6 Upcycling Tips Every Interiors Lover Should Know

6 Upcycling Tips Every Interiors Lover Should Know

Avril Wilson-Rankin, whose beautiful Dun Laoghaire home conversion we tour in the new May/June issue, shares her expert tips for upcycling everything from footwear to furniture…

For a lot of people the word ‘upcycling’ is almost synonymous with a particular type of easy-to-apply paint. While this is one type of upcycling, it is not the only one. You can upcycle almost anything. For example, old sheets can be dyed and turned into a piece of ombre artwork, a set of fairy lights in a glass jar or vase can become an interesting lighting feature, the fabric from an inherited pair of curtains can become your favourite cushions, a pair of old or grown-out-of shoes/boots could become a pair of endearing plant pots. Read on for the six simplest ways to breathe new life into old classics.

Above: Avril and her husband, Andrew, designed and built the dining table.

1. If you see an idea or an item you love and can’t afford, consider the materials involved. Is there a component that you could change or find a cheaper version of? What is it about the particular item that you love most? Could you capture the essence of the piece in a different way? We built our own dining table because we couldn’t find one that we could afford, that we liked, and that would fit our space and aesthetic. We wanted industrial and raw and not too ‘perfect’; we achieved this look with a combination of Interclamp bars and salvaged maple flooring.

Above: This big vintage radio was a charity-shop find; Avril uses it as a bedside table.

2. Open your mind to appreciate the unique use of materials and objects. You never know when you might spot a gem, so stay alert and keep your eyes pealed. Scour charity shops, auctions, stop at skips, keep an eye on, rescue items you see left on the side of the road, reimagine a use for something in your own home that you are sick of the sight of. Think conservation and what could this be used for? I get inspiration from everywhere. Nature, interiors books and magazines, blogs, other people’s houses and styles, Pinterest, art, visual merchandising in shops, Etsy…

Above: Old crates can make great coffee tables.

3. Don’t worry if something is damaged and beaten up. Serious restoration is for antiques that are worth a lot of money, but a bit of washing-up liquid and a lot of elbow grease is often all that is needed to bring an item back from the brink. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it’s the scratches and dents that tell the piece’s story.

Above: The old metal drawers were found at Retrorumage.

4. When painting furniture in gloss paint, sanding and priming is essential. Get yourself a small electric sander, a plastic ground sheet and a paintbrush cleaner. Open the windows, stick on your headphones and get stuck in.

5. “Measure twice; cut once.” Upcycles are often a one-off, that 50-year-old piece of fabric or wood deserves that extra bit of your time –you can’t just nip down the shop and get another one.

Above: Avril made the headboard and bed frame from salvaged timber and metal.

6. If you spot something that you find aesthetically pleasing, try to imagine other possible uses for it, either as a building or decorative material or an object/decoration/utility in its current form. We made a light fitting from a piece of rusty, old galvanised sheeting, and I loved the texture, colour and shape of it. I first saw it sitting in a field as part of a sheep pen and, when we were considering what material we could use for the light fitting, I suddenly remembered it. Similarly, an old glass light fitting found new life as a plant pot, and catering-size bean tins were upcycled into light shades. The only limitation is your imagination.

See more of Avril’s work on

In conversation with Amanda Kavanagh. Photography by Mark Scott.

Love Irish design? Catch the Side by Side exhibition – featuring 22 of our most inspiring makers – at the National Craft Gallery before it’s gone.


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