Monday, December 31, 2012

Upcycling 101

So you are ready to start tackling your very own refinishing or upcycling project. 
So now what?
Where do you start?
Well let's start from the beginning, shall we?

Where to find your inspiration:

Well, that's the easy part! Inspiration can be found anywhere. 
You can find inspiration in nature, you can find it at a friend's place, you can find it at design stores like Ikea, but most of all you can find tons of inspiration online! If you are interested in refinishing a Queen Ann style piece, just type 'queen ann painted' or something similar on a search engine, then click on images. That alone will bring up tons of inspiration. If you don't find what you are looking for, try a different combination of words such as 'queen ann refinishing' or something alike. Try to stay pretty vague, nothing too specific...that way you can pull up a broader array of images. 

My absolute must for anything decorative, fashion forward and design driven is Pinterest. 

Pinterest is a great website where you can follow your friends taste, where you can gather information and store it for later, and where you can just browse by category the things you most care for. As it has been said: "when there is nothing going on on Facebook, there is always something to look at on Pinterest"! So get out there, open your free account and start pinning and re-pinning your images! 

Were to find your pieces:

I think the bestest (yes bestest is a word...I just made it up myself!) place where to scavenge for vintage, retro, antique or just plain OLD furniture is Craigslist. 

I am literally obsessed with CL. I spend numerous hours (probably too many hours) perusing the site in search of cheap, viable, fun pieces that I can transform into something mine to love. It's a bit like an online garage sale really. Sometimes there are stunning pieces for dirt cheap, and sometimes people try to sell crappy stuff for inflated prices. Stay away from the latter and learn to discern the difference! The purpose here is to get nice quality pieces without having to break the bank. If you are willing to spend tons of $ then you might as well buy new, from a big company, and forgo the whole 'refinishing' thing. The great part about upcycling is that you get to not only save money --and put a bit of your own personality in your piece-- but you get to RECYCLE and, by doing so, you get to keep tonnage out of the landfills and dumps. Isn't that awesome? What can be better than saving money while being green? I don't know what is. Sounds pretty perfect to me! 

Another great place where to find good pieces is second hand stores. When I lived in North Carolina my two favorite stores were both Habitat for Humanity (respectively in Sanford and Pinehurst)...but here in Colorado their store is definitely NOT a good hunting ground. If that happens to you, don't get discouraged. Honestly, it takes time to discover the thrift stores in your area that offer the most in the furniture department. Most of them just offer an array of useless junk, and crap ton of clothing. Start getting out there, talk to people in your area, and see if you can find some stores that offer a good selection at really good prices. 

Another avenue is to go garage sales hopping. Obviously that intels more dedication. In order to find the best selection you need to be hitting the sales as early in the morning as possible. Second hand stores often obtain their pieces this way, so they are the first ones to show up in the morning to snatch up the best items. If you expect to get them for yourself, plan to get an early start (as early as 6-7 a.m. depending on the starting time of garage sales in your area).

You could also go to estate sales, but remember those are not exactly cheap. Estate sales are usually done when a family member passes and the heirs want to get rid of the bulk of the estate quickly. They usually hire a company that takes care of the whole thing. Such companies try to get the fairest price for the family, so your best bet may be to go on the last day, towards the end of the day. They may be more willing to accept offers on the last day/hours as the sale's end is nearing. I find that haggling is always a viable option in any of my transactions. I ask politely if they will take x instead of y, and that's it. If they say yes good, but if they say no that's the end of it for me. I don't get into a ping pong match of offers. I find that too demeaning for both parties. As it turns out, more times than not, people are very willing to work with you on price. So ask away, the worst thing they can say is: no. 

What to look for in a piece: 

Whenever you are looking to upcycle a piece, ask yourself what's most important to you. 
What I am mostly looking for, when shopping for a piece, is: design. I carefully look at the lines of the item. Never mind if it has an outdated oak finish, try to overcome your own prejudice about the coloring of the piece. After all, that's what you are going to deal with when you refinish the piece, right? So, look at the shapes critically. Try to imagine what that silhouette could look like with a fresh coat of paint. 
The second thing I look at is: quality. It is not always easy to get good quality, solid, hardwood, sturdily constructed pieces...but those are the ones you want! Ideally you want to get a piece that is well put together, that was made with care and that will last you for many years to come. 
So how do you know if a piece is hardwood? Well, often you can just see it at first glance. The wood grain will be visible, not just in coloring but also in texture. If you look at the piece at an angle, you should be able to detect the tiny grooves and the design of the grain. Laminated pieces and particle board usually do not have those little grooves or texture as they are printed, literally wood pattern painted on the lamination. 
But what do you do if you can't see the grain still? Well sometimes it helps to just look at the underside of the piece, or maybe inside a drawer. Looking at the 'gut' of the piece can be helpful, as those areas are most often overlooked when it comes to finishes. This makes it easier for you to identify what material they are made of if no paint, stain or lacquer is present.

Another thing I always look for is: dove tail joints. If you spot them, 9 times out of 10, that means you have a quality, solid-wood piece in your hands. 

The weight of the object is also helpful. Wood is usually heavier than particle board. If the piece is very light, most of the times, that means it is not made of solid wood.
Should that stop you? Absolutely not! I have gotten many pieces that are made of plywood or cheaper grade materials because I absolutely LOVED their lines. The important thing is that they are well made; not wobbly or with broken parts (unless you are willing to repair them, that is) and that off course you like them! 

What to look for in your FIRST project:
If you are at your first attempt to refinish a piece, I would encourage you to stick to a simple one! Unless you are crafty by nature, or have had some sort of experience with painting in the past, it will be wise to choose something small like a chair, a coffee table, a small shelf, or something of that sort.
A smaller project will be easier and quicker to complete. There is nothing worse than picking a piece too large and getting burned out or overwhelmed mid way through! You want to build up your endurance and your skills over time. 
Another thing I can advise for your first projects is to choose a very simple style piece. It would not be wise to choose an intricate carved piece, or something with a detailed carved trim...that takes some expertise and you would end up getting frustrated and abandoning the idea of upcycling. That would be a waste! Wouldn't it now? So stick with simple lines and small pieces and you will be successful. 
I hope this is enough info for now to help you in the search of your next treasure.
Happy hunting!

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