Customising Furniture With Stencils

I’ve always been a doodler, whilst on the phone or compiling lists but my doodles were always a bit disappointing, hearts, flowers, smiley faces… However I’ve recently discovered the phenomenon of adult colouring books (or zendoodling to give it it’s proper grown up name) and have rediscovered my love of drawing.


I have a creative daughter so I bought a colouring book for us to try together. The one I chose had finished designs to colour in and also half finished ones for you to doodle on yourself. This was a revelation to me – I could teach myself to do better doodles and once you’ve learnt a few simple techniques, it really is very easy.

Zendoodling is a process of creating beautiful designs by drawing repeated patterns. It is believed to increase focus, unlock creativity and relax the mind into a Zen like state of meditation. The finished pieces look very intricate but you take it step by step, adding one simple pattern at a time. There are no set rules on how to create your design but the best way to start is to look at other designs for inspiration. There are loads on pinterest, or try watching an online tutorial on youtube to see how the design builds. You don’t need any special equipment or skills so it can also be done at anytime, anywhere and on anything!

A few years ago I started upcycling furniture, breaking away from being stuck to my computer as a graphic, this released some of my ‘inner artiness’ that had been bubbling away inside and gave me the confidence to pick up a paintbrush again. But faced with a blank piece of paper I was flummoxed! Creating these doodles increased my confidence in my artistic abilities. I’ve got a degree in fine art but it was a long time ago and I don’t think I’ve actually picked up a pen and drawn anything freehand since leaving university, I’d lost the creativity and the freedom that is innate in all children, the ability to just draw.

My new found doodling skills got me thinking about ways to decorate the furniture that I upcycle. I have created a few stencils for furniture but these have been based on geometric patterns or drawn up on the computer. I wanted to try and create something less structured, more freehand. I spent a very relaxing evening doodling, it’s amazing how the time disappears when you get in the zone, and I created a henna inspired doodle that I could then turn into a stencil. I really enjoyed the process and I’m looking forward to some more creative meditation time trying out some different designs, whenever I catch another elusive free evening. I used my new stencil on top of a small side table that I had just finished painting. It already had ornate detailing on the drawers and legs and the stencil on the top finished it off perfectly.

Stenciling is a really quick and easy way to customise and add your own style around the home, you can use stencils on tabletops, drawer fronts, on fabric or even on the walls! I have created stencils for my upcycles with inspirational messages or personalised designs and imagery for a client that means something special to them.

Start by securing the stencil to the object you are painting, you can use a low tack adhesive or apply masking tape along the edges of the stencil. For best results invest in a stencil brush a specialist brush with short, firmly packed bristles. They are available in various widths, from small for tiny, detailed sections of a stencil to large ones for faster painting of larger sections.

The main advantage of a stencil brush over a normal paintbrush is that it reduces the chances of getting paint under the edge of the stencil because of the stiff bristles.

If you’re painting a border stencil with several colours, you may find it easier to have a brush for each colour, rather than rinsing the brush each time.

Use a dry brush and keep the amount of the paint on the brush to a minimum. Dip the brush into the paint, I use Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, other paints are available but this is my favourite and is great for stenciling as it is quite thick, wipe off any excess paint onto a piece of newspaper, if you have too much paint on the brush, or it is too liquid it will bleed through underneath the stencil. Dab at the stencil in a vertical, up and down motion think of a woodpecker movement! As not much paint is used the stenciled area dries quickly, the stencil can usually be reused straight away, if you are doing a repeated pattern just check that no paint has bled through underneath the stencil before starting again. Once you are finished wash the stencil off carefully, my top tip for doing this is to turn your washing up bowl upside down, use this to support the stencil and wash it over with the stencil brush. This makes sure you don’t damage the stencil, which may be delicate on detailed sections and also washes out your brush at the same time, leave to dry and it will be ready for your next project!


I would love to hear about any upcycling projects that you have done, or if you would like any tips or advice then please get in touch. You can email me at or look me up on Facebook (search for harperandharper). If I have inspired you to have a go at stenciling I sell my customised stencils on

First published in Antiques Plus, West Country Life magazine 14.05.16

It’s a small world – let’s paint it!

“It’s a small world (but I wouldn’t want to paint it)”

This was one of my dad’s little sayings when I was growing up (he’s an artist with a sense of humour!). This always made me giggle, but since catching the ‘upcycling furniture’ bug, I’ve started looking at things in a different way.

Whilst hunting for bargains at our local car boot sale one Sunday morning, a piece of graffiti caught my eye. The day before had been Bristol Volksfest, and the farm buildings were covered in amazing artwork that had been done during the festival. The piece I spotted said: “It’s a small world – let’s paint it!” Which I think is a much better saying.

‘It’s a small world let’s paint it’ Baggz

Upcycling furniture does become a bit of an obsession. I’m a terrible guest to have round at your house, I’ll covet your furniture and imagine what colour I’d paint it if I could get my hands on it.

My mother in law has some beautiful pieces that I fantasise about painting every time we visit, but I don’t think I’ve quite won her round to the idea of painting furniture yet (probably because all my upcycles are a little too colourful for her tastes!). My mum has caught the bug though and gradually I’m turning her house into a gallery, it’s like a little shrine to Annie Sloan (which is the chalk paint that I use). So far I’ve painted cupboards, picture frames, tables, a dresser, chest of drawers, the fireplace, the woodwork and even the floorboards! And I’ve used over 10 different colours – she is very colourful too.

After doing a furniture painting course, friends began commissioning me to upcycle their furniture. I was allowed to experiment with colour combinations and the first piece that I did, is still one of my favourites. A lovely wooden chest of drawers, which my friend had bought from Camden market in the 80’s, it was expensive but she had desperately wanted it and has moved it from home to home with her since. I painted the drawers in green and red which sounds a bit crazy but worked so well. She love’s it now as much as when she bought it – if not a teeny bit more!!

Green and red painted chest of drawers

After completing a few commissions I set up my website and began thinking about how I could move my business forward. It’s quite a daunting prospect setting up a new venture but sometimes things just seem to fall into place and you feel like you are following along the path that has been set for you.

I had booked tickets to go to a charity event for Penny Brohn Cancer Care ‘The Splendiferous Occasion’ at the very beautiful setting of Kings Weston House, which just happens to be (nearly) in my back garden. It sounded like a wonderful event with special guest speakers, beauty treatments, children’s activities as well as a fabulous selection of stalls. It then occurred to me that this would be the perfect place for me to exhibit and with just 4 days to go before the event I booked one of the last spots available and began painting like crazy to get some stock to take.

That first time when you appear publicly displaying your ‘wares’ is very nerve racking. You’re putting yourself out there and seeing people’s reactions face to face. I’d only been painting furniture for a few months and was really anxious.

One of the last pieces that I painted for the event was a large wooden kitchen chair that had been given to me. I had this idea of painting it grey with yellow bees and a honeycomb pattern. My husband thought I was a bit mad – who would want a big wooden kitchen chair with bees on! I created a stencil which he laser cut for me and I got it finished the night before the event.

The beekeeper’s chair

The next morning, as I was setting up, one of the first people to come over and see my stall (before the event had even opened) was one of the other exhibitors. She was a beekeeper and was selling beauty products made from her honey (Honey Bee Beautiful – check them out they are divine!). She loved my chair, bought it and took it straight round to her stall to sit on!

I saw this as a sign that I was doing what I was meant to be doing and must learn to trust myself, and my instincts, more!

My latest upcycle has undergone quite a transformation and i’ve been thinking about getting a little more creative with my paintbrush. I’m not sure how it will turn out but I’m going to trust my instincts and give it a go and if it’s a success I’ll share some pictures with you next time!

Article first published in Antiques Plus, West Country Life magazine 19.03.16

So what exactly is upcycling?


Hello and welcome to my blog all about upcycling

Tucked away in the little village of Shirehampton on the outskirts of Bristol, I set about doing my bit to help reduce waste and fill the world with colour. In 2012 I set up Harper & Harper, a business with my husband creating upcycled pieces of furniture and home accessories.

So what exactly is upcycling? Upcycling, is the process of transforming useless or unwanted products into something of better quality and beauty. It is about adding value to a product rather than just recycling it where it is broken down to its raw materials. Upcycling furniture is a great way to reuse materials, It reduces waste so is great for the environment, reducing our carbon footprint and saving money!

I’m not an expert in furniture restoration but I have always been a creative person. I worked as a freelance website and graphic designer for 14 years and after taking time out to raise my family I decided that I wanted to do something more creative and hands on than sitting in front of my computer. After trying a furniture painting course I felt that I had found my ‘thing’ and I was hooked!

My husband Russell is a Modelmaker and has extensive knowledge of materials. His expertise means that we can re-furbish broken pieces of furniture and also create a professional finish by spray painting furniture, which is more suited to some of the retro pieces than the hand painted distressed look. He also has the tools to create customised stencils, which we can tailor to individual pieces of furniture.

I have always loved hunting for a bargain at antique and vintage fairs, auctions and charity shops and seeing the potential in transforming old un-loved pieces of furniture into something beautiful really excites me! I like to challenge myself with pieces that were destined for scrap and with a bit of tlc turn them into something unique, a beautiful piece of furniture can be enhanced with a coat of paint but a broken table or old dining chair can be totally transformed which is really rewarding.

I love that each piece of furniture is different, everything is a one off and individual design with it’s own history. I like to place each item that we find in our home and view it for a while until inspiration grabs me. So far every upcycle that we have done has looked completely different and has inspired its own colour scheme and finish (unfortunately this means that i have had to invest in a rainbow of paint colours and some tailor made shelving to store them all!). Each piece usually ends up totally different to what I had in mind when I started, which is all part of the fun and creative process. I love working with bold colours and take inspiration from the Mediterranean, natural forms and old doors.

I’m currently upcycling all my pieces in our house. Luckily we have a garage which has become our storage facility and means that we don’t have to keep everything inside. We are hoping to convert this into a workshop, which will be fantastic, but in the meantime my workspace is the kitchen (which luckily is very large!) or outdoors if it’s a sunny day.

I think that upcycling and sustainability is something that as a society we need to embrace. We have become too focused on the cheap, quick makeover, buying things to fit our style and then throwing them out when we want a change. There is so much waste. Our belongings are not valued like they used to be. When we bought our first home I remember my Granddad telling me how they had to save to buy the handles for their doors, buying one handle a month from each wage packet. When you value items you try that bit harder to fix them when they break or re-use them in some other way and the more up-cycling I do the more thrifty I am becoming.

I try to keep everything as you never know when it might come in handy, I like to reuse things in a different way to give them a new purpose. One of my favourite things to upcycle are picture frames and mirrors – it’s amazing the difference that a splash of colour on a wooden frame can make to really bring out a picture. Also if you have an old frame where the glass has broken you can easily turn it into a very useful chalkboard with a few coats of chalk paint.

I am really looking forward to sharing some of my past and future projects with you and would love to hear about any upcycling projects that you have done. If you would like to share them with me or would like some tips or advice then please get in touch. You can email me or follow me on facebook (search for harperandharper)

This article was first published in Antiques Plus, West Country Life magazine 20.02.16