Renovation & Design

Throwaway furniture lives again

'Upcycling' transforms yard-sale pieces into showpieces for your home

Yard-sale season has arrived and with it a treasure trove of potential.

Buying used furniture is a great way to add character to your home, but searching through stained coffee tables and outdated dressers can have you rushing to the nearest big-box store.

For Katrina Barclay, owner of Malenka Originals ( in Ottawa, those water-damaged tables are diamonds in the rough that have the potential to become your home's signature piece and the envy of friends and family.

Barclay developed an appreciation of furniture upcycling while living in The Netherlands, where painting and recycling old furniture is common practice.

"When we came back to Canada, I wanted quality furniture for our house and I couldn't find anything in our price range," she says. She scoured neighbourhood yard sales, looking for good wood pieces.

Follow these tips and transform your own yard-sale finds into works of art.

-- Shop for quality. Barclay looks for furniture that is well-built and made with solid wood. A telltale sign something is well-made are the drawers.

"I check to see if they slide well and if they have tongue-in-groove and dovetail joints," she says. Up until the 1970s, fine-furniture companies used dovetail joints, but mass production eliminated this detail.

Barclay also looks for a stamp in the drawers or under a table. "If it has a stamp, it was made with quality in mind," she says.

-- Embrace damage. Cracks and water damage don't scare Barclay. In fact, she gets excited about a piece with surface damage. "I'm going to cover that up anyways (and the damage means) I can usually get a good price. If the structure is good but the finish is damaged, that's perfect," she says. Clean the piece with soap and water and use wood filler to fill in any deep scratches. "If you have wood filler, some gorilla glue if any parts have fallen off and some paint, you can pretty much transform anything," says Barclay.

-- Replace hardware. Replacing handles can easily transform a piece. Barclay recommends removing handles and filling the holes with wood filler, then drilling a separate hole for a modern knob. She mentions a side table that had been left out in the rain at the end of a driveway.

"It was just destroyed," she says. Barclay snatched it up, painted it and replaced the antiquated knob with a modern crystal one. "It was one of the first pieces I painted and it's gorgeous. I've had so many people want to buy this piece, but I'm keeping it for myself to remind myself of how much something can be changed," she says.

-- Postmedia News


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