Over the past two years, I have had lots of people in my upcycling classes who want to take it one step further and would like to set up an upcycling business or sell their own furniture. During the classes, they ask questions about how to paint but also how to source good pieces of furniture, what style & finish they should be using and where to sell their furniture.
These are exactly the same questions I had when I started painting my own furniture and taking commissions. I wasn’t sure if my pieces were going to be good enough, if my style was going to be unique or if I was going to be able to compete with those more established. I love teaching how to paint furniture, giving advice, proposing colours and trying different finishes, but selling my own furniture as a business is a different story.
That is why I put together this post, to help you overcome some of the challenges we all face and get you ready to buy, upcycle and sell your own furniture.
⇒ Are you passionate about restoring, upcycling & transforming furniture and would like to make an income out of it?.
⇒Have you identified a gap in the market and would like to create your own line of products, maybe for children’s rooms or based on a specific style?
⇒ Are you an interior designer and would like to propose a new way of keeping and transforming your client’s existing furniture to match their new style and save them money?
⇒ Would you like to expand the range of products in your shop with your own upcycled products?.
⇒ Do you run your own event’s company and would like to customise the decor to each event’s style?.
Yes? Good, we have now identified why you want to do it … now let’s see why you are not doing it!
– “I don’t have any creative skills, I don’t even know how to paint furniture. I think I know what I would like to achieve, but I don’t know how to get that special finish”.
– “I work full time and I have no time left for a hobby”.
– “My flat is tiny and I don’t have any space”.
– “Will this require that I set up and run my own business? I don’t even know where to start!”
– “Who am I going to sell to? Where would I sell? Where do I buy reasonably priced furniture”
These are all very valid questions. So here some answers using my own personal experiences teaching, upcycling, selling my own furniture and also setting up and running my own business. This is a good time to start your own upcycling business.
My skills are not “good enough” …
When I started teaching my upcycling classes I had been to two short courses and I had painted less than a dozen pieces at home. But I took the plunge and practiced on anything, old shelving units, pub chairs, wooden boards, skip findings until I felt more confident. I obviously ruined a few pieces where I had applied too much primer or no primer at all, I had done too much distressing or I had used sealer instead of wax. But because I had made those mistakes I could teach people how not to make these mistakes.
You just have to practice. Find your style and keep going until you feel confident that your finished work is great or even almost perfect. We are our worst enemies, we tell ourselves that our work is not good enough, we fear that nobody is going to like it or buy from us and that is why we don’t even start.
You can start easy (painting & obtaining a unique finish or reupholstering) and once you have mastered these you can then move onto more complex techniques. Upcycling is a skill that can be learned, but you need to practice.
Attend courses, watch online videos and most importantly, practice and make your own mistakes.
Learn from the experts – I say this with a pinch of salt, learn, do not copy.
Max McMurdo, set up reestore with the purpose of designing and manufacturing a range of high-end desirable furniture items created from waste destined for landfill. His design and style are very unique, simple but stunning, from bathtub sofas to scaffold tubes coffee tables.
The Baileys have been upcycling items for a few years now, combining rustic with minimalism, almost bare elements.
British designer Zoe Murphy promotes the idea of ‘Loving what belongs to you’ by printing onto recycled furniture and textiles using imagery inspired by her seaside hometown. She uses textiles to upcycle existing furniture.
Alexena Cayless makes contemporary furniture and giftware inspired by her love of traditional crafts and heritage. Her upcycled products include pieces of furniture decorated with a photography of the old piece as a reminder of its history.
Jay & Co is a social enterprise that works with the most disengaged & disadvantaged to fire them up and re-engage them back into society by teaching them how to paint furniture.
Thomas Wold is a skilled craftsman and the American grand master of upcycling.
I don’t have time, I have small children, I have a full-time job.
So do I. And guess what? I am writing this post at night. I didn’t have any childcare help today, so I went to pick up my kids from school after working in the club from 9.00 to 2.30 , played with them, did two loads of washing, made dinner, prepared their bath, read them 4 stories and put them to bed. I didn’t watch any TV, I didn’t check my Facebook or my email. I had my post content and my list of to-do’s already prepared. I only had to finish my dinner and start writing.
Wake up an hour earlier.
I am not saying that you have to work until 1.00 am every day, but you will never get anything done unless you make a plan!
Write down a clear vision of your goals, what you will need to do to achieve your goals, break them down into activities and daily tasks. Create your schedule and set aside as much as time as you can. Stick to it.
Read books. I read a lot, most of them about personal and business development. My top recommendation to learn how to plan your day and be productive is “Getting things done” by David Allen. A must read.
I am just not creative, I don’t have style, I don’t know what colours to choose ..
There is a very good statement in this post by Larry Kim: “Creativity is a skill to be learned, practiced, and developed, just like any other. Juggling takes practice, as does surfing, coding, and driving a car. Creativity is no different. The more you make creativity part of your daily life, the more it will grow.” So here you go. If you don’t start being creative, you are never going to be creative.
A quick reminder: Being creative is different to having talent.
Just look at the definition of the adjective Talented: gifted, able, expert, master, masterly, brilliant, ace (informal), artistic, consummate, first-rate, top-notch (informal) -> I quite like this one!
But none of these is a stopper because for now, you just have to be creative.
I also like these 10 tips to Boost your Creativity from Lifehack. Number 10: Practice Makes Perfect. Practicing your craft every day, even for a little while, keeps your mind creative. If you write, then write something every day. If you want to be a good designer, design something every day, even if it’s just something as easy as redesigning the logo for your favorite cereal.
In my Intro to Furniture painting class, I go through 4 styles: Modern, Distressed (i.e. Old), Vintage & Plain. These are my words to represent how I see these styles. You should define your own style too. Do some research, check your preferred designers and home magazines. Create a mood board with your favourite finds. Choose two colours & one style. Practice. Choose two other colours and another style and practice again.
Pick one and go with it!
There is lots of info out there, videos, tutorials, Pinterest. You Tube, with lots of techniques which make everything very confusing. This also takes you to procrastination. We spend our time “learning” so we don’t have to “create”.
Follow only two people/experts that match your style and you really like (just two!).
I don’t know what materials & tools I need ..
You are going to need a few tools to start with as well as some basic materials. You can start with very little investment, so here is a basic list:
For painting furniture:
– Sand paper in different grit sizes. The larger the grit size, the smoother the sandpaper.
– A set of screwdrivers and Allen keys to fix legs, drawers and tops.
– 3 Good quality paint brushes in different sizes.
– 2 not so good quality paint brushes (for priming).
– A round brush for the wax (although you can also use a cotton cloth).
– Paint for Furniture, you don’t need lots of colours – see my tips about your style.
– Primer, Sealer & Wax, a good quality brand preferably the same as the paint.
For reupholstery (modern techniques only):
– Foams (High-density foam & reconstituted foam)
– Cutting knife, contact glue, tape measure, scissors (good ones!)
– Calico (fire retardant) – please note that you will need to comply with fire regulations
– Cotton or polyester wadding
– Heavy duty upholstery staple gun, staples in different depths, wooden mallet, ripping chisel,
– Tack hammer & tack lifter, tacks (Improved & fine in different sizes)
– Upholstery nails & braids, Upholstery fabrics
Once you have mastered the first techniques, you can buy more tools and materials like a sanding machine .. but the ones above are enough to start with.
Rescue, Repair, Reuse and Rethink
For furniture paint, I recommend Autentico Vintage or Autentico Versante Superior Eggshell chalk paints. This is a great quality paint, water based with very low levels of VOC and free from harmful additives which can be used on children’s furniture. It is easy to apply and will stick to any surface with fantastic results, great to obtain a distressed finish. If you are in London, you can buy Autentico Paint from us. They also provide a primer, a sealer and a fabulous range of waxes as well as decorative mediums and finishes.
You can buy a good quality Upholstery kit online. Buy a tool box to keep everything organised.
I don’t have a workshop
This one is a bit more tricky to resolve without spending a few pennies. If your flat or house is super tiny or you share with other people you may actually have no space. Depending on what you are planning to upcycle you may need a workshop. But you still have a few options!
– Your neighbour’s garage
– Someone’s storage room
– Your loft or attic (if you are just starting you won’t need much there apart from keeping it clean, once you start making some money you can decide if you need to do some work to it for insulation)
– A shed, again you can consider if buying a shed is a good investment once you start making some money
– Share a workshop with someone
– Rent a small unit in a business centre or an industrial area (where I am based the smallest units go for £400 per month, but they are all taken!)
– If you are only working on commissions, you can do these at your client’s house. Take plastic covers so you don’t damage their floors, clean everything after you have finished. I have done a few like these and they work very well, also because the client doesn’t need to deliver anything to you.
Keep your working area clean & tidy at all times. Put things away when you finish but not too hidden away that it makes it a pain to start again. If you see a mess when you come back to your workspace and you have to spend an hour sorting things out you will never start again. Use plastic covers to avoid unwanted drops of paint or sand or staples.
Use labelled storage boxes so things are easy to find. Make a list of what you have so you always have enough stock of everything. If you are working at midnight you can’t run to the shop to buy more staples!
Where to buy the oldies …
We live in a country of car boot sales, market fairs, and charity shops. There are plenty of places. You just have to search and, quite likely, to drive outside London to find cheaper options. Ebay and Preloved are also good sources of vintage furniture. You can use Anyvan to get them deliver to you at a reasonable price.
Look around the corner in skips and bins. You will be surprised!
I will be writing a post about my favorite places .. hopefully soon!
I don’t have a website, I don’t have any clients, I don’t know how to sell
First of all, think about WHO your ideal client is. Write down everything that comes to mind: where they shop, how/where they live, what they wear, where they go out for lunch / dinner, how much disposable income they have, what they like.
Design a brand that identifies with your ideal client – this can be done with a combination of colours & fonts. You don’t need anything else for now. You can make your own logo with an application like Canva, or just to go Fiverr and get one done for eh .. a fiver? Once you start earning moneys you can hire a creative designer to make a fancy one for you.
If you don’t have a website, you can create one easily in a free platform. I find WordPress (.com) the easiest, but there are many other sites. You can use a blog style to post about your projects, how you work and your finished creations. Again, if your technical skills are not that good, you can get a WordPress blog done in Fiverr. Or ask a friend (don’t forget to give something back !).
You can also start selling on platforms like Bigcartel, Etsy or Ebay. I am not so keen on having only a Facebook page for two reasons: it is not under your control and you don’t have any way of keeping your clients or potential clients information, but it is a good way to invite all your friends & family to see your new & wonderful creations and getting a bit of feedback from them.
Make sure you have a system to collect your prospects and client’s email addresses (for example Mailchimp or ConvertKit) so you can send them newsletters and other useful information.
Get some business cards, including your new brand, logo and contact info. I would add any photos of your finished products just yet, as you may find your style changes in a few months ..
Contact some independent local businesses to see if they would like to display some of your products (cafes & bars, book shops). If you are painting furniture for children’s rooms go where the mums go. Attend a few market fairs, not my best hobby, but they could work too.
And just go for it.
There is obviously much more to it … but this is a good start to decide if you are ready to set up your own upcycling business.
I guess you have many questions … starting a new business is not an easy task. How quickly could you move forward if you had a simple, creative & easy to use plan to help you answer all these questions?
I am not too keen in writing a business plan for the sake of it, also a business plan doesn’t guarantee that your business is going to be successful, but whatever your views are about business plans you really need a PLAN if you want to create a successful business.
So here it is, my easy to use guide to help you plan your upcycling business.
THE CREATIVE PLAN FOR YOUR UPCYCLING BUSINESS
Enter your email to let me know where I should send you the guide