Upcycling inspiration close to home

Liz Nicholls

Liz Nicholls finds furniture upcycling inspiration & sources close to home here in Bucks

Long before it was trendy, I was forever bringing discarded bits & bobs home for upcycling projects. In fact my ex mother-in-law still calls me “The Womble”, such is my inability to wander past an unloved chair or mirror (in a skip or on a pavement) without dragging it home for TLC.

Back in the day as two cash-strapped single mums, my pal Kirsty & I used to pimp freecycle and car boot finds with skills we’d learned from the lovely ladies at Fair Lilly in Great Missenden, part of the Annie Sloan family.

Jay Blades MBE, formerly a local boy who earned a degree at Buckinghamshire New University, was another early inspiration. His dapper turns on daytime favourite Money For Nothing proved that a bit of attention and a bright lick of paint, (particularly one hot pink leg), could help G Plan and Ercol pieces sing.

From her Chesham workshop, Emma Adams makes bespoke furniture and homewares, from desks and bedside tables to candle holders, wine racks and plant stands. She is a magpie for salvaged and reclaimed timber. Her pared-back and unfussy designs celebrate the small details with velvet-smooth finishes, corners “just so”, with knots, whorls and grain front and centre. “When it comes to old-fashioned or unloved furniture, I love to look beyond the dark, grungy varnish and reimagine potential, while respecting original style,” says Emma. Each piece, restored using beautiful contemporary colours and patterns, has its own story. “Someone loved it once and someone will again. As a process it’s natural, sustainable and inspiring.”

We live in an area with a rich furniture heritage. Thanks to the Chilterns’ plentiful wood supply High Wycombe was a hive of the industry in the 1800s & 1900s. As you will find out from a visit to Chiltern Open Air Museum, from the earliest days of the trade most of the lathe-turned chair parts were made by itinerant turners or “bodgers” living in villages nearby.

So you’re more likely to stumble across an unwanted mid-century Ercol piece (as I did recently), or a Nathan or Stag beauty here and on the many neighbourhood apps, on Freegle, Freelywheely, or from charities such as Emmaus. Locals in the know love Sue Ryder in Slough, British Heart Foundation in Wycombe and St Joseph’s Furniture Market in Chalfont.

Once you have your prized piece, a trip down the Pinterest rabbithole will dazzle you with paint effects’ wow factor. Techniques such as decoupage or gold leaf go even further, as Olenka Shevshenko proves with her recent collab with Liberty Cabbage Wales. Check out Olenka’s new Alice range of wallpaper & fabric at olenkadesign.co.uk.

Mel Hutton, founder of Redeemed Decor Ltd, creates wonderfully kaleidoscopic geometric pieces which she sells on Etsy (etsy.com/uk/shop/RedeemDecor). She says: “What started as upcycling on old, worn out mid-century pieces costing around £40 has now become much bigger. My latest commission is on a three-metre high end Danish sideboard that cost the client a whopping £4,800 at Rosebery’s auction house. Once finished, this will be sailing on the client’s private yacht from Poole to Miami!” Wowsers.

Back to Jay who, as well as being a dyslexia awareness champion & megastar, still upcycles. He and his team are saving the world through craft; check out the bouji beauties for sale at jayand.co. “Every piece we create is a statement full of character and charisma,” he says. “A dripping foot here. An eye-popping button there…”

Whether you choose to get creative yourself or buy from a master of their craft, the planet-friendly joy of upcycling is addictive.

We would love you to share your upcycling triumphs (and even disasters!) on our app. Five lucky winners can win a litre pouch of safe, sustainable paint in their choice of vibrant shade from YesColours. https://roundandabout.co.uk/competition/september-comps/