Upcycling: In with the old, out with the new

  • The £500 home makeover
  • How to repurpose Ikea cast-offs

Anna Jacobs

We talked to interior designer and upcycling guru Anna Jacobs on how to turn unloved homeware into objects of desire. Here’s her take on how to get started.



What’s the easiest thing a person can upcycle in their home? 

Probably a table – there’s no upholstery. It’s a nice flat surface to paint and you can start to experiment with proportion and structure through paint.

Kitchen before and after

Why do you think people should upcycle?

Our small and beautiful planet has limited resources that are diminishing fast. We need to preserve raw materials and reuse as much as possible. The other reason for upcycling is that you can create truly unique pieces for your home that have a story and a history to them.


What's the cheapest thing you have ever upcycled?

A small old Ikea side table – it was exactly the right size for its purpose and still functioned perfectly, so it was better than chucking it out. It was a plain white MDF cabinet with a drawer. I repainted the drawer, added a decorative handle, sewed a square of vintage fabric for the top and covered it with a square of glass. It was transformed.


How would you spruce up an entire home on a budget of less than £500?

I would pick out one or two things in the home that I absolutely love and create a colour palette around them. Then I would rearrange all the furniture and artwork, editing as I go, before spending a penny. Then, get out the paint. Using the colour palette around my favourite pieces, I’d repaint the walls and ceilings, thinking about how I might change the feel or proportions of each room through colour and perhaps reupholster some of my furniture.

Chair before and after

Do you have any tips on adding colour to your home?

The first thing you should do is think about how you want to feel when you open your front door and walk into your home. Do you want to feel relief? Do you want to feel creatively stimulated? Then, think about your lighting. Look at the natural light and work out where you want to enhance that with artificial light. Make sure the lighting is installed before any other decoration is started. Once you’re clear about the light, create a tight colour palette of no more than six colours. You can then use colour to alter proportion and shape, to increase or decrease light or to warm up or cool down rooms. Ultimately, you want to be strict with your colour palette.


What has inspired you in your upcycling quest?

The two books that have really inspired me the most in relation to upcycling are Cradle to Cradle: Re-making the Way We Make Things and The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability - Designing for Abundance, both by Michael Braungart and William McDonough. They blew my socks off.

If you’re looking for a stylish way to update your home or garden then the House event at London’s Olympia (17-20 June, 2015) is the place to be. Anna will be offering inspirational talks and ideas at the show, why not check it out?



Around the web

Anna Jacobs gives more upcycling info

22 upcycling ideas that will blow your mind

Upcycle ideas and inspiration

A quick guide to renovating your junk furniture

Related Articles

We use cookies to provide a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or click here to manage cookies.