In the days before the word upcycling had been dreamt of, I was hard at work with a paintbrush, slapping the wrong paint onto unprepared surfaces, covering walls and furniture with wonkily aligned stencilling and generally making everyone wish I’d just left things alone.
This is what my son Ben was channelling when he booked me into an upcycling workshop. He got the idea past my creative sensitivities by saying it was a belated Mother’s Day treat.
Arriving for the workshop
And so we turned up for one of the Saturday workshops at the Petit Miracles hub in Shepherds Bush’s W12 Shopping Centre. Our little group had grown to four with daughter Georgina and Ben’s girlfriend Kirsty, also keen to release their hidden upcycler.
Four identical plain wooden chairs awaited us on tables in the workshop and workshop manager Iyoub explained that over the next three hours we were going to learn how to prepare, paint and finish them to a good standard. Three hours sounded quite a long time for what I would have knocked off in an hour back in the day but I realised we were going to go for a quality result.
The fascinating space at Petit Miracles displays beautiful one-off furniture at reasonable prices and gives an affordable shop window to a variety of other things, such as clothes and jewellery made by local micro businesses. The chairs, tables, sofas, wardrobes and so on have all been transformed from unwanted ugly ducklings into really splendid pieces thanks to skill, creativity and a dollop of elbow grease..
Georgina immediately spotted some A-frame shelves made of chair seats she thought would be perfect for her flat. Ben and Kirsty would have taken the reupholstered Deco sofa and pastel painted shelving home then and there, if they’d somewhere to put it. I loved the fresh and clever ways that things that no one wanted had been given a completely new lease of life.
Iyoub is a natural teacher, able to explain what needs to be done in a way that makes you want to do a good job. We almost grew to enjoy sanding as we chatted and found out more about this innovative charity, set up by interior designer Elisicia, which provides skills and work experience to help people get back to work. The furniture sales and design commissions contribute to the running costs.
As well as the furniture being sold at the hub in Shepherds Bush, Petit Miracles upcycles to commission. Clients include restaurants and bars looking for a distinctive look of their own.
Meanwhile our chairs were coming back to life. After sanding, we were shown how to apply the paint. Not any old paint though, this was Annie Sloan’s famous chalk paint, which has a delicious creamy texture and is a dream to apply. The other benefit is that it dries quickly and so there was time for Iyoub to show us how to finish and distress the chairs – as if the poor old things hadn’t already been through enough – but this was to give them the fashionable used and loved look.
It was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, an inspired Mother’s Day present and much more appreciated than the old faithfuls of chocolates and flowers. We all enjoyed being able to shoot the breeze together over a few hours while doing something creative and productive.
Ben and Kirsty couldn’t wait to get back home to bring new life to the nasty dark brown 1950s folding table and rather ordinary pine chairs they’ve been living with. They spent the next day sanding, painting and waxing and are delighted with the result.
A little miracle indeed.
Lindsay Swan lives in West London and is interested in charities, the environment, gardening and wellbeing. She is a trustee of the Venkatraman Memorial Trust, which provides and improves educational facilities for children and young people in the Indian fishing village of Kovalam, near Chennai in Tamil Nadu and is also involved in Tools Shed, The Conservation Foundation’s garden tool recycling project in a number of UK prisons.
Follow on Twitter: @lindsayswan