Should You Upcycle Antique Furniture?

Friday 5th August 2022 - Cara Bentham


Should You Upcycle Antique Furniture?

We explore this question and consider how upcycling might affect an item’s value.

As we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of living sustainably, upcycling is growing in popularity as a way to reduce waste and save vintage items from landfills while giving them a whole new lease of life. But should you upcycle antique furniture?

What is upcycling?

Upcycling is the process of transforming an old or unwanted item to give it a fresh new look without changing the purpose for which it was intended. This differs from repurposing, when you adapt an object to a different use, such as turning a toilet into an eclectic planter.

People use many standard methods to upcycle furniture, including sanding, painting, varnishing and reupholstering. Upcycling is a great way to transform a tired, unattractive or damaged piece of furniture. However, it’s important to know that upcycling antique furniture could negatively impact its value.

What furniture can be upcycled?

In theory, any piece of furniture can be upcycled. However, it is not always a good idea to upcycle antique furniture, especially if it is a particularly old or valuable piece. If you are unsure of the history of a piece you are considering upcycling, always do your research before beginning the project. Inspect the item; look for labels, maker’s marks or any identifying features which will help you determine its age, history and potential value.

If an item of antique furniture is valuable, it should be left in its original state. However, it is generally fine to upcycle low-value or reproduction pieces as it won’t affect their worth.

Can you paint antique furniture?

Painting antique furniture could completely destroy its value because it will cover the original finish and grain of the wood. Although paint can often be removed, the methods and products used for removal will typically cause damage, so, in this sense, painting should be viewed as a permanent alteration.

Low-value furniture is a good option for recycling, and doing so could actually increase the value in these cases. Upcycling low-value pieces can be an excellent way to earn money if the finish is attractive, unique or done to meet current design trends.

Can you reupholster antique furniture?

Fabrics and padding often deteriorate long before the structure of a piece of furniture. If the material of a piece of antique furniture is beyond repair, the value of the item will almost certainly be compromised. In these cases, reupholstering may preserve the value but should be done with caution. If the item is especially old or valuable, you should seek professional advice before making any alterations to the piece. Professional restoration is the best option for an antique piece of furniture.

If the item is a vintage piece of little value and the fabric is damaged, reupholstering can bring it new life and potentially increase its value, especially when it brings renewed functionality to a damaged piece.

Auctions are a great place to find antique furniture and pieces suitable for upcycling. Browse our upcoming auctions to find a great range of both valuable antique pieces and perfect upcycling projects.