We moved into our 1930s semi detached house in mid-June this year, and we both could not be happier with it. Big bay windows, stained glass, coved ceilings, fireplaces, spindled banister, panelled hall – all the beautiful features you could think of. We went to the top of our budget because it’s in a really lovely area, which has meant we haven’t been able to change all that much since moving in. We have cleared all our debts and are determined to get back to the old-timey way of saving up for things – no more buy now, pay later!
The house itself doesn’t need anything doing to it; it’s more a question of taste and updating. I’m lucky that the previous owners valued the period features as much as I do, and there’s even some lovely duck egg blue Laura Ashley wallpaper up in the living room! There are, however, some dated things we need to remove such as artex all through the hall, stairs, landing and on the coved ceilings in every room (why was that stuff ever invented! The 80s have a lot to answer for) and most of the paintwork is tired or just not our style.
So, as a teacher with the luxury of a long summer holiday, I set about finding ways to put our stamp on the house without spending megabucks on decorating. I had always wanted to upcycle furniture, but procrastinated due to a mixture of thinking I wouldn’t be very good at it, and of not actually having enough space in our tiny previous house to put much furniture. I loved the idea of chalk paint as I’m a pretty impatient person when it comes to this stuff – I have zero tolerance for sanding and priming, and my failed ‘pastel garden chairs’ project is testament to how rubbish it looked when I just slapped the pink paint on over dark wooden chairs with no prep! Chalk paint = barely any prep = perfect paint for an excitable girl who can’t possibly wait to see the finished result.
The previous owners of our house very kindly left us a sideboard in the kitchen, which had been painted cream some time ago but was scuffed and in need of a bit of love. Again, due to impatience, I forgot to take a ‘before’ shot of this in situ… I think one of the themes of this post is that I need to learn a bit of patience! I was planning on just re-painting it ivory, but then I remembered that my lovely friend emigrated and left me an unopened tin of Annie Sloan’s ‘Provence’. I brought it with us when we moved, fully intending to use it on some kind of crafty project, but admittedly was a little bit timid about using such a bold colour. It’s a beautiful rich aqua blue, sitting brightly between duck egg and teal, and apparently inspired by the rustic blue shutters in the South of France. I’m no stranger to duck egg blue, but this seemed a little bright for me. There was something about that summer sun, this new house and Absolute Radio 60s blaring from my Roberts Radio that gave me a gust of confidence to just do it. After all, it’s only paint – I could always paint over it!
I made a pilgrimage to The Painted Chair, which is Liverpool’s only Annie Sloan stockist. Tucked into the cobbled courtyard of the Bluecoat Chambers, one of Liverpool’s most historic and beautiful buildings, this was a treat in itself. I spoke to the very knowledgable owner about techniques, wax, and brushes, and emerged feeling super excited!
I dragged it out into the garden and set to work. This was my kind of paint – it goes on thickly and you adopt a kind of ‘slap it on’ approach. I have always been frustrated with the fact I can’t get a smooth finish without brushstrokes when painting walls or doors, but with chalk paint and a rustic upcycling project it doesn’t matter; the slightly patchy finish and visible brush strokes are all part of it. One coat didn’t take me long at all… and in the summer sun, it was BRIGHT! I definitely did a little gulp at this point.
After the first coat (see failed ‘paint all the garden chairs pastel colours’ project behind!):
Two coats later plus some wax and it was done! The wall in our dining room is currently a deep plum, which I do plan on changing in the future but it’ll do for now; plus it’s a bit of a nod to the #styleitdark trend. I had a sneaking suspicion that the Provence would kind of complement it in an offbeat way, as the rest of the room is very much magnolia and beige. I loved the idea of these two deep, jewel toned pops of colour lifting the space. I envisaged it as a drinks cabinet, with a sort of mid-century Mad Men feel to it. Somewhere we could make Old Fashioned cocktails at Christmas. A place for all my gin and all the beautiful glassware we were given as wedding presents.
My husband wasn’t sure either, but once I’d popped the tiny crystal handles onto it and put it in situ… I think it works! He was pleasantly surprised too! It now houses not only beautiful glassware and gin, but also a beautiful painting my aunt did for us as a wedding gift, and it sits proudly beneath our John Lennon ‘Beautiful Boy’ print, which Michael’s parents bought for him as they used to sing that to him when he was a baby. I love how much of ‘us’ it holds now. Now I’m on the hunt for a mirrored tray and a crystal whiskey decanter, I need to get to some charity shops!
I was glad I did this, because it was a pretty good warm up for the upcycling project I was really excited about. My parents had a solid pine Welsh dresser in the kitchen of the house I grew up in, and even as a child I knew I wanted it in my house when I grew up. When my parents downsized a few years ago, they managed to save it for me. It sat gathering dust in their garage, patiently waiting for me to buy a house big enough to accommodate it.
So my lovely Mum came over for the day and we upcycled it together. I used Annie Sloan Old White this time, a soft white with an ivory tone to it. On reflection I do actually wish I’d primed the dresser as the yellow of the pine kept coming through the paint, but I don’t think it’s too noticeable. We painted everywhere except the top, which we sanded down to its original colour and protected with wax. I actually didn’t know until embarking on this project that pine isn’t orange to begin with, it’s a lovely ashy colour and turns orange with age!
I bought some beautiful enamel knobs from Knobbles and Bobbles (super quick postage too!) and was far too excited to accessorise the shelves. It now lives in our kitchen and I couldn’t be happier with it! The best part about it is the nostalgia. It smells a bit like church pews, and that musky smell coupled with the squeak of the cupboard opening and the tug of the slightly stiff drawers takes me straight back to childhood. It makes my heart happy every morning when I come down to make my morning cup of tea to see it and know that a part of my childhood that I loved so much gets to live here with a new lease of life!
If you’re thinking of trying upcyling, just do it! I don’t think I did the most perfect job, and the finish certainly isn’t professional… but I had SO much fun doing it and I am so proud. When I look at these pieces I know there isn’t another one like them anywhere in the world, and most of all – I did that!
Have you ever upcycled anything before? Would you do it again? Let me know in the comments!