Kelly Sharp is the owner of Thrifty Retro and specialises in upcycling furniture. Kelly has been upcycling for a number of years and truly believes there is nothing more satisfying than bringing an unloved or forgotten piece of furniture back to life and transforming it into something desirable. She is completely self-taught, having previously spent 20 years in fashion retail.
She upcycles mostly retro mid-century furniture and specialises in a technique called Decoupage. Kelly took part in the London Upcycling show last Autumn and very much looks forward to the North London Repair Cafés.
Kelly has always loved getting creative and finding new ways to use old things or things that are destined for the trash. “Upcycling can be very satisfying especially when the end result works out so well. The whole process of restoring or repairing a piece of furniture and breathing new life into it is such a good feeling.”
“There have been a few occasions where I have collected a piece of furniture from an older person and ended up sitting down for a cup of tea and a chat with them about their lives and what I do. I’ve also found some really sweet personal items inside old pieces of furniture such as lovely black and white pictures or hand written letters. I once found a very touching letter hidden inside the back of a beautiful Art Deco cabinet written by a grieving wife. It’s amazing to think a piece of furniture could survive the test of time, perhaps even living longer than its original owners, and still have more to give.”
What gives you most satisfaction in your job and when teaching people how to repair their small furniture items?
“I find that the opportunity to spend time showing someone else how to do the things I personally love and feel very passionate about tremendously satisfying. Being able to guide someone on how to repair or upcycle an item and to encourage them to get really creative is a fantastic feeling. I hope to inspire others to try new things and to achieve something that they can look at and feel very proud of.”
Why do you think repairing items is so important?
“I think society has become less connected with the things we buy or use and a culture of ‘throw it away’ is evident everywhere we look. I believe every community has a responsibility to ensure we do everything we can to improve our local area, to keep it as green as possible and to be responsible for preventing waste. Upcycling can be a very satisfying way of doing exactly that, by turning a piece of furniture that’s perhaps a bit old and worn into something beautiful and desirable. The process of repairing a piece of furniture is extremely rewarding and not as hard as you might think, and simple techniques and a little imagination can work wonders. It really is true that one person’s trash is potentially another person’s treasure or, as I like to say, ‘one person’s broken wardrobe is another person’s upcycled coffee table’.”
Kelly’s tips and advice:
There are so many ways to reuse broken or tatty furniture instead of sending to landfill.
- Sometimes all that’s needed is a bit of rubbing down with fine sandpaper and then revamping with some furniture paint
- You can get really creative with masking tape and create some geometric lines across the surface of a wardrobe or sideboard and really transform its look. Broken handles can be replaced and drawers can be lined with paper
- Hairpin legs are a big trend for this season and adding these to the base of a cabinet or coffee table gives the piece a modern, updated look
- You can also upcycle your garden, for example use old pallets to make seating, a coffee table, or a BBQ area and scaffolding boards to create flower beds. Old kitchen utensils such as colanders, large broken cooking pots and broken tea cups can be turned into interesting planters
- Old t-shirts can be used to make cushions
- I think everything can be reused somehow with a little imagination. Pinterest is a brilliant place to start for inspiration and technique tips.