Wednesday 21 August 2019

The joy of upcycling: Good for the environment, a boost for your mood and on-trend

Good for the environment, a boost for your mood and On-trend in your home - Nathalie Marquez Courtney finds the crafty art of upcycling is ticking all the boxes

The heat is on: Darran Heaney (seated) and Eoin O'Callaghan in front of the fireplace they restored to its former glory
The heat is on: Darran Heaney (seated) and Eoin O'Callaghan in front of the fireplace they restored to its former glory
Insta Hit: Joanne Mooney shares her quirky, colourful home, with over 24,000 followers through her Instagram account @aproudhome
Reclaimed wood Marko chair, €120;

When the top home trends for 2019 rolled in this year, there was one slightly surprising addition: sustainability. "Design is rarely conceived in a vacuum, and statements of style are always a response to what's happening in the world at large," wrote former Elle Decoration UK editor and interiors expert Michelle Ogundehin.

She predicted that this year's biggest interiors trends would centre around wellbeing and comfort, that we would seek to make our homes even more of a reflection of our values, and begin asking: "What change can I make as an individual that will have a positive effect on my life, family and work? And, by extension, society as a whole?"

So it should come as no surprise that the humble art of upcycling has boomeranged and is having a serious moment. Its focus on re-using materials supports the circular economy, making the most of what you have and minimising waste.

By its very nature, it produces pieces that are unique to you and your space. And, as any crafter will tell you, getting lost for hours in a DIY project is great for your mind and your mood.

This time around though, the upcycled look is sleeker and cooler than before. Gone is the shabby and not-so-chic distressed style, where rickety pieces are coated in cloyingly sweet pastel shades of chalk paint.

In, are clean finishes, on-trend hues and techniques that showcase the original materials. "One of the biggest trends for this year is to only part-paint a piece and stain other parts of the wood, to enhance the wood grain," says Aileen Hogan, founder of, where you can find upcycling supplies, video tutorials and online courses. "This is a very timeless look, one which I'm delighted to see."

Reduce, reuse

At the heart of the trend is the ability to spot a bargain, see the potential in things and make the most of what you have. "People are looking at items they would never have considered before," says Aileen. "For example, we tend to have a lot of pine furniture in our homes, and over time it can look quite orange and dated - but these pieces are good quality and extremely useful so can be a great starting point to practice your upcycling on."

"I always say shop in your own home rather than going out and buying something new," adds Joanne Mooney, who shares her fun DIY projects and quirky, colourful home with over 24,000 followers through her Instagram account @aproudhome.

Small tweaks can also make a difference, elevating simple high street finds to something that looks much more bespoke. "Even if you do buy something in a shop, try to find a way to jazz it up so it really works with your space," says Joanne.

Insta appeal

Another hugely popular upcycler on the Irish Instagram scene is Darran Heaney, an award-winning interiors blogger who has been sharing tales of renovating his redbrick terraced Victorian house in South Dublin on Instagram (@oldvictoriannew). "The house was in bits when we bought it," he laughs. "It had been rented for 30 years and there were no original features left, it had been stripped of every bit of soul. I felt sorry for it."

Like many upcyclers, Darren found Instagram an invaluable source of support and inspiration. "I was able to connect to people who were at different stages of their own projects, and find a community to share knowledge and ideas with," he recalls. "It was great to get inspiration and see what other people had done."

Over the past couple of years, Darren has documented his progress, covering everything from replacing coving to upcycling bargain furniture finds and restoring and installing original fireplaces.

"There must've been about 30 layers of paint in that fireplace, it definitely wasn't my favourite project at the time," he recalls. "But the sense of satisfaction in bringing it back to its original cast iron, and seeing all that detail, was amazing. It had come out of an old house and was destined for the skip and now I walk into the sitting room every day and just love looking at it."

Sparking joy

Darran has hit upon one of the hidden benefits: pieces you have poured time and love into (and potentially blood, sweat and tears, too) leave you with an incredible sense of satisfaction.

Aileen is keen to add that it's about more than just saving money and furniture. "I love showing people how therapeutic this craft is and how incredibly satisfying it is to accomplish something yourself." she says.

This is definitely true for Joanne too. "The whole world could be collapsing around me and I wouldn't notice," she laughs. "I'm happiest when I'm working on a project; there's nothing like the feeling of doing something yourself. I feel so proud every time I walk into a room and see something I've worked on. It's such a rush."

Darran agrees. "It's almost like a form of mindfulness for me," he says. "Immersing yourself in the project, the fun of thinking about what paints and fabrics you'll use - I just love the whole process."

Darran and Joanne will be on the Upcycling Stage on 25 May, from 1.30-2.30pm, at house 2019, May 24-26; tickets at


Upcycling 101

Start with simple supplies

"I encourage people to have their own upcycling box," says Aileen. Things like mixed grade sandpaper, methylated spirits for cleaning, a mini foam roller kit, water-based primer and an oil or shellac-based primer (for sealing) will work across a wide variety of projects. "As you try new techniques you can then gather things like stencils, brushes, mouldings and stains."

Be search savvy

Darran loves hunting out bargains, but as upcycling has risen in popularity, he's noticed prices creeping up in salvage yards. "A lot of the time, the work has already been done as well," he says. Instead, he likes to keep an eye on sites like and for diamonds in the rough. "People often put stuff up to clear it out quickly, so you can find some great bargains there."

Throw caution to the wind

"It's natural to be afraid of messing up," says Joanne. "But you can always paint over something or fix it - throw yourself in with something small, like painting a stool. You'll build up your confidence over time."

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