Upcycling Furniture- Challenges vs Rewards
When I made the decision to start painting and reselling furniture, I can’t tell you how excited I was! Just think of the endless possibilities involved and the beautiful creations I could make. Now that I am about six months into my journey, I can give you an idea of the challenges vs rewards of my decision. I have to tell you I am loving the adventure; the rewards outweigh the challenges by a longshot. If you absolutely love what you are doing every day, you will find a way around the challenges to pursue your dreams. The key to any adventure is being passionate about it and bringing that passion to your work. I know my friends and family are probably sick of hearing about my furniture painting, new products etc., but I live and breathe it and can’t help myself. I am going to tell you about my experiences thus far. I am early in the experience and I realize I still have much to learn.
Visions of a workshop with a drive in area and a large space to create have danced through my head (like Sugarplum fairies), however the reality is that I am not at a point in my career yet where that is an option. I live in Canada, where the winters are too cold to work in an unheated garage space and I live in a small house with 4 other people. Space is at a premium in my house. I looked into renting a shop space, corner of a warehouse or even a heated garage space that someone is not using, but to date I haven’t found anything suitable (or affordable). This leaves me (and my poor family) with a house full of furniture that I am working on at any given time. If you come for coffee, don’t be surprised to find a piece of furniture, partially completed, in the middle of my living room. It’s just the way I roll these days! I have a spare bedroom that I consider my “studio”, but it is mostly filled with my office space, supplies and books, books, books! I sell jewelry that I make and also jewelry making supplies and those items fill up four very tall bookcases from top to bottom. Also in my studio are a filing cabinet, workbench (for jewelry), computer desk and desk for my jewelry photography. It’s a little cramped to say the least. I am working on a large table for the middle of my room that I will use to support small pieces I am working on to have them more at “eye level” for working purposes. Somehow I always find a way to accommodate the pieces I am working on. It may be that a client has several pieces for me to do and I have them bring them to me in smaller quantities. I am currently doing a client commission for 2 coffee tables and 4 end tables and my client was agreeable to bringing me one set of 3 at a time, since each set would be done in a different finish.
2) Multitude of new products:
When first starting out in furniture painting, I found the choices overwhelming. The number of new products I see out there for furniture refinishing is astonishing! I am drawn to products that are considered “low prep” , although I feel that some prep is always necessary to achieve a great end result. The main reason for my tendency toward these products is my household full of people. I have my three year old granddaughter and my eighty year old father in the mix and I can’t be sanding like there is no tomorrow, or using chemicals that require a great ventilation system. Okay, I failed to mention the fact that low-prep means I get to the fun part (the actual painting) that much sooner! There are more and more products on the market that include built in primers and built in topcoats, it boggles the mind sometimes trying to keep on top of current products and trends. I always experiment and research new products, but in the end usually come back to my “tried and true” products. Sometimes a new product is so unique in it’s properties that you just HAVE to try it and you end up with a house full of different products from different product lines. The downside to this overwhelming amount of great product availability, is that you can’t jump on every bandwagon. Yes, it would be a blast try every product from every line (and If I’d just won that darn Powerball I would have), but you have to be realistic in what you buy. An overabundance of product (that you may or may not ever use) equals fewer profits. Profits aren’t the only reason I am in this business, but they are what we all strive for.
3) Conflicting Information:
While doing research on various products, I am constantly coming across conflicting information. “Never put poly over wax” is an example. Then I will read something else that talks about “penetrating waxes” that can be used with poly over top. There always seems to be a debate over what type of topcoats will work best over a white finish to provide durability but not “yellowing” over time. My best advice (and what I do) is to try out the techniques/products for yourself. I never do a project without a sample board if I am trying anything new, and most of my “live and learn” moments have been on trials on my own furniture. I would never sell an item to a client that I haven’t tested out in my own home (to know the longterm results).
4) Finding Sources for Furniture:
One of the challenges of starting in this business is sourcing furniture at a reasonable price to still allow yourself a “profit margin” when reselling. I have had very good luck purchasing items at my local Habitat for Humanity Restore, but you must check back often as the stock is constantly changing and things get “snapped up” quickly. Garage sale finds are another great source, as are estate sales.When my father came to live with us, I had the job of emptying out his home (of over 50 years) and my biggest challenge was the furniture. I was not into furniture refinishing at the time and space in my home was already filled to capacity. I kept the very best pieces and those with sentimental value, however I was practically begging people to take some of the furniture off my hands because I was on a tight timeline to empty the house once it sold.Free is good!!!! These are ideal situations if you are a furniture “Upcycler”. Ask friends and family to keep an ear out for you and let them know you are always looking for pieces to refinish. If you are not into garage sale searching yourself (it can be time consuming), but have a friend who is, have them keep an eye out for you and text you photos of things they think you may be interested in. Many people throw out beautiful furniture pieces on garbage day because they no longer have the room for it, or it needs some “love” which they are not prepared (or don’t know how) to do. I am not ashamed to say I have dragged a piece or two from the curb that had great potential!
5) Time restraints:
In this hustle/bustle world we live in, time is our most precious commodity! Like all of you, I have a million things on my plate at any given moment. I care for my elderly father full time, babysit my granddaughter often, take college courses online and manage my 3 Etsy shops and website. Somewhere in between all that, I find time to make the jewelry I sell, purchase and package the jewelry making supplies I sell and paint the furniture I sell and custom paint for clients. Oh did I forget to mention…..product photography, listing data and pricing? I realize that my situation is in no way unique as we are constantly pulled in many directions at once. If you are doing things that you love, on top of the mundane day to day chores, you will find a way to fit it all in, I promise you. Schedule your time wisely and make lists of goals for a given day or week. I try to divide my free time into 3 parts. 1) My college studies 2) My website and Etsy sites 3) Working on furniture and jewelry. If I try to do some of each on a daily basis, I am not overwhelmed with one particular task being neglected and building up. Obviously you will have a different task set from mine, but dividing my time into manageable chunks is what works for me.
1) Loving what I do:
There is nothing better than doing something on your own time, from home, at your own pace. When I worked in the dental industry (for 35 years), a blizzard or bad road conditions used to put me into panic mode, as I had a one hour commute to work (in the best road conditions). I knew I had to be at a specific place (the workplace) at a specific time come hell or high water. Although my plate is full now, I am able to enjoy the benefits of working from home, doing something I am passionate about. I may find myself working on a piece of furniture at 2:00 AM in my pyjamas, but that’s okay with me. I love what I am doing and therefore always find a way to fit it into my schedule. My schedule has changed dramatically from when I was in the “working world”, but I kind of love it. The longer I am in this business, the more passionate about it I become. Loving what you do makes it feel more like recreation than a career. To be honest, I would probably be doing this whether or not clients were buying my items…. I just love it THAT much (please don’t tell my clients).
2) Multitude of new products:
Yes,I realize this is listed on both my challenges and rewards sections. That is because I find it to be both. At this time there are a multitude of new products hitting the market that make our jobs as furniture refinishers so much easier. When I was a faux finisher several years ago, there were often times I would need to use oil-based products for durability, and I hated the smell and toxicity that came with it. There are so many products out now that are low VOC, low odour, with easy prep and finishing options, and durability, that our job has become so much more pleasant. Gone are the days of spending hours with Turpentine cleaning out brushes. Now I can spend those reclaimed hours online looking at all the different product lines and stunning colour palates available. The options are endless and the products just keep getting better and better.
3) Abundance of Information:
I referred to this fact in my last blog post “6 Ways I find Inspiration for Creativity”, but I can’t stress it enough. We live in the best possible time with mountains of information at our fingertips! The internet provides us with countless ways to explore the ins and outs of a technique or product (although hands on is always the final test). I have been asked in the past how I know about so many new products and my answer is always the same “research, research, research!”. Do searches on Google, follow Pinterest boards with similar interests to yours and network with others in your craft. People are generous with their knowledge and I have never been sorry for asking a question of others (no matter how basic). Youtube videos are a great learning tool for techniques. Sometimes seeing a product in action can answer a lot of your questions. After having found a product you are interested in knowing more about, do a Youtube search for that product and you are sure to find someone doing a demonstration.
4) Customer Feedback:
This is one of my greatest joys in the business so far. I can’t begin to tell you how rewarding it is to have someone tell you that they saw one of your pieces and loved your work. The look on a customer’s face when they pick up their item and are thrilled with the results is priceless. My greatest satisfaction came from having a client tell me she loves my work so much (she has had me paint 2 pieces of her furniture) that she shows pictures of my work to everyone she knows and has found me a new “following” in her circle of friends. In all my years in the workforce, I don’t think I ever experienced that satisfaction and pride of “a job well done” on such a regular basis. In order to have happy and repeat clients, the best course of action, I have found, is keeping them in the loop with sample boards and inspiration pictures. I don’t like to send clients “in progress photos”, because the in-between stages of a project are usually a mess and never look like the final outcome.
5) The ability to Customize my Home:
I am a lover of furniture, and although I can’t run out and buy a super expensive piece that I want on a whim, I now have the ability to bring the “look and feel” of the pieces I love to my own furniture. It may be a colour scheme, texture or design element that I love, but there is almost always a way of customizing your own pieces to reflect what you love. Sometimes a paint job and new hardware can make your old pieces seem like brand new furniture. I am a lover of all things aqua, turquoise and teal. If I were single, I would probably live in “The House of Turquoise”, but I have a husband who may object (to put it mildly). I now incorporate my love of these colours into my home, without them being too much for him. I painted our bedroom suite in a deep teal with black glaze that was just masculine enough for him to like. I incorporate small splashes of aqua here and there in accent furniture pieces, such as a small console table or picture frames and painted vases. In the laundry room (which is pretty much my sole territory, alas), I have aqua walls and aqua and lavender art that I have painted…..it’s my happy place (sadly). It lifts my spirits somewhat to be able to do a dull and dreary chore in a bright and cheerful room.
In my limited experience in “reloving” used furniture, I have found that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. What has your experience been? What have been your biggest challenges/rewards? I would love to hear your views.