How did you get into upcycling?
I’ve made things all my life. Grew up during the '70s and we had to make-do with what we had, so I learned how to think outside the box and made things from a young age. One of the first memories of that was when my mum recovered our dining chairs with our curtains for the Queen's Jubilee street party because our neighbours would see them! That really stuck with me.
When I was 12 or 13 years old, I was given a Singer sewing machine which was the best thing for me as a teenager because it got me into sewing at a young age.Then Prima Magazine came out and that changed my life because that magazine taught me how to make my own clothes.
At age 19, I travelled around America for a while and then came back home and pursued a foundation course in art. After finishing my course and having my first child, I applied for a Princes’ Trust Grant to start a small business in my hometown making children’s clothes and accessories, which was successful. I also started experimenting with paper mache and began making furniture including - chairs, bookshelves, etc. I didn’t sell any of that furniture but all those things I made were wonderful experiments and taught me a lot.
Several years later after my son was born, I decided to leave my 9-5 job and wanted to take part in what was then this new industry called upcycling. I went to my local job centre and signed on to a new scheme for small businesses. For 26 weeks I was given a small stipend and started sourcing things to upcycle and it snowballed from there. I got a van and literally started my business for about £1000. I originally sold at local markets and worked from home as I didn’t have a workshop.
I then noticed an advertisement for a new Market for makers/ artists and I applied straight away, which allowed me to have a space to work and sell my creations. I was meant to be there for 6 months but I ended up being there 8 years - it closed down last year. The market was full of other creatives and I miss having it and going down there.
About 4 years into being at the Market, I entered a competition with Reclaim Magazine about the best vintage find which I won. After that, I was asked by Loma Ann Marks, the Editor of Reclaim, to be a regular columnist. I didn’t even know how to send files - I had no clue and had to learn the lingo like ‘copy’....and I just started writing in my own voice, which I have been doing for about 6 years now
Explain a typical day in your studio.
There is a kind of structure - The mornings are generally for admin work mostly. Spending time on social media content and sourcing new items and furniture on Ebay, Gumtree, or Facebook marketplace…those places are like my Bible!
Every month, I need to create something for Reclaim so in the afternoon, I usually do prepping and creating content. However, some days I need to just get up and create and make things I want to make and create. I work on all types of projects and pieces, not just furniture, and that process always leads to other ideas and creations, which is so important for me.
Even though there is sort of a structure, everyday is different and I love the freedom in that. I try to create space within the structure and go with the flow and welcome things that push me out of my comfort zone. That is one reason why the Reclaim column has been so good for me.
What do you find is your biggest challenge running your own upcycling business? Or what have you been most surprised to learn through running your business?
The hardest thing about running your own business is funding it - especially if it is a creative business. There is a lot of energy in wanting to constantly create things but having to balance that with the administration side.
However, sometimes I enjoy my business the most when my back is against the wall - that gets my adrenaline pumping and my creativity flowing. And sometimes I feel like I’m not always growing bigger or expanding my business, I’m always searching for something new to make and I feel I’m constantly evolving and that brings amazing opportunities. Obviously the very best thing about owning your own business is the people you meet; that is wonderful. Some of the people I've met are my best friends now.
Can you tell us more about this piece being featured?
I had been looking for dressers, freestanding units online and I don't really know what I was looking for but I was looking for something extraordinary but something local too. I eventually found this piece on Facebook Marketplace and I just knew it would suit my kitchen, and it was free!
It needed a lot of work and I had to take off all the rails around the shelving…they were completely covered in grime. I also didn’t want it to be too decorative and it immediately toned the piece down but still kept the character overall, plus it made it easier to slide things on and off the shelves.
I also wanted something that was old fashion but utilitarian but that could become more contemporary and still decorative. I knew the mirror would be a huge waste of space but it would reflect the light back in and reflect what I had done at the kitchen window. Plus, it was a great place for the record player - it fit my LP’s perfectly
Tell us a bit about the colour(s) you’ve chosen here and why?
I wanted a clear and bright colour to balance the paper and the Pale Roundel Blue worked perfectly. In the last year, I’ve been really attracted to a lot of blue. Usually, I go towards more teal or green-blues but after seeing the Pale Blue I knew that was the colour and I couldn’t be moved off of it. On the shelves, I mixed a tiny bit of plum into the blue which made it a subtly bit darker in those areas and drew out the plum in the House of Hackney Artemis paper.
I also painted over the big mirrors but not the small ones. And then cut out some of the flowers from the paper and applied it to the front…which now ties all the four walls of the kitchen together.
Why do you like working with Guild Lane products?
I love the colours - the palette was the first thing that struck me and I love the ideas and the history behind the palette. I find them such striking colours and they are very smooth to go on and dry very fast and evenly.
The coverage is amazing - I did that whole dresser with one small 500ml tin! I did use a primer - because it was a dark wood and I sanded it back and it only took one coat. The paint goes on like a dream. Plus, I usually use rollers but I can get away with the Guild Lane mottler brushes as they don’t leave brush marks.
Why should people invest in upcycled and repurposed goods? What are the benefits?
The obvious benefit is getting something individual and to your speck. Having something that is bespoke to you, that no one else will have is really special. The feeling that you get from seeing something you’ve designed is better than buying a new piece of furniture. And, it isn’t always about budget either; if you have a part in the making of it - whether you do it yourself or have it commissioned - that is such an amazing feeling to have that piece.
Plus, you’re saving something from landfill. Many of the pieces I work on are on their way to a landfill. Like the kitchen dresser - if they had not found someone to take it would have been thrown away. The beauty of this movement is that these pieces are still around in the future and can be restored back to their former glory or made into completely new pieces.
Where can people find your creations? Do you just work on commission or sell online, or in shops, etc?
I generally sold my creations at the BristolVintage Market and on my Instagram for years. I also have a website but only got seriously into my website about four years ago, but social media has always been great for me for selling my work. I see my Instagram like a diary and I try not to worry about the likes on social media. You just have to show up, create and know that will pay off one day. Plus, you have to remember that you're always looking for new people, but making things for the people that are following already.
Do you have any tips for budding upcyclers/makers?
Get a decent sander…it will help you fly through the projects. Even though you might not want to sand all your furniture back, it is still a good investment. Also, invest in a good clean stage for your furniture - so you don’t need to rearrange your house each time. Or download an app that takes your background out. Initially though you can often borrow tools - don't be embarrassed about asking to borrow tools or getting help staging your furniture if you're wanting to sell it when you are first starting out. Also, I only look locally for items; it is part of the industry ethos to look locally. And one of the best things I did was to find a van. Either you get one yourself or hire a local van because the bargains you can get are unreal. There are so many pieces that can end up being free in your local area because so many people don’t have a way to transport things.
Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
I’ve got a few exciting opportunities coming up including applying for a TV show, but one thing that has been on my mind is I want to do something with the shared space in my mum’s retirement building. It needs a makeover, and if I could get some funds from the landlord, and some from a small ‘go-fund me’ campaign, I would love to create a nicer space for them all to hang out there.I have already redecorated my mum's flat and I didn’t realise until then how much your environment really does affect you. After I finished her place, it was so bright with the pink Artemis House of Hackney paper with mint trim - which she loves. People from the street could see it and told her how much they love her kitchen. Interestingly, everything I chose for her I would not have chosen for myself, but after doing her flat I thought it was beautiful. It really opened my mind and told me that I could do this for other people.