Upcycling: Where to begin and what to know, according to an expert

There are lots of good reasons to buy old pieces of furniture and home accessories. As well as already having its own character, you're saving it from landfill and it won't release any harmful chemicals that are contained in many modern types of glue from mass-produced furniture.

The only downside is that pre-loved items can sometimes look their age – chipping paint, sagging upholstery and fabric that’s faded with time and use. And yet we're still a little spooked at the thought of trying our own hand at it in case we make an even bigger mess. But Darran Heaney, who recently documented the renovation of his Victorian home with lots of upcycled pieces like the one above, says it doesn’t have to be that scary.

Ahead of taking to the Upcycling Stage at house 2019 this May 24-26 in the RDS, Darran gives us his insights into why we should be upcycling more, where to begin and his tips for creating a look that doesn’t scream DIY.

Darran Heaney recently documented his own renovation project on his Instagram page @oldvictoriannew

How did you first get into upcycling?


I’ve always had an interest in crafts and painting, but when I bought my first home in 2005 I had no funds to decorate so I sourced second-hand furniture from family and friends and upcycled them to suit my taste. I also found things online or even in skips and gave them makeovers with paint and fabric. There is something very satisfying about giving a piece of furniture a new life.


What’s in the kit of every upcycler?

You don’t need much, but having a place to work is very useful, where you can get messy without worrying. It means you can leave it and come back to it whenever you feel like it. Depending on what you’re doing, a hammer, scraper, pliers and some good sanding blocks are handy. Good quality paintbrushes (you can’t underestimate the finish a decent brush gives you), primer and some dust sheets are useful too. I am a hoarder when it comes to fabric, I always have cuts stored away. And patience, patience is always helpful when it comes to upcycling.


How do you know if a piece is worth upcycling?

Not everything is worth the effort. Be on the lookout for woodworm (little pin-sized holes in timber). It can be treated but it can also spread to other items so don’t bring anything into the house without checking first. Some pieces need a lot of work so budget yourself. Will this cost you more to upcycle than it might be to buy a brand new equivalent? Do you love it enough for it to be worth while?


Darran upcycled this old china cabinet into a bedside bookcase.

Is reupholstering as easy as it looks?

I am a huge fan of reupholstering but don’t be fooled, it’s hard work. Manageable upholstery projects for any DIYer would be chairs, stools, footstools, headboards. For anything larger, like a sofa, the appropriate tools are required, so unless you’re experienced with a sewing machine and a staple gun, leave it to the professionals. I recently recovered a chaise lounge, but it was difficult and time-consuming. Removing the old fabric from a 100-year-old piece was no easy task.

I think the more projects you try, the more you understand your own upholstery limits. Use the old fabric pieces as templates for new fabric to avoid any disasters. YouTube is great as a visual guide too.


Sometimes a paint job can end up looking a little too DIY. How can you ensure a nice paint finish?

Preparation is key to getting a quality paint finish. Give your piece a clean and a light sand to remove any dirt. Primer is so important. Do not skip this step, otherwise, the paint will chip over time. I like to use an eggshell finish, which doesn’t require waxing afterwards. Invest in good quality paintbrushes also, which will prevent those harsh brush lines from a cheaper version. Don’t forget to clean them afterwards and they should last you a long time.



What's the best piece of advice you could give someone who wants to start upcycling?

I always advise people to give it a go. There’s usually something about the piece you’re unhappy with anyway, so a coat of paint can’t hurt. Sometimes it’s as much about the doing and the accomplishment as the final piece, so try not to be too critical. You're not a professional and that's not really the point – I have to remind myself of this sometimes!

Upcycling expert Ger Griffin of The Rediscovery Centre spoke will also be speaking at house 2019.


You’ll be chatting with Joanne Mooney at house 2019, what can attendees expect?

We’ve each upcycled a piece for the event and we’ll be chatting through our projects. Joanne is so creative and colourful and I think her creation is going to be amazing. We’re also both very competitive so attendees can expect a laugh as well as lots of ideas as we reveal our finished pieces.


Darran and Joanne will be taking to the Upcycling Stage at house 2019 on Saturday, May 25 at 1.30pm, plus lots more speakers and exhibitors running over the three days. Check out house-event.ie for more.

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