When it’s time to hit refresh

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This bedhead and base were made from wooden pallets, while the bedside table was made from a crate. Pictures from Upcycling with Style by Sarah Heeringa (New Holland Publishers, $35)

In many ways, Sarah Heeringa’s love of upcycling goes against the grain.

With so many of us obsessed with decluttering these days (take a bow, Marie Kondo), the notion of hanging on to items and reinventing them seems quaint and quietly radical.

But, on closer inspection, decluttering and upcycling are actually quite similar: the end result is a home that feels better to be in.

“I think it’s very important, whether we are renting or we own a home, to create an environment that is creative and feels like a sanctuary,” said Ms Heeringa, a magazine journalist and stylist who is a keen upcycler and renovator.

“The best way to do that is to personalise it. It’s not about going to a store and buying something on trend that has been mass produced by someone else on a subsistence income.”

Keen upcycler Sarah Heeringa. Picture: Amanda Reelick

Quick and easy

Ms Heeringa is the author of Upcycling with Style, a step-by-step guide to upcycling.

The New Zealand mum of four pointed out upcycling was not about long and laborious projects that required advanced technical skills.

“It’s about giving something a refresh and a whole new lease of life,” she said. “It’s not about spending hours and hours making something perfect.”

The fabric of an old jumper could be repurposed as a cushion, for example, or plain pine bedside tables could be prettied up with paint and patterned wallpaper.

“I’m a big fan of painting things as it’s quick and easy and makes a dramatic difference,” Ms Heeringa said. “You can paint your fridge, leather couch, tables, chairs, cabinets, benchtops, and fabric as long as it is a firm, close-weave fabric.

“Grab some metal cafe chairs and repaint them. Just make sure you use a good-quality paint that doesn’t require too much sanding.”

Kitchen cabinets have been totally transformed with paint and new shelving.

They’re a far cry from how they used to look.

You can also create a picture gallery inside your home by gathering your photos and painting the frames in black, with a couple of frames painted in a standout accent colour.

“You can also paint the mat within the frame to make it stand out,” Ms Heeringa said. “Then you end up with this gorgeous picture gallery on your wall.”

Create a picture gallery with frames painted black and a couple in an accent colour.

Take it outside

Upcycling does not need to be confined to your home’s interior, with Ms Heeringa encouraging people to be creative in their outdoor spaces.

Terracotta pots, for example, can be transformed with a dip-dye turquoise paint technique that brightens the garden.

“You can also paint your old wooden outdoor furniture, which tricks the eye and looks really attractive,” she said. “A lot of the wooden furniture in our gardens gets quite worn-looking due to exposure, so a paint job can be very effective.”

Garden beds and vegetable patches can be constructed using old railway sleepers, driftwood or recycled bricks, while a garden’s overall appearance can be enhanced by hanging mirrors.

“You can glue an old mirror to a newly painted wall and it creates an optical illusion because it makes the garden look a whole lot bigger and reflects the plants,” Ms Heeringa said.

“Just make sure the mirror doesn’t catch any direct beams of sunlight and reflect on to your home and set it on fire.”

Other than that, there are very few rules.

“Upcycling is a really enriching thing to do,” Ms Heeringa said. “You save on waste, you learn new skills, you explore your own creativity and end up with something cool in your home that you can tell people, ‘I did that’ when they come over.”

Garden furniture looking fresh after a paint job.

Not so inviting: how the pieces used to look.

Pots transformed with cheery hues.



Handy tips

Here is some more advice from Ms Heeringa on upcycling:

• Give yourself permission to make mistakes and don’t expect standout results the first time.

• Start with a small, manageable project, such as painting a picture frame or chair, and build from there.

• Capitalise on your natural skills. For example, if you have a knack for sewing then start with making a cushion.

• Ask yourself what object you are creating and what effect it will have. It might be clever, for example, to use old tyres as a base for a coffee table, but how attractive is this going to be? (Hint: not very.)

• Do a little research and watch online videos if needs be.

• Use tools you are comfortable with. Don’t take on the angle grinder if you’re not confident. But if you are, go for it.

Ms Heeringa’s book, a guide to all things upcycling.

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