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Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle

Explore DIY projects, workshops and ready-made objects by local designers

by Christina Symons | BCAA Magazine, Spring 2017

Upcycling is a kind of reinvention: taking an item and making it into something more exciting, useful and beautiful. It’s also a great way to add style to your living space. But it’s more than a pretty design trend – it’s sustainable and economical. Plus, anyone can upcycle, and there are bountiful sources for DIY projects, workshops and ready-made objects by local designers. So: let’s get upcycling!

Trendy and thrifty

Design blogger Judy Rom, co-founder of Upcycle That (, inspires her readers to reuse items in creative new ways by offering upcycling ideas, examples and tutorials from around the world.

“It’s cool to repurpose,” says Rom. “People like it because it’s green, trendy, design-focused and thrifty.” Reimagining waste, old furniture, jewellery, art and decor also gives each item an interesting story, says Rom. Upcycled items are often reused cleverly, offering a second life and function. One example is discarded wooden pallets, now popular for reconstructing into furnishings and accents. If wholesale repurposing sounds too ambitious, there is also “upstyling” – or refinishing an item to make it more attractive, but still using it for its original purpose (think repainting a battered buffet into a glossy masterpiece and adding crystal hardware).

Style mixing for the win

Kari Frazer, owner of ReLoving Furniture* in Victoria, specializes in finding and creating customized restyled items, and offers classes for customers who want to learn how to do it themselves. Repurposed items go hand-in-hand with hip design schemes, she says.

“Combine upstyled furniture with some cleverly repurposed vintage items, like mason jars or crates, and you have a space with interest and depth – like a series of stories in the room,” says Frazer.

Upcycled decor can be used to set the tone for an entire room or living space (as in industrial chic and farmhouse styles, which are so popular right now). Or, pieces may simply be introduced to punch up an existing, more neutral, style.

“A shabby chic painted piece can add artistry and glamour or, depending on the piece, a feeling of casualness and comfort,” says Frazer. “Pieces can also be painted with a sleek, modern finish, lending a contemporary, urban feeling to the space.”

Chalk it up with chalk paint

flower vase

Chalk paint, an acrylic matte finish, is easy to apply and gives furnishings and other items a shabby chic, vintage look that’s hot on the home front these days. Glass jars can be painted with undiluted chalk paint to upcycle them into vases or votive candle holders. Dark coloured chalk paint can transform a discarded board or other wooden surface into a chalkboard surface for scribbling notes or doodling.

You can buy chalk paint ready-made at home decor and paint shops (BCAA Members save up to 30% at Cloverdale Paint). Alternatively, make your own using just three ingredients: water, plaster of Paris and latex paint. First, mix half a cup (125 mL) of plaster of Paris powder with half a cup (125 mL) of water, stirring until smooth. Then add one-and-a-half cups (375 mL) of latex paint in a colour of your choosing. Mix well.

Apply your chalk paint to a clean, sanded surface, as you would regular latex paint. Once you’ve finished, add a clear coat or wax to help protect the matte finish.

flower vases on window sill


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Ask your home insurer if certain DIY activities are restricted. Some policies may exclude coverage if the application of heat leads to a fire claim.


Upcycled gems:

> Vintage iron shelving and books play off modern cushions, adding interest to an otherwise spartan decor

> Salvaged shelving holds mason jars turned into organizers and candle holders

> Old pipes lend industrial chic as kitchen shelf brackets

> Retro filing cabinets make stylish storage

Try this upcycle!

candles on books

Teacup candles: melt soy candle wax in a double boiler and pour into vintage or thrifted teacups. Put a wax-coated candle wick in the center and prop on either side with wick supports (pencils or chopsticks work well). Allow to cool for several hours and then trim the wick.

Thanks to: Upcycle That

Rediscovered treasures

Carrie Thachuk, owner of The Passionate Home shop in Langley, offers reclaimed vintage, repurposed and chic one-of-a-kind pieces for the home, as well as workshops on simple topics, such as chalk-style refinishing.

“Painting Grandma’s dresser for use in, say, a child’s room is as easy as choosing a colour and picking up a paintbrush,” says Thachuk. “Upcycling offers those wanting to keep up to date with current style trends an affordable way to accomplish their desired look.”

Again, success is in the mix. Combining upcycled or restyled items with what you’ve already collected creates an environment loaded with character. “The [appeal of the] trend lies not only in restyling items, but in using found objects and furniture in their original condition,” says Thachuk. “Mixing those items with current decor creates personalized spaces.”


Ideas for repurposing and restyling furniture and home decor accents abound on Pinterest and Etsy. But BC has a wellspring of local upcycling resources, too: design blogs such as Upcycle That (, along with green-minded organizations such as Urban Repurpose ( and The Okanagan Upcycle Resource Society ( Habitat for Humanity ReStores across the province are a great source for materials and inspiration, too, offering vintage furniture and new and used building supplies ( But you can find items to upcycle almost anywhere: thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales. And, of course, your own basement.

Try this upcycle!


Cork planters: carve out shallow holes in several corks, pack them with soil and succulent clippings and glue on magnets. Voila! Adorable fridge garden wall.

Thanks to: Upcycle That

*This story was originally published in May 2019 and since that time, ReLoving Furniture is no longer in operation.
Photo credits: Rachel Pereira, Tracey Ayton Photography, iStock, Upcycle That, Upcycle Vancouver