Our homes are full to the brim with junk, but we’re often so busy de-cluttering that there’s a danger something special will get binned.
Master re-invention: Make use of discarded homewares and turn them into something new
So, pause before you take it all to the tip because there’s nothing to stop you restoring or upcycling a piece and turning it into a treasure.
Attics, basements, garden sheds and garages across the country are groaning with potential — from discarded Bakelite phones and Fifties kitchen units to old parquet flooring, metal cabinets and even out-of-action engine parts.
The added attraction of a ‘re-found’ piece is its one-off status. And there’s an emerging enthusiasm for reusing well-made pieces, especially those with some family history. But before you start raiding your loft, it pays to know what you are looking for and don’t rule out anything. Brass and copper artefacts, from old Victorian pumps to metal piping, can be reworked into on-trend industrial pieces.
Meanwhile, Fifties and Sixties retro-style items, including kitchen cabinets and dining tables, are back in fashion.
Unearthing artefacts: Henry Cole and Simon O’Brien, presenters of Find It, Fix It, Flog it
‘Look for anything that has a strong design element to it,’ advises Simon O’Brien, co-presenter of Channel 4’s Find It, Fix It, Flog It, dedicated to repurposing household items for profit. ‘Recently, we turned a Victorian pesticide sprayer into a cool standard lamp by wiring it and adding a squirrel cage lampshade, surrounding an exposed filament bulb.’
The key is to restore items that remain sturdy, despite their age. Shake wooden pieces to check that they’re still intact, and look over metal items to ensure all elements are present and there are no rogue holes.
‘Deciding which pieces to repurpose is a bit like choosing art,’ says Simon. ‘Don’t opt for what you think will be valuable when reworked — instead plump for what really speaks to you.’
Repurposing found pieces can be daunting, so start with something simple such as a wooden shelving unit or chest of drawers, treating the piece for woodworm before bringing it into the house.
If it is varnished or already painted, you’ll need to get it stripped with caustic soda by a specialist before setting to work.
‘Then, get sanding using rough, medium and smooth papers in sequence,’ says Simon. ‘The results can be very satisfying and then you will be able to move on to larger projects.’
Bright idea: This old car headlight is turned into an industrial style tripod table lamp
No discarded piece is out of bounds: old roof trusses can be turned into striking outdoor benches; Forties banana crates can be washed and waxed and transformed into eye-catching vessels, vintage milk churns can be sprayed in vibrant colours to make stools and old galvanised steel water tanks can be upended and turned into tables.
Do plenty of research to hone your skills. YouTube tutorials are invaluable, while inspiration can be gleaned from image-sharing websites such as Pinterest.
Simon’s co-presenter and expert restorer Henry Cole advises setting yourself up with a small arsenal of well-made tools.
‘I use Sealey tools because they are affordable, but good quality,’ he says. ‘Start with a great screwdriver, a hammer and a pair of pliers. Supplement them with a generous selection of polishing rags, waxes and brake cleaner to remove oil and stains from metal.
In the frame: Ecclesiastical style window frames make striking mirrors
‘WD-40 Penetrating Oil is great for loosening stubborn bolts. Apply it and leave it for 24 hours and they should come out easily.’
Other tips when it comes to restoring pieces is to use tin foil dipped in water to remove rust on chrome, while sandblasting can lift years of accumulated dirt and debris from vintage metal or wooden pieces.
Finding the right expert when you need one can be a case of trial and error, but start by asking friends for recommendations. Seeking out your local blacksmith, electrician, sandblasting and dipping specialists will pay dividends as you become more confident unearthing interesting finds, whether at home or at car boot sales and bric-a-brac stores.
Above all, the key is to trust your instinct and imagination.
Add brass hooks to a shelf to make a handy coat stand and storage receptacle, revolutionise some Windsor chairs by having their legs partially dipped in a neon colour or transform old theatre lights into striking tripod table lamps.
‘There is a groundswell of cherishing what we have rather than discarding used items,’ says Cole. It seems that reconnecting with the process of making might just be as good for the soul as it is for the home.’
Find It, Fix It, Flog It is on Channel 4 every weekday at 3pm.