A Beginner's Guide To High-End Upcycling

A table being stained.

The idea behind upcycling is taking a used material and transforming it into something new and, often, better. With high-end upcycling, you are simply taking things up a notch and producing a gorgeous final product. In other words, high-end upcycling is making upcycling look good. But there are a few things you should know before you get started. Here is a quick beginner’s guide on everything you need to know about high-end upcycling.

Choose Wisely

Not every item you come across is worth the effort of upcycling. There are some materials that will not look good no matter how many coats of paint you apply. Although this approach will take some patience, finding materials that are solid and durable will go a long way in transforming it into an amazing end product. When searching for materials, look for items that are structurally sound and can take refinishing, like solid wood. Avoid veneers, laminates, and other synthetic materials that were never meant to undergo upcycling.

It’s All in the Prep

An apartment with multiple upcycled items.

Good prep work is one of the most important steps when it comes to high-end upcycling. The first step in a good upcycling project is to thoroughly clean the item. This means removing all signs of dirt and grime and addressing any imperfections. If you are working with wood, you will need to fill any cracks and holes in the surface with filler and sand until smooth. You also want to apply a good primer to the surface and always sand in between coats. Remember, the more effort you put in the prep work the better the end result will be.

Finding Inspiration

You will need to use a bit of your imagination when you start upcycling. But if you have trouble coming up with ideas, you can find inspiration at your local high-end furniture outlet. More often than not, looking at finished pieces will give you ideas on what might work in your situation and you can usually find similar items at local charity stores or online. With some effort and fresh paint, you can get the item of your dreams for a fraction of the cost.

Keep it Simple

It is tempting to go bold when you first start upcycling, but it’s usually best to show some restraint when it comes to colors. More often than not, opting for outlandish color schemes results in a distracting piece that does not come across as classy. Instead, reign in those colors and go for a more subtle look that matches existing decor.

Matching Eras

A woman sits at an upcycled table.

Another common mistake in upcycling is ignoring the original style of the furniture. Some styles just do not pair well with certain eras. For example, slapping a distressed chic look on a ‘50s era G-Plan piece probably isn’t going to look good. That does not mean you should avoid getting creative, just be mindful of what you’re working with and know a little bit about its history.


It is very difficult to create a gorgeous finished product with subpar tools. Not only do you risk botching the entire project, but you will also lose time if you don’t have the right tools for the job. It is worth every penny to purchase high-quality paint brushes. Although they cost more upfront, they generally hold up better over time and can be used for future projects.

The Devil's in the Details

Paying attention to the details makes all the difference in the world when it comes to high-end upcycling. In fact, putting an extra 10 percent of effort may be all it takes to really pull a piece together, whether that means slapping on another coat of lacquer or following through on the prep work. While it takes a little more time and elbow grease, you will be thankful when that old and discarded piece of furniture becomes the new centerpiece in your home.