Yvonne Purcell has never been one for trends. “I’ve always had my own fashion style, and the same goes for my home,” she says. “We’ve lived in modern houses with modern furniture and fittings, but it’s when we moved in an old farmhouse in the countryside that I fell in love with everything old and secondhand.” Purcell lives in a 100-year-old cottage in a village on Ireland’s east coast. It’s a family home, originally belonging to her husband’s grandparents, and she’s taken great care to infuse it with personal touches that complement the original character of the house. While many would take this to mean buying new furniture with rustic sensibilities or hoarding the odd antique, Purcell has taken her love for vintage a step further. She’s a self-proclaimed upcycler and salvage hunter, documenting her various decor projects via her popular Instagram page. DIY fans, we found your new feed to follow.
The very first thing she DIY’ed? Wooden window boxes for the front of her house. Those boxes spurred interest for Purcell and also quite possibly a tagline: Her bio reads, “I don’t just think outside the box, I think of what I can do with the box.” Upcycling takes a love for older pieces to a whole new level, encouraging not only more sustainable consumerism but also creativity as you find ways to entirely reinvent something outside of its intended use.
“My love for vintage and used or salvaged furniture stems from [watching] my aunt’s love of upcycling her own furniture when I was small. A lot of her furniture was secondhand when she got married, and I’d watch her sand it down in the garden, and then transform each piece by painting them in beautiful colors, which at that age, I’d never seen done before,” explains Purcell, saying she also inherited a touch of the upcycling bug from her father, who she says is, “like a magpie and likes to collect things.”
She sources her furniture from salvage yards and auctions—constantly on the lookout for overlooked pieces to turn into a new project. She’s been known to enlist her two small daughters to accompany her to the dumpster to haul kitchen chairs home, as everything is a potential project.
As a result, her home is full of innovative projects and cool finds: an old mirror given a new rustic wood frame, a fruit bowl turned into a pendant light, a headboard crafted from salvaged wood. One of her favorite projects involves turning an old cutting board and a candlestick into a wooden cake stand—the instructions for which can be found in her Instagram stories.
Below, see Purcell’s top tips for all things upcycling, vintage hunting, and DIY. Consider your next weekend project sorted.
“Whether you buy secondhand furniture on eBay, Craigslist, or at a car boot sale, test the furniture before money exchanges hands. Open up drawers in cupboards and units, sit in chairs, and lean on tables. If an item has been damaged, you need to confirm that it is still in good condition before you buy it. Even if it’s damaged, make sure you or someone else can fix it before you make that decision to hand over your cash.”
Know Your Woods
“It’s a good idea to have a little knowledge of the different types of wood when you are looking for a secondhand piece of furniture. Hardwoods, such as oak and maple, make durable, strong furniture. Pine is better for pieces that don’t have to withstand weight and pressure over a long period of time.
“Also, don’t pass up veneer and laminate furniture just because it isn’t solid wood. Check for veneer adhering to the particle board or material it is affixed to—depending on where you will use the piece of furniture, a laminate can take more daily wear and tear than wood.”
Be Wary of Secondhand Children’s Furniture
“Oftentimes the furniture has been recalled and the owner wanted to get rid of it.”
Approach Salvage Yards With the Same Tenacity You Would a Sample Sale
“Take measurements with you like you would when shopping for new furniture, and when you spot something you like, ask the seller for the best price they can offer. Some sellers won’t budge, but others love to haggle. Stay focused, as it’s easy to come home with something you didn’t intend on buying in the first place.”
“Wrought iron or aluminum furniture is beautiful when it’s been refurbished and can look great indoors or outdoors. When you find secondhand metal furniture, think of the potential as opposed to how it looks. You can remove rust and repaint with durable paint specially made for covering metal furniture.”
Keep Sustainability in Mind
“Choose decor made from reclaimed and/or recycled materials. Look for furniture that’s both durable and fixable. Choose low-toxicity furniture. Also, look for furniture that is untreated or treated with natural substances. Buy certified wood—if the wood we buy is certified, this means the forest where it was cut is managed in a way that allows the natural ecosystem to maintain itself. A well-managed forest is sustainable and won’t contribute to deforestation.”