After many hours of elbow grease, painting, and waxing, I was delighted to finish revamping the interiors of two flats for a private landlord. It was a first for us both. As a rental flat, there were budget tight constraints for me, and for the landlord it was an experiment to furnish the flats with a lower impact, at a similar cost to the conventional alternative.
The landlord had some chairs from former tenants, an Italian restaurant that had closed, and another who was downsizing. The chairs are in perfectly good condition, just a bit too country house kitchen for a city flat pitched at young professionals or couples. You can find similar at secondhand furnitures shops, or at your local furniture reuse and recycling centre. The Furniture Re-use Network is a national body supporting charitable re-use organisations across the UK. Re-use enterprises combine social and environmental aims. Typically, they collect unwanted furniture or domestic appliances that are then refurbished providing work opportunities and training for the socially excluded, and helping people in need turn a house into a home by providing affordable furnishings. Every year the sector re-uses 2.6 million items of furniture and electrical equipment and diverts 90,000 tonnes of waste from landfill. Anyone can donate or find furniture via the network.
Look for pieces that are solid, in good working order, and whose basic shape you like, then you make it your own. I selected a set of chairs for each flat and set to work sanding where necessary, painting and waxing. The chalk paint from Annie Sloan has a smooth, matt finish and can be used on almost any surface from wood to plastic, inside and outside without much preparation. It is low odour and low VOC (volatile organic compound). It dries fairly fast, so you can apply a second or third coat without too much delay, before sealing the paint with soft wax. The Annie Sloan website has a series of short video tutorials, or you can contact your local stockist to ask about workshops. We sourced a drop-leaf table and some bedside tables from Sunbury Antiques market.
The bedside tables were treated to a livery of Annie Sloan paint on the sides, sanding and clear Auro matt varnish on the front to accentuate the grain of the veneer, and decoupage. The Auro varnish is environmentally-friendly and free of solvents. It has a milky colour when you apply it, but dries clear. I used an off cut of a favourite fabric to cover the top of the bedside table, using Auro universal adhesive, a natural latex milk adhesive, and then a few coats of the matt varnish to seal the fabric. I used the same fabric, Carnival, from Christopher Farr, to soften the black faux-leather headboard. The fresh, exuberant print of pomegranates in blue and green on the fabric gave the room a focal point making economical use of an off cut and staple gun.
Another trick to quick refresh a cupboard or set of drawers is to change the handles. These leather handles (pictured left) from Nu Interiuer Ontwerp were featured in the March issue of Elle Decoration. Simple, elegant and available in four colours. Chloe Alberry, on Portobello Road and online, has an encyclopaedic range of handles in glass, wood, ceramic and other materials.
If you are daunted by the thought of DIY then look for a course in furniture painting or restoration at your local adult education college. In London, the Goodlife Centre runs a range of courses in upholstery, furniture restoration and painting that are said to be “Suitable for absolute beginners. Enjoyable for everyone.” Maybe a Mother’s Day treat for someone?
Or if you like the look, but not the effort, then three of my favourite up-cycling ventures in the south of England are Out of the Dark, Xylo Furniture and the Restoration Station. The sleek monochrome matt finish of this drop-leaf table from Xylo Furniture (right, £280) highlights the craftsmanship of the beautifully shaped legs, but brings it bang up to date. As well as working on their own stock, Out of the Dark can also work on yours. The OOTD team can refresh an heirloom so it sits more comfortably in a contemporary home, or repair wooden and upholstered furniture. Restoration Station also take commissions. So bring a little spring zing into your home.
Photo credits: Nu Interiuer, Xylo Furniture