving paint on imperfect surfaces… #lessonlearnt

Thank you to Graham & Brown for inviting me to take part in the Upcycling Challenge.

If you have dipped your toe into the upcycling waters then I’d love to hear about your experiences with it! Did it all go to plan or did you end up with something imperfect but beautiful anyway?

Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time,