Transforming vintage furniture for a modern interior

Inspired by the first shoots of Spring and the budding blossom on the trees, I’ve been getting creative with my paint brush this month.

Inside my latest upcycle project, a vintage glass display cabinet, I have gone a bit ‘experimental’ and hand painted a cherry blossom branch. The cabinet had already undergone a few transformations (my ideas often change as I’m working on a piece) but that is all part of the fun of the journey!

The cabinet was given to me by a lovely young man who came into the vintage shop I was working in. He was moving house and had no room for it. It had belonged to his granny and used to display all her treasures. He wanted it to go to a new home and thought that someone in a vintage shop might be interested – and there I was!

I have always wanted to upcycle a glass cabinet, they are such nostalgic pieces of furniture, tucked away in the corner of a room filled with dusty trinkets and keepsakes and things that weren’t to be touched. I wanted to breathe new life into it and see if it could be transformed into a functional piece of furniture for a modern interior.

The fabulous thing about upcycling with chalk paint is that you don’t need to do any prep work, no sanding or priming (which is great when you have got lots of delicate glass panels) just a quick clean and it’s straight onto the good bit! I started out by painting it orange but wasn’t convinced, so repainted it in burgundy. The beauty of repainting with another colour was that I could then distress it with some sandpaper to reveal some of the other colour beneath. This can be a bit daunting when you’ve just achieved a beautiful paint job but this creative process can really highlight and define features mouldings or carved areas. Concentrate on the areas that would receive natural wear and tear, start lightly and build up until you get the look you want and if you take too much off then simply add a bit more paint and try again.

A couple of months later I was scrolling through my colour inspiration board on Pinterest (if you haven’t discovered Pinterest yet I highly recommend it – it’s like a virtual scrapbook where you can save pictures from the internet onto your own boards. It’s an amazing source of inspiration and a very enjoyable way to while away time if you find you have a spare minute or two!). Whilst searching I came across a beautiful image of Vincent van Gogh’s Almond Blossom.

I began to think how I could incorporate artwork like this into my upcycled pieces and create something a bit more unique. I have seen some stunning pieces of furniture upcycled with image transfers of paintings and illustrations but I wanted to have a go at doing something freehand.

The glass cabinet had been listed on my Etsy online shop but had still not sold so I thought that this would be the perfect piece to have a go on. The cabinet was backed with the original gold material, which was still in good condition so I just painted over it (chalk paint can also be used on fabric). I got my kids to help me do a test run on a piece of board, experimenting with the branches and shapes for the flowers and then dived in. It was really liberating blending the colours and doing something different and I felt very pleased with myself for having the courage to get adventurous.

Experimenting with the kids!

Last summer I was lucky enough to get tickets to Dismaland, the Banksy exhibition in Weston Super Mare. At the exhibition some porcelain figures caught my eye that had been distorted by artist Jessica Harrison. As a child, her mother had kept a collection of figurines locked away, never to be touched, and this had inspired her to corrupt and distort these kitsch symbols of suburban tranquility by giving them full sleeve tattoos and disembowling them!

The idea of playing with the items on display in a glass cabinet in the modern home, stuck with me and although I didn’t go quite as far as violating porcelain figures I got the inspiration to be a bit more inventive with what could be put inside.

Loving all things vintage, I have a collection of pretty mismatched teacups and saucers (which actually get used – I even got them all out for a Mad Hatters tea party for my daughters 8th birthday party. The girls loved pouring juice out of a teapot and drinking out of pretty cups!). I made space to display some tea cups but also placed a very ‘bling’ pair of shiny turquoise high heels and a couple of kitsch china birds that had been given to my husband by his Gran.


Hopefully I have inspired you to rethink some of the furniture in your home and how it could be upcycled or to maybe look at buying something preloved rather than something new. There are lots of well made pieces of second hand furniture to be found and if you haven’t got the time (or courage!) to have a go at upcycling something yourself there are lots of very talented people selling upcycled furniture at very reasonable prices out there too.

First published in Antiques Plus, West Country Life magazine 16.04.16