Your Upcycling Shopping Guide

An upcycled suitcase side table - photo by Stacy Stacy Stacy

Upcycling, the act of taking an item and making it better, is something every DIYer learns how to do eventually. With the right tools and a little creativity, it’s possible to turn the most damaged and decrepit furnishings into something new and amazing-looking again. But don’t get out the tools just yet. Creating great DIY furnishings starts with knowing how to shop for them the right way.

Easy Upcycle Items

Some items lend themselves to upcycling a little more easily than others. Always keep your eyes peeled for these versatile finds.

Dressers - Anything with drawers is highly useful, because you get several elements to work with. A dresser can be turned into a media console, a wine rack or just about anything else when you get rid of the drawers. The drawers can be turned into shadowboxes, floating shelves and other DIY accents.

TV Consoles - There are more of these to be had at yard sales and second hand stores than there used to be, because flat screen TVs have made many of the bigger, deeper ones obsolete. Often built with extras like cabinetry and shelving, TV consoles and entertainment centers are highly useful for upcycling. Turn them into wardrobes or dressers, kitchen consoles or other practical furnishings.

China Cabinets - Another old fashioned piece of furniture, the many drawers and shelves inside a china cabinet are just waiting to be repurposed. Turn it into a bookshelf, a media center, an amazing bar, or even an elaborate desk.

Surprisingly Useful Finds

You’ve got DIY skills, so you already know how to spot the good stuff. But there are many other furnishings that often get overlooked in upcycling, and they shouldn't.

Damaged Tables - Don’t overlook those broken tables, which may be available for free. Tables don't need four legs if they sit against a wall. With just two legs, any table can be secured to the wall with a few screws. This actually creates a fun effect. Tabletops and bases can be separated and used in all kinds of ways.

Old Fans - Don't pass those old, rusted fans by. Remove the motor and use the rest as a frame for pictures, artwork, a mirror or a clock. Leave the blades for a rustic look, or remove them to focus on the industrial design.

Old Beds - It’s easy to ignore old beds, which look large and unwieldy, but don’t forget that you don’t have to sleep on it. An old bed can be made into a fantastic bench if you attach the headboard and foot board together with a center plank.

Stuff to Leave at the Store

Of course you can’t let your DIY skills go to your head. There are several items you should leave at the store.

Things That Are Still Useful - Turning a working (or repairable) toaster into a planter isn't upcycling, it's downcycling.

Plastic - There are exceptions to every rule, but items made out of plastic should be ignored. Plastic is hard to work with and difficult to cut, and that’s no good. It doesn't paint well, is is difficult to shape and can be brittle, so it doesn't give you a lot of upcycling options. And when you're done, it still looks like plastic.

Coffee Tables - Leave the coffee tables behind, too, though you’ll find them everywhere and you’ll be tempted. Coffee tables just aren’t very versatile because of their height and design. If you find an amazing one, however, you may be unable to resist.

Where to Go

You can wander the streets to find stuff to upcycle, but you’ll have more luck with a targeted search. Go to Goodwill and other secondhand shops to find used items for purchase. Yard sales will also have used items, and usually you can do some bartering on the price. Shop online at eBay and Craigslist to find used items here.

Don’t forget about the flea markets, particularly permanent flea markets. You'll find many items here, both new and used, that are just waiting to be upcycled. You know what to look for, so you’re ready to go.

Photo by Stacy Stacy Stacy