How to Upcycle 6 Pieces of Old Furniture

A new breed of repurposing is quickly taking the DIY world by storm, appealing to hardcore Home Depot addicts and concerned environmentalists alike. Martha Stewart: Meet the bohemian and cost-conscious stylings of the upcycle movement.

Upcycling takes the old mantra of "reduce, reuse, recycle" one step further with a compelling argument: Recycling is, in some respects, a waste. With a touch of time, effort and ingenuity, pre-used goods in a different form can actually surpass the original without the inevitable waste of any recycling project. Think suit coats made into purses rather than sentenced to a musty thrift-store shelf.

Missy Blakeslee, owner of the Etsy clothing store Salvaged Goods, says the upcycling process converts cast-off materials into products of greater worth. Not only is nothing scrapped, upcycling preserves the history and personality of an item, only in a different light. Consider it rejuvenation as opposed to destruction. (Read more on Missy, her clothing and the philosophy behind upcycling in our post, "Salvaged Threads Upcycles Castoffs Into Kicky Couture.")

Women's clothing is but one facet of upcycling. If you're still wary of the movement, consider the home improvement benefits: Learning to upcycle everything furniture related takes the DIY mentality and erases most of the costly overhead. It's a hobby and money-saving endeavor wrapped in one. The range of potential upcycle projects is practically infinite.

As "art designer" on every project, you have the option to craft any look imaginable from just about any material -- from rustic antiques to modern decor -- all resulting in one-of-a-kind piece not found at a furniture showroom. Case in point: Ingenious folks across the nation have taken old 10-foot satellite dishes, gutted them, and used the skeletal casings as gazebo covers.

Think such a thing is a bit too crazy? Find tips on making your own satellite-covered lawn accent in the following list, along with six other upcycle projects and a list of eight essential tools to turn pre-loved junk into much-adored furniture.


As with any DIY project, upcycling requires some basic materials to get started. Unlike carpentry, however, there's little need for raw lumber as the basic frame already exists. All that's required are the flourishes. Save cash on any of these recommended starter supplies with Home Depot free shipping codes. As you find your niche and become an upcycling aficionado, feel free to amend the list with tools tailored to your needs.

1. Duct tape
Ah, the enduring cure-all. Use duct tape to temporarily mend joints while building, mark lines while painting or wrangle frayed (but hidden) edges on a finished product.


2. All Things Paint
Chances are, your project will include wood in some shape, size or form. The simplest way to upcycle large wooden furniture is to repaint it, usually by matching colors to a room or overall theme. Outfit your painting arsenal with a large drop cloth, primer, finish and at least three brushes of varying sizes. Use quality wood paint (not exterior paint or watercolors) from a hardware store and work closely with an employee to pick colors. It's the sort of thing you need to do in person. If you're working on a small project, ask for a "sampler" can. Waste not, want not: Both cash and paint.

A word on primer and finish: Like sanding (see below), neither is required. But if you're already committed, there's little reason to skip them. Bonding primer is ideal for nearly all varieties of wood. Use it beforehand and leave at least four hours to dry. Finish is applied last as a topcoat and will be either glossy or matte, depending on the paint used and your desired look.

3. Permanent Marker
In the upcycle world, a permanent marker is the equivalent of Merlin's wand. Etsy stores abound featuring suitcases, duffel bags and trunks from the '70s -- think avocado green and robin's egg blue -- elegantly restyled with hand-drawn paisley. Forty years is never erased so quickly. Permanent marker is also handy for hiding small wood nicks and scrapes.


4. Cloth
Many furniture upcycling projects require re-upholstery or turn tables into seating. You can opt for a minimalist look and leave wood bare, but a simple handmade mattress or set of pillows gives the project a warmer feel, not to mention a surface on which you'll actually want to sit. There's no harm in using your favorite prints, but bright, solid colors often look best on furniture and compliment darker shades of wood.

5. Sewing Kit
Cloth is little more than haughty napkin material without a basic sewing kit. Build a collection of tailoring basics with pins, thread, fabric scissors, measuring tape and needles of varying sizes. Invest in a sewing machine to save time and prevent headaches on intimidating accents like custom mattresses or throw covers.

6. Sandpaper
Consider sandpaper the exfoliant of all things wood. If your salvaged item comes from a flea market, garage sale or discard pile, vigorous sanding can remove signs of abuse and age. Although it's not necessary when you're crunched for time, sanding before you paint is invaluable. The true tones of a color come through better and last longer on smooth, clean wood.


7. Hammer and Screwdriver
You can't forgo handyman necessities, even when simply repainting a dresser. A hammer and screwdriver are indispensable for tightening joints and curing minor wiggles and wobbles. Buy quality tools, even if you pick them up at garage sales, so they'll last a lifetime.

8. Powertools
A hammer is all most people need for basic projects, but intricate upcycling requires mechanized oomph. An outfitted toolbox can include power drills, table saws and everything in-between. Replace the aforementioned manual screwdriver with a reliable power version from Lowe's. Most cordless drills are in the $100 range, but some can be found for under $50.  


ladderback chair

1. Upcycled Ladderback Chair
If upcycling were a ski hill, this project would be the bunny slope, as it requires only a minimal amount of cutting, sewing and painting. Almost no woodworking is needed. It's best done with a relatively solid chair in need of a quick facelift. Complete a set of four chairs to build your upcycle chops and warm up for more intensive projects. You'll have a snazzy new dining set as well.

Begin by removing seat cushion or woven caning. On most chairs, these are attached to a rectangular wooden frame with staples, nails or screws. Carefully remove without taking apart the frame.

Once stripped of cloth and padding, sand and paint the frame.

After the frame is finished, replace the seat with either a plank of plywood or the old padding. Cover in new fabric. Take the opportunity to impart personality with a covering made from stitched denim jeans, a sturdy burlap sack or patterned cloth.


2. Crib to Garden Decor
The time inevitably comes when all toddlers outgrow a crib. Given the steep initial price of many modern baby beds, upcycling is a sensible way to make the most of your investment. A single crib is a veritable trove of projects. Posts can be cut and turned into pegs for coat hangers; headboards can be reworked into dish holders; entire frames can become daybeds. Many of these projects require extensive woodworking, but feel free to try if the challenge sounds enticing.

In lieu of such involved affairs, take the crib apart and use the various pieces in your garden. Not all cribs come with a spring bottom, but the thin wires and manageable size make for a discreet trellis. Set the frame against a tree, fence or gazebo wall. Plant several vine buds at the base and allow them to wind through the springs. If this is your first experience with vines, visit the Better Homes and Gardens vine dictionary for full descriptions of over 29 plants, including average length, flower type and invasiveness.

The side rails of a crib can be used to hang potted plants. To allow plants more space, remove every other rail and set aside for later projects. Before planting season, repaint or stain the entire side (rails and frame) to match other garden accents or sand and let sit to gradually take on a weathered look. Lean against a tree or fence and place the base in two inch-deep holes to prevent slipping. Rails can also be laid between two barrels, stumps or other supports. Use thick woven rope to secure the frame and add a rustic touch.



3. Coffee Table to Daybed
An overabundance of tables can make decorating difficult. Coffee tables alone don't fill a space the way a couch or chair would. Yet when turned into a day bed, an upcycled table can easily complete a study or guest room. Loads of tutorials, ideas and plans exist for such transformations, but the simplest design requires only some paint, handmade pillows and a mattress.

Since this is, in essence, a miniature bed, select a rectangular coffee table at least 5-feet long and 3-feet wide. Be sure the legs are sturdy. Tighten all screws and reinforce joints with wood blocks, if necessary.

Sand and paint all outward-facing surfaces, including legs and the top-platform area.

To make the mattress, begin with a 6-inch-thick foam pad cut to the dimensions of your bed. Such pads can be bought from most fabric stores. Once home, measure the desired fabric to the dimensions of the foam pad, adding the height (for example, 6 inches) to the width to ensure fabric wraps snugly. Add an extra inch onto all final measurements to allow for a seam. Cut one back panel and one front panel of equal size.

Turn cloth inside out, pin to hold seams, and use a sewing machine to stitch both width sides and just one length side. Turn cloth right side out and insert foam pad. Pin seams and sew the second length side to close using a whipstitch. To keep mattress from slipping once on tabletop, either add no-skid strips to the bottom or anchor with fabric loops and screws.

Make matching throw pillows by measuring coordinating fabric to whatever size you like. Turn fabric inside out, pin to hold seams, and use sewing machine to close all but one side. Turn cloth right side out and fill with pillow stuffing. Pin seams and finish with a whipstitch.

Since this particular daybed design has no back, it works best against a wall or in a corner. If you're feeling saucy, repurpose two headboards, paint them matching colors and attach to the sides or back of the table.


4. Dining Chairs to Endtables
Dining chairs abound at garage sales and thrift stores, but they're often mismatched or part of incomplete sets. Such lonesome chairs need not be ignored. With paint and a saw, these former seats can swiftly be transformed into end tables.

Carefully remove backs from all chairs using a circular or hand saw. Cut close to the seat without hitting the seat wood. Save the backs for a later project (more to come in number 15).

If backs were anchored by holes in the chair seat, sand any protruding wood until level with seat. If the backs were attached to the outside of the chair, carefully remove any wood by sawing and sanding until level.

Sand and paint all surfaces, including the chair bottom. Some chairs are angled or cut to be more comfortable. Level mildly uneven surfaces with a power sander and coarse sandpaper. Use a table saw to cut away more extreme contours, though this method runs the risk of splitting the wood or fracturing a seat.


satellite dish gazebo

5. Large Satellite Dish to Gazebo
Turning a satellite dish into a gazebo is a major upcycle project not to be attempted by the faint of heart. It takes time, a good chunk of construction know-how and at least one extra set of hands. With those prerequisites in mind, you also need six wooden fence posts or steel pipes, a post-hole digger, quick-mix concrete and the eponymous dish.

Remove mounts, screws and extras from the dish receiver and paint the dish on all sides with a roller. If the dish is mesh, be sure to thoroughly coat all panels.

Set the dish convex side down. Mark six evenly spaced points around the curve of the dish. These are where the posts will be mounted. Mark points on the ground where you plan to place the gazebo.

Dig six holes using the post-hole digger, each a minimum or 8-inches deep. A shovel can be used in lieu of a digger. Keep a portion of dirt to later refill or level holes once the posts are sunk.

Place the posts upright in holes. Check to ensure all are level, evenly spaced and straight. Follow the instructions on quick-mix concrete bag and pour around one post to create a foundation. While drying, prop the post upright with cinder block or wooden supports to prevent movement. Repeat with remaining posts. Allow the concrete to dry as recommended in directions.

Once the posts are stable, have one or more people help you mount the dish on posts. Secure it with six screws; one drilled into each post. Most dishes are plastic or metal and will require a pre-made hole before screws can be inserted. Use an appropriate drill bit to create initial holes.

You can decorate the gazebo in a number of ways, but try and incorporate other upcycle items. Use a crib mattress for a trellis, attach crib side rails to hang plants, or explore what else can be found.

satellite dish birdbath

6. Small Satellite Dish to Birdbath
Remember the dining chairs you dissected and saved the extra pieces for a later date? Now is time to put them to use. A small, solid satellite dish is the ideal size for a birdbath and can easily be propped on two or more old chair backs.

Cut two shallow half-circles in the top of each chair back. This will keep the dish stable once mounted. You can also secure it with two screws on either side.

Sand and paint the chair backs, if desired. Space the backs evenly using the dish to judge distance. Sink the bottoms at least 3 inches.

Remove all parts of the dish except mounting bolts. These plug the factory-made holes and keep water from draining. Reinforce with caulk, if desired.

Place dish convex side up to align with pre-cut holes in seat backs. Secure with screws, if needed.

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Inspirational, will go get my old kitchen chair and update it with some fabrics.
Posted by Koko
I need to know to to build a 24" swivel base to upcycle three dining room chairs into bar stool.
Posted by Thomas Howard
I've been searching for a while over the net for some creative ways and tips on how to properly recycle old furnitures, and this is perfect! This would be of great help on saving me big bucks along the way. Thanks again! It will be my pleasure to bookmark this, keep it up guys! :D
Posted by Ottawa Kitchens