Six top tips on how to ‘upcycle’ old homeware, creating stunning original pieces and safeguarding the environment

Sustainable interior designer, upcycler and self-proclaimed ‘warrior on waste’ Lynne Lambourne offers her expert tips on how to upcycle items found either in your home, or in one of the British Heart Foundations new home stores.

Nowadays one can never be too conscious of the environment. Disposable culture is becoming a taboo, encompassing everything from drinking straws to old cabinets.

That being said, there are still all-too-many items that we dispose of straight to landfill and buy again instead of donating or, even more preferably, turning our own hands to and  ‘upcycling’.

Lynne Lambourne's upcycling work on display: a ladder-turned-plant potter, a newly painted cabinet and a chair seat decoupaged with old maps of London.

Lynne Lambourne’s upcycling work on display: a ladder-turned-plant potter, a newly-painted cabinet and a chair seat decoupaged with old maps of London.

Although from the outside it can seem pernickety or time-consuming, upcycling is a trend that’s growing quickly and for good reason. It’s amazing what a fresh coat of paint and some shabby-chic sanding can do for an unloved piece of furniture – and often impossible to imagine for anyone who isn’t an interior designer or lacks the artistic flare necessary to look at an old ladder and see a plant-potter.

Items from the British Heart Foundation’s eBay online store.

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Luckily, experts like Lynne Lambourne from Oxfordshire-based interiors design company ‘Love Nellie’ are on hand to share their expert tricks and tips and inspire us to undertake our own upcycling project.

Lynne’s efforts are doubly beneficial – not only does she upcycle unwanted furniture which would otherwise contribute to the massive landfill problem our nation faces, but often the items she works on come from places like the British Heart Foundation’s new range of Home Stores which sell incredible pieces of homeware from mahogany sideboards to leather sofas at a fraction of their original price, raising money which funds life-saving research into all heart diseases, strokes, vascular dementia and diabetes.  

Lynne’s Top Tips for upcycling your unwanted homeware

Lynne Lambourne, warrior on waste, with her newly-upcycled pieces.

Think second hand shops for furniture

If you see something in a shop or interiors magazine that you absolutely love and have to get your hands on, look closely; the chances are that you can find something very similar in a charity shop. The BHF has over 180 home stores across the nation offering a wealth of amazing household bargains. Car boot sales or a second-hand online site are also good sources and you can always check out the BHF eBay shop if you can’t find anything in-store. With a bit of paint and some imagination, you can create something very similar. It’s all about looking at pieces with fresh eyes – one man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.

Be a savvy shopper and create something unique for your home at a fraction of the price of buying new; it’s also a much more sustainable way of furnishing your house.

A selection of some of the many iems available from the British Heart Foundation's home stores, including a drinks cabinet in need of some upcycling and a vintage Singer sewing machine.

A selection of some of the many iems available from the British Heart Foundation’s home stores, including a drinks cabinet in need of some upcycling and a vintage Singer sewing machine.

Preparation is key

When upcycling preparation is key, the more time you spend preparing, the less time you will have to spend correcting mistakes. Go around the mirror edges with masking tape to stop the paint getting on the mirror, also mask off drawer edges etc. Remove old drawer knobs first so you don’t paint around them only to find when you remove the old ones, the new ones are smaller, and you have a space with no paint.

Give all furniture a wipe before you start, an old cobweb stuck on your paint brush is just annoying. Sometimes the excitement of getting the job done can mean we rush things.

Consider the Era

Make sure you match the era of the piece of furniture with the style of upcycling. An old 1950s G-plan sideboard will never look cool painted in pastels and then distressed to give a shabby chic coastal effect. Try and be sympathetic to the original style. A piece like that would look great painted in a bold colour or decoupaged using geometrical wallpaper.

Be imaginative when you see old pieces. Old ladders painted make great places to display plants, old washing machine drums make great out door plant pots. Creative ideas can give a new purpose to something that would otherwise have been discarded.

Items from the British Heart Foundation’s eBay online store.

Patching up second hand furniture

If your piece of furniture has watermarks or stains, go over it with a primer first or use a paint containing primer – there’s no point going at it gung-ho with layers of paint, as they will bleed through again and your work will be ruined. Once you’ve finished your piece, make sure you protect all your hard work with a wax or varnish to give it longevity. If you’ve gone to the bother of making something fabulous give it the respect it deserves by finishing it properly. Don’t rush it to just get it done!

Collect old odd socks (clean ones!!) as they are great to use to apply the wax to the furniture, providing they are not too fluffy.

Be bold

Have fun and be bold, create what YOU love. You are not bound by the constraints of what is available on the high-street. You can create something unique for your home that is your style. Have a look online for inspiration – there are a wealth of ideas on ‘Pinterest’ to inspire you. There should be no end to everyone’s creativity!

New products on the market all the time seem to make the impossible, possible. Protective outdoor paints and sprays mean that you can be creative with outdoor spaces and create the look of an extra room in the garden quite easily. Think outside the box; gardens don’t have to be full of teak furniture. There are some amazing new easy crackle glaze products out there which mean you can age a piece easily. This is great news if you find second hand mirrors or frames as these can be made to look far more expensive than they are.


Items from the British Heart Foundation’s eBay online store.

Spend on the small stuff

Spend a few extra pennies on good paint brushes. Cheap ones leave bristles in your work and don’t give good coverage. Most paint brands now have their own paint brushes which work well for their products. Wrap brushes and rollers in tinfoil in between coats to keep the brush moist and then clean them as soon as you’ve finished painting or waxing.

The BHF has 180 home stores across England, Scotland and Wales offering quality pre-loved furniture, electricals and stylish home accessories. Every item sold in BHF stores will help to raise funds for research into heart disease, stroke, vascular dementia and diabetes. Last year, BHF furniture stores saved around 78,000 items from landfill and helped to raise £30 million for the charity’s vital work. To find out more head to

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