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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Upcycled Décor, Old and Oh-So-Stylish

Old furniture used to go to college dorms and student apartments. At graduation, it was moved to the curb to be picked up by incoming students or the trash man. Now, with the influx of TV shows like Flea Market Flip and American Pickers, the DIY Network, HGTV and complementary books and magazines, vintage and mid-century recyclables barely touch the curb before being reinvented. Lighting, storage and seating provide ample opportunities for one-of-a-kind creations of imagination, vision and innovation.


Search the words recycled, repurposed and upcycled on Pinterest, Etsy or any search engine to picture results ranked from simple-to-do to how-in-the-world astonishment. Light fixtures can be made from almost anything. Cookie jars and books turn into lamps, wine bottles become a chandelier—go homespun or industrial, follow a theme or incorporate a hobby. Freshen lamp shades using old sewing patterns, vintage fabrics or ribbon applied as découpage. A coat of paint transforms tacky, tarnished brass chandeliers into elegant décor.

At a flea market, look for boxes of stainless forks, knives and spoons—avoid costly sterling silver that can tarnish. A drill, frame, wiring and bulb later, we can have an intriguing hanging light or lamp. Combining a chafing dish, silverware and assorted tea cups in a chandelier creates artful lighting.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChairs are plentiful in garage and whole-house sales, flea markets and on Craigslist. Sometimes all that’s needed is a coat of paint and fun fabric. New cushions, bought or made, are easy upgrades. Recovering a padded seat only requires the right amount of fabric and a sturdy staple gun. Mismatched chairs, painted a neutral color and redone with the same fabric, turn a mishmash of styles into a coordinated set. Chevron (zig zag) or checkerboard patterns in black and white are popular—understated, yet posh. Bright colors in a pop art style or 70s florals brighten any room and give the owner style points.

Benches created from a bookcase, shortened dresser or car parts can be padded or plain and incorporate storage capacity. A child’s bench may have been a skateboard in its former life.

When buying reclaimed wood, ask about its origin; factory pieces might still retain unhealthy contaminants.


WEB-GL_0515_SheetMusicDeskOld dressers and desks are frequent throwaway finds. Often big and bulky, scratched and ugly, it’s easier to set them out for pickup than list them for sale. Paint can transform a desk that shows its age into a welcome addition to a home office. For added interest or to hide imperfections, découpage with maps, postcards, kid’s artwork, pages from beyond-repair cookbooks or old sheet music. Need a shelf above the desk? A pair of old shutters works well; cast iron brackets add flair. Matching or complementary paint colors will make the pieces look like they belong together.

Broken pieces of furniture can live on if cobbled together. A coffee table’s sturdy legs and frame, an old window and a little paint combine to furnish a unique table with built-in storage. To protect fragile glass and create an even surface, top with a sheet of Plexiglass or sturdy beveled-edge glass.

Look beyond what is there and imagine what it could be. Ideas are everywhere, especially with spring cleanouts, garage sales and flea markets. Expect upcycling to become an obsession, because everything will become a possibility.


Finders Keepers

  • Take cash to garage sales. Flea markets are more apt to take credit cards. Discounts may by possible with cash, which saves the seller the transaction fee.
  • Negotiate. It’s expected and half the fun. But don’t offer an offensively low price. Ask, “What is the best you can do on this?” Then, making a slightly lower counteroffer is often acceptable.
  • Although the general theory of, “Buy it when you see it,” is sound advice, be prepared to walk away.
  • Set a budget and stick to it, especially at an auction. Smartphones can help research what price to offer.
  • Watch for posted signs around town; search “garage sale finder” or “flea market finder” (there’s an iTunes app for that). Locate auction and estate sales the same way, as well as in a local newspaper. Churches and organizations like the Veterans Administration, Elks Lodge, Lions Club and Scouts often organize sales as fundraisers.
  • Shop early for the best selection. Shop late for the lowest prices.
Connect with freelance writer Avery Mack at [email protected]
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