The 7 secrets stylists use to give upcycled interiors a sophisticated edge

Dining table with salvaged decor

Upcycling salvaged materials can be a fantastic way to give your home a really individual look, but it’s not an easy style to get right. Although the finished result may look effortlessly thrown together, get it wrong and you could end up creating the furniture equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster. The owner of this warehouse-style apartment, stylist Sarah E Owen, has got this tricky look spot on. I’ve picked out some of the essential tips and tricks to steal from her style to help you on your way to upcycling success.

Come with me and let’s have a poke around!

Warehouse apartment living room with exposed brick wall and retro furniture
1 | Look for form over function…

When visiting a reclamation yard, browsing eBay or rifling through a skip, you need to train your eyes to see mundane objects in a different light if you’re to realise their full potential. The secret is to put function out of your mind completely. Only then will you see how a door can become a shelf, how an old bit of metal from a goods lift can become a tabletop or a box of old spectacle lenses can become a contemporary chandelier. All these clever upcycling ideas (and more) can be found in these pictures of Sarah’s home… did you spot them? Try and approach objects looking at their shapes, colours and textures only. If you like what you see, grab it… you can think how you will reuse, recycle or upcycle it later when you have more time to plan and ponder. Don’t feel bad about having a collection of interesting objects that you haven’t used yet. Inspiration will strike you and their time will come!

Warehouse apartment decor

2 | Learn the art of mental deconstruction

I know this sounds all pretentious and airy fairy, but stick with me while I explain. Imagine this scenario: you’ve moved into an empty house. You have nowhere to eat your dinner… “ah ha” (you say) “I need a table”. Indeed you do, but if what you want is an upcycled table, you need to break it down a bit. What you really need is something that will do for table legs, and something that will do for a table top. That is what I mean by mental deconstruction. Whether you’re looking for a light fitting, a piece of furniture or hardware, seek out intriguing objects that can make up each of the component parts – mixing unexpected things together is where the magic really happens.

Dining area with exposed brick feature wall

3 | Fabric is your friend

Fabrics are fantastic for making your space feel warm and inviting. Aside from the usual uses in revamping upholstery and framing windows, Sarah has stapled cheap hessian (burlap) onto a wall in her dining area (below) to create a textured feature wall much more quickly and easily than wallpaper. Calico is another dirt cheap fabric that can form the basis of loads of creative applications. Dyes, stencils and patterned rollers will all transform plain material into designer fabric in minutes, with very little artistic skill required. On the vintage side, disused grain sacks, crocheted tray cloths, patterned hankies and tattered flags all have bags of decorating potential.

Walls covered in burlap hessian

4 | Sometimes more is more

Often, all you need to do to create a striking focal point from an odd collection is to display lots of similar objects together. In Sarah’s kitchen she’s created a montage of old trays to create an unusual feature wall above her units (below). Browse our Ideas for Walls board on Pinterest for lots more creative ways to display collections of salvaged and reclaimed objects, from lace doilies and biscuit tins to ceiling roses and bicycle parts. These hanging double sided picture frames are great for displaying collections as they have glass front and back, making it easy to sandwich ephemera, scraps of material, leaves or flowers inside.

Display wall of vintage trays and neon letters in kitchen
5 | Experiment with architectural salvage and building materials

Salvage yards can be a treasure trove of weird and wonderful architectural materials which can be made useful and beautiful when placed in a new context in your home.  Slate roof tiles and marble hearths make great tabletops and disused floorboards and old window frames can be turned into room dividers or panelling. Builder’s merchants can also be a fantastic resource. Sarah used a sheet of inexpensive corrugated metal to make an industrial style barn door in her kitchen, while bare plywood and OSB (oriented strand board) are very much in vogue amongst high-end architects at the moment as cladding for interior walls.

corrugated iron metal barn door

 6 | Don’t forget the ‘cycle’ in upcycle!

The clue’s in the name right? Upcycling and recycling is all about taking things in and moving things on. One man’s toot really is another man’s treasure and there’s no need to feel guilty about rehoming something that doesn’t float your boat anymore. Make the tip your last resort and try more eco-friendly and community-minded options first. I’m a big fan of Freecycle and British Heart Foundation Furniture and Electrical Shops (they offer a handy collection service) but there are lots of local organisations too that are always looking for good quality unwanted items to help people in need. Don’t just think about furniture either: Community Repaint is great charity which collects leftover paint and redistributes it to community projects.

Warehouse style artists studio interior

7 | When buying new, buy better

Incorporating salvaged and recycled pieces into your interior should be playful and fun, so don’t feel you have to be a slave to the look and can’t buy anything new. Well-chosen, thoughtfully produces homewares are the antiques of the future and can be successfully mixed with reclaimed elements. When shopping for new accessories look for quality handmade items with a story behind them so they can become more meaningful to you. To read more about our ethos in sourcing interesting home accessories visit our story page and browse our shop for ethical and handmade homewares to incorporate into your salvaged interior.

[Photographs Sarah E Owen via Storehouse]

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  1. says

    Love this post! I was just looking on ebay for vintage dolly tubs to repot my crab tree. Whoa they are expensive. I might have to ‘find’ something instead. I’d love to go on a junk hunt with you! :)

  2. Angela says

    What a brilliant post, thank you I will be looking at – and for things a little differently from now on.


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