Old desk, new life. Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle.

Old desk, new life. Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle.

October 20, 2019

There’s something so fulfilling about giving new life to an old piece of furniture. It’s scuffs and scratches tell a story, whether you chose to cover them with a new coat of paint or clean it up and let it be.

It's easy to get caught up in the clean, boxed furniture on the shelves at Target or Ikea. They come with instructions, you know exactly what you’re going to end up with, and if you don’t like it, you return it.  It’s foolproof.

What else comes with your new side table though? Plastic wrap, a giant box, and quite a few little instruction pages. In a few years, the faux wood finish will chip and bubble from moisture, and you’ll toss it in a dumpster just as easily as you put it in your car at the store. And then you get another that looks just like it. Just maybe white instead of brown this time.

Upcycling old or used pieces is one of the easiest ways to furnish your home sustainably. So many antiques are made from solid wood, they’re durable even at 30, 40, or 50 years old, and look so different from anything you’d find on a shelf. They’re built to last and can stand to be sanded and repainting to fit your changing style.

Upcycling allows you to be bold with your details and try out any color or finish you want, test out some new pulls or even paint a pattern on your tabletop. You can create a piece by yourself that you’d never find anywhere else, and you won’t have to settle for something that’s “almost perfect”. You get to make it perfect.

Not sure how to start? Here are some trends in upcycling to try out during your next project-

  • Glossy is always nice, but if you’re looking for something a little different, try out a matte or chalky finish paint or spray paint. Be sure to finish with a matte top coat to avoid stains and scuffs.
  • Want it to look even more loved? Paint a thin coat, then take sandpaper and take some paint off on the edges and corners. If it has drawers, sand the edges of that too as if it has had years of being opened and closed.
  • Go bright! Although neutral spaces have gained popularity, don’t be afraid to try something a little outside the box. Fuchsia, chartreuse, teal, and bold darker greens are great for upcycled accent pieces.
  • In furniture with drawers, try removing them and painting them a shade darker or lighter than the rest. If they aren’t big enough to need a separate container of paint, simply add some white to the leftovers once you finish the body of the piece, and apply it to the drawers. This adds a little contrast, and accent the different functional portions of the whole.
  • Add unique hardware. Check out Etsy, thrift stores, yard sales, or even hardware stores to find some new pulls or knobs. Want to keep it simple? Buy some unfinished wood knobs and paint them to match the rest of the project.
  • Our first instinct is always going to be to paint the whole piece the same color. Before you start, look at the way your dresser or desk is paneled; are the size completely flat, or do they look framed? Are there any details that you could use to block in different colors for an even more unique finished product? Consider using any lines, trims or borders on the furniture like a “coloring book” and paint them a different color. This doesn’t always have to be bright colors… consider using white and two different grays. Subtle, but just different enough.
  • Play with pattern, and tape off a design on a flat surface on the piece. Try a single stripe on a table top, or a floral pattern on the front of drawers (you can always use a stencil).


Next time you decide to freshen up a space, consider bringing home an old piece of furniture and turning it into exactly what you want. When it starts bringing in compliments, you’ll love saying “thanks, I did it myself”. And always remember to take before and after pics to show off to your friends.

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