Life

“I learned to upcycle pre-loved rattan furniture at home - here’s how to do it”

Fashion editor Harriet Davey has started upcycling rattan furniture – here’s a step by step to do it yourself. 

It all started in H&M Home. I popped into the two-floor homeware haven on Regent Street on my lunch break (if you haven’t been there yet, you should) and as soon as I walked in I spotted the rattan chair. I sent a picture to my boyfriend – little did he know we would later be doing a three hour round trip to Cambridge to pick up a similar style I found on Facebook Marketplace. 

I had never used Marketplace before, but I searched for rattan furniture and after a while of patiently scrolling I found one for £5. Granted, it needed a bit of work but I couldn’t believe I had bagged such a great deal considering the one in H&M was £180. We then took a trip to B&Q to get the materials we needed, set up our DIY area in the living room and got to work cleaning, sanding and painting. 

After seeing the results, putting it on my Instagram (@harriet.davey) and getting so many positive comments, I quickly became obsessed with all things rattan. Next, I was roping in friends who lived near the furniture I had found to collect for me. It may sound extreme, but what I’ve found is that people who have furniture to get rid of want it out of the way, so you have to be quick. If you don’t message the seller and arrange a collection ASAP, it’s gone.

Within a few weeks, I had a chair, a side table, stool, coffee table and some draws. Next, I taught myself how to do the weaving with cane using YouTube tutorials to fix another chair. Upholstering was also needed for this one so I found the perfect velvet fabric at one of my favourite home destinations, House of Hackney.

Do you want to know how much I’ve been spending on all my furniture? The most expensive piece I’ve bought so far is £45. The cheapest? Free. Another person’s junk really is someone else’s treasure.

Tips for finding the furniture to upcycle:

1. Research: Look on Pinterest and home brands (here are 9 under-the-radar homeware sites I like) for furniture you need/want first. You can then search by product or style, e.g. for rattan, it’s best to use keywords like ‘cane’, ‘wicker’, ‘cane-backed’ and of course, ‘rattan’.

2. Explore: Most of my furniture came from Facebook Marketplace but a lot of people also list the same items on eBay. It’s also good to visit vintage fairs, flea markets, independent second-hand furniture shops or even your own homes for pieces to give a new lease of life.

3. Be patient: It takes time to find the exact item you want. Once you get the right one, you’ll enjoy spending the time transforming it.

What you need:

Rattan chair upcycled with new cane and fabric

I’ll kickstart with my most recent upcycling project; the chair I caned and upholstered myself. All my other projects have been completed as a team with my boyfriend (he’s the perfectionist who makes sure they look good) but due to self-isolation, this was the first one I did on my own. 

Note: he did fix the leg that broke off as soon as we collected it before I got started.

For this one you will also need: 

  • Pliers 
  • Metal rod (or kebab stick)
  • Cane material
  • Fabric 
  • Pen

First, I wiped the secondhand furniture down with an antibacterial wipe. I then removed the old material (in one piece if possible, you’ll need it later) and cut out all the old cane using scissors. The back was already ripped and I wanted to take the sides out to make it look more modern. Each hole has an individual plug so you’ll also need pliers to pull these out or a metal rod (I used a kebab stick) to push them through. I then sanded the entire chair (using an electric sander), wiped it down again and then painted with matte black furniture paint.

Rattan chair before
Rattan chair before upcycling
Rattan chair during the caning process

Once the paint was dry I taught myself how to cane the chair. I used a DIY kit from seatweavingsupplies.co.uk, an independent cane company in Dorset. Before ordering, I emailed the owner images of the chair to make sure I was getting the right cane.

I used the handy guide that the kit came with, along with this YouTube video on ’how to cane a chair using the 7 step method’ – this is the usual weave you see on rattan furniture. 

I soon realised that it’s tricky. You need a lot of patience and it took a lot longer than I thought. This chair took me two whole days to complete. I definitely made a few mistakes but all in all, I’m so happy with the end result. You’ll find a full step-by-step of the process on my Instagram. 

Once the chair was caned I moved onto upholstering the seat. I used the old material as a template for the new animal print Hackney Empire fabric in midnight from House of Hackney. Known for their unique prints, they also have matching wallpaper, cushions, lampshades and other home accessories usually in the same prints so you can match and clash. 

I used a pen to draw around the old fabric on the back and cut out the template using fabric scissors (get these from eBay for £7). Putting the material in place, I fed it through the small gap between the frame and seat of the chair pulled it tight. Turning the chair upside down I then secured using a fabric staple gun (you can get these from Amazon for around £7). 

Upholstering the material
Rattan chair after upcycling

Telephone seat upcycled with paint and material

The second project I’ve completed during lockdown is upcycling this French style vintage telephone seat. To do this I used all the tools above along with the following:

  • Hot glue gun
  • Double sided tape (or body tape)
  • Tape measure
  • Ruler

Optional:

  • Twisted rope cord (or new stud strips)
  • Foam for seat
Telephone seat before upcycling
Telephone seat before upcycling

I started by wiping the seat down with anti-bacterial spray. Then, I moved onto the material. Using pliers I pulled off the nail stud strips and the staples used to attach the fabric – this took a good few hours as they were so old. Doing so allowed me to pull off the material in as complete a state as I could to then use as a template later on. Once all the material was removed, I realised the foam at the back of the seat was damaged where the middle studs once were so I decided to order new foam . You can order this cut to size from eBay (here) so I measured the old foam and seat and it cost £7. I also ordered the hot glue gun from eBay for £7.99 to be able to attach the new foam.

Telephone seat during upcycling
Telephone seat during upcycling

Once the new foam was on I painted the frame black. However, I decided to create a two-tone effect with cream paint for the drawer: this meant using masking tape to get a straighter line than free-hand. Next, it was time to add the new fabric. 

I found this amazing spotty velvet fabric at spoonflower.com – they have millions of print designers all in one place who create custom designs and print-on-demand. I ordered a metre and a half of the ’tiny dot’ style by Willow Lane Textiles.

Material used for upcyling telephone seat
Material used for upcyling telephone seat

Using the old material as a rough template, I also measured each area with a tape measure. Flipping the material over, I then sketched the outline of each piece I needed onto the back, adding one centimetre extra to ensure I could fold it over in an even line when attached. I used body tape (usually used to attach clothes to skin) as double sided tape when folding this over to make it the correct size when stapling it onto the chair. Attaching each piece in place I then carefully stapled along the edges in a straight line so it was neat and tidy. For the back piece this was more tricky and I ended up just tucking in the bottom and then using the glue gun to stick it around the curved edge of the new foam. 

To finish – instead of adding new studs, which to me felt dated – I used a 3.5 millimetre rope trim around the top to cover any signs of glue and to neaten up the edges. The cherry on the cake was a new drawer knob – I went for a simple t-bar style from Amazon.

Telephone seat after upcycling
Telephone seat after upcycling

This one took quite a while due to needing quite a lot of equipment and delivery times being longer but it was so worth it. 

Rattan chair upcycled with paint

To upcycle a rattan chair without redoing the cane you’ll just need the first list of materials. This is the chair I bought after seeing the H&M iteration. My boyfriend and I collected it from Cambridge, gave it a good clean and sanded it down using sheets of paper before we invested in an electric sander which saved a lot of time.

The cane was already painted cream and it was hard to remove so we repainted over it. To do this we used a normal kitchen sponge and dabbed it on, using a paintbrush to get in any smaller gaps.

Once the rattan was dry we used masking tape to cover the edges and painted the black frame with two coats. 

The final chair is still one of my favourites. 

Rattan chair before upcylcing
Rattan chair before upcylcing
Rattan chair after upcycling
Rattan chair after upcycling

Rattan side table

For the side table, I wanted it to match my other cream and black pieces so we repeated the painting steps as above. 

If you get any black or cream paint drips on the opposite colours, the paint from B&Q has really good coverage so it’s really easy to touch up at the end. For a flat surface like this table, it’s best to use the roller for a more even finish.

Rattan side table before upcycling
Rattan side table before upcycling

I changed the knob on this mini draw with a shell-style I found in Anthropologie. It’s now my cute little bedside table and the first piece that felt like a complete transformation. 

Rattan side table during upcycling
Rattan side table during upcycling
Side table after upcycling
Rattan side table after upcycling

Rattan stool

I then spotted a stool on La Redoute that I wanted for £80, I managed to find this one for £3.

This one still had natural rattan but we painted it to make the set complete. 

Rattan stool before upcycling
Rattan stool before upcycling
Rattan stool during upcycling
Rattan stool during upcycling

And here they are together - it’s the best £18 I’ve ever spent (plus the paint and draw knob). 

Rattan stool, table and chair after upcycling
Rattan stool, table and chair after upcycling

Rattan bench

It’s clear that after these few pieces I had developed a real addiction; I kept searching for more rattan. H&M put a bench online that I loved but I found a similar one on Facebook Marketplace. We repeated the painting steps as above and, as some of the rattan was torn, I glued these carefully with superglue. 

Rattan bench before upcycling
Rattan bench before upcycling

Chest of drawers

I deviated from my rattan obsession and found a wooden draw and mirror set. It was a bit worn at the edges and very plain but we painted contrasting draws and found some shell knobs to update it on eBay for £3.99 each. 

Now the duo sits perfectly together in my room. The rattan still wasn’t perfect on the bench so I used a strategically placed plant to cover it up. 

Check of draws before upcycling
Check of draws before upcycling
Rattan bench and chest of drawers after upcycling
Rattan bench and chest of drawers after upcycling

I had no experience in furniture upcycling or upholstering but it’s simple to learn and it’s now my new hobby. Some people have said I should make it my new side hustle but for now I’m just keeping them for myself (sorry housemates). 

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