What is Upcycling?

Client:  ‘So these are the pieces of furniture that will definitely be staying and these are the things that are no longer useful.  In this corner are the things I’m not sure about.  You’ll see one or two are damaged but the sofas are still really comfortable, if a bit worn. What do you think?’

Me: ‘Well, the sofas can definitely be reupholstered and will come back looking like new. Some of other furniture I think we could upcycle.’

Client: ‘What’s upcycling?’

Me:  ‘When you give a piece of furniture a new lease of life by repairing and upgrading it so that it looks and works better than it did originally. It will save you money and you’ll feel better for not having simply thrown it away.’ 

Upcycling is about creative reuse. It’s about taking a piece of existing furniture and giving it a makeover to create something more beautiful.

Upcycling is also about product designers working with existing materials to create useful new products, diverting materials from landfill, such as these clever outdoor seats made from old sail fabric by Dvelas, which you can read about here.


I recently worked with this client on a whole house refurbishment in Bath.  As part of the initial design brief, we talked through the furniture that was to remain and that which was to be rehomed. Many family homes have furniture bought on a whim, things that fulfil a specific short-term need or items that are passed on by friends and family.  And this often results in an eclectic mix of things that cease to meet a homeowner’s requirements.  But that’s not to say that these pieces of furniture have reached the end of their useful life.

Reuse, Repair & Upcycle

So, being conscious of the huge amounts of furniture that get dumped in landfill each year, I prefer to encourage clients to reuse, repair and upcycle furniture to create beautiful and sustainable homes that still meet their new design aesthetic.

beautiful white interior
via pinterest

Every year a staggering 22 million small pieces of furniture are thrown away, many of which end up in non-recyclable general waste.  Recent research by the North London Waste Authority showed that less than 1 in 10 people attempted to repair or upcycle damaged and worn furniture, citing it was ‘the easiest thing to do’ and ‘it was cheaper to replace than repair’.

Donate furniture to Charity

However, with my client, much of the superfluous furniture was donated to charity and sold on in support of local good causes.  Other pieces still had a lot of life left in them, so I arranged to have them both reupholstered and upcycled.


Upcycling helps Indoor Air Quality

Reusing old furniture, whether it be your own or something you have picked up from a vintage market or second hand store, also has the added benefit that it will no longer be off-gassing, meaning better indoor air quality. Off-gassing is the release of airborne chemicals (volatile organic compounds) that often comes with new furniture, mainly from paint finishes and stains. Incorporating vintage furniture into a design scheme will help reduce the amount of VOCs in your home.

Between 2012 and 2016, the RSA worked with Innovate UK to run The Great Recovery research project.  It looked at the challenges of waste and the opportunities of a circular economy through the lens of design.  You can read more about the study here and find out more about keeping your sofa out of landfill.

Have a go at Upcycling

So, if you want to have a go at upcycling yourself, take inspiration from our pinterest board. You might like to consider reupholstering a beloved piece of furniture yourself.  There are several local upholstery schools offering courses close to Bath, which might prove a good starting point. 


The Traditional Upholstery School, Wiltshire

South West Upholstery School, Somerset

The Maker Shed, Bristol

Avoiding Landfill

Finally, if you do have a large piece of furniture that you would like to dispose of, please consider one of the following local authority collection services that will redirect your item appropriately:

Somerset South


Bath & North East Somerset

And these two Bath based charities offer free removal of large furniture items that can be redistributed or sold to help their respective causes:

The Genesis Trust Furniture Project offers FREE collections of your unwanted furniture and household items, for redistribution at a low cost to people on a limited income

Dorothy House sells good quality unwanted furniture and household items in its stores across Somerset and Wiltshire, with profits going to Dorothy House Hospice which gives end of life care to patients and support to their families.