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May 18, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2013 issue

The good old things

Words: Caroline Ciantar-Barbara

Getting a great looking interior in your house doesn’t necessarily have to be wildly expensive. Most savvy designers and decorators know that there are hidden treasures to be found outside furnishing stores. Flea markets, salvage yards, auctions and charity shops are among the most interesting places to find something different for your design project. How great is it to create something amazing from salvaged materials?

In addition to cutting costs big time, salvaged goods also offer advantages you can’t put a price tag on. You will find pieces that have a patina only years of wear and tear can create, and every piece has its own story to tell.

As usual, no decorating scheme will be successful unless careful consideration is given, so get yourself well organised and write down any measurements you will need for your project and make sure to carry these with you wherever you are doing your hunting. While on the subject, you should be prepared to hunt around quite a bit and you will be surprised at the amount of things that can be saved or updated.

People often sell old pieces that they don’t exactly see as ‘vintage’, or sometimes we ourselves fail to see the potential in furniture pieces we grew up around, in our parents’ and grandparents’ homes. Just keep in mind that any piece of furniture can be given a new lease of life with a clever use of paints or the many other finishes.

Choose furniture that is still structurally sound but needs a facelift. For both wood and metal furniture it is very important to remove all the old paint or varnish – especially if you’re planning on applying a decorative finish. With wood, a liquid stripper should get all the old paint bubbling, making it easier to scrape it off and eventually sand it down.

Preparing metal is done in pretty much the same way, using specific solvents to remove the paint. This should leave you with a great base to apply any finish you wish to choose. You can decide to leave your piece with a natural look – with varnish, a glaze, a stain or even wax.

If on the other hand, you wish to go for a colourful option, paint is the most obvious solution for up cycling – the right choice of colour and texture can completely transform your item. Take some time to look into the finish you’re after. Do you want to go for a modern, metallic look? Are you aiming for a bold red that will create a focal point? Or why not go for a particular paint effect? There is no need to stick to one paint colour.

Among popular trends I’m sure you’ve come across the slightly battered pieces with a distressed paint effect – making a piece of furniture look like it has aged. In a nutshell, this process requires two paint colours; an accent colour to match your room, and a neutral pale top coat. The colour goes first as a primer, and the top coat after. All that is left to be done is to sand back the paint lightly where there would naturally be the most wear, revealing the primer and creating a subtle but convincing effect.

Wallpaper is another option. Although we’re most used to seeing this on walls, it’s a very exciting medium to use on furniture – whether wood, metal or plastic. Other than glue to paste in onto the surface, your only other requirement for this job is a top coat of clear varnish to keep it from tearing. Any paper can be used for this method – paper cut-outs, score sheets or even photocopied images of your liking to take your personal touch to a completely new level.

Sofas and chairs are another great find. You’re going to encounter lots of worn or sagging upholstery in your hunt, however you need to put your design goggles and try to see past their dilapidated state. Now, re-upholstering isn’t something that you can do easily, so you may have to outsource it to a professional. It’s easy to get lost with the vast choice of fabrics on the market and it’s often a great idea is to get some inspiration from other furniture shops or even online. Seeing it on a piece that is similar to the one you have can greatly simplify the process of deciding what will look best. Fabric comes alive when used imaginatively, transforming a beaten piece into something completely different.

Furniture and seating are the most popular choices. However, there may be smaller items or items which we simply disregard, that could make great pieces. Keep in mind that just because it was a frame in its past life, doesn’t mean it won’t make a great mirror. Think of ways you can give a new purpose to these old world items you come across.

Wooden crates can be turned on to their sides and be used as side tables in a living room; or used as storage boxes in the kitchen.

Don’t simple dispose of an old, run down door just because it’s seen better days. Why not use it as a surface for a dining table? Leaving all its metal details and hinges will add a great deal of character, providing guests you have over for dinner with something to talk about.

Look out for suitcases and trunks – these have become increasingly popular and can be used instead of nightstands or coffee tables. Old metal beverage signs, brass lamps (to become a fashionable item again), old beaten stools and enamel clocks are other things that carry great potential.

One man’s trash.... you know the rest. Just remember that most of the things you’ll come across required a great deal of craftsmanship back in the day and unless they are accompanied by a hefty price tag, they are very rarely produced nowadays. Any items with such prestigious detail will surely grab anyone’s attention.

So after you manage to get your project done, be ready to receive compliments from your friends about your ‘new’ furniture. Good thing they wouldn’t have seen its sorry state before... our little secret!

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