Craft, furniture, elitism and asking for help

So this is a bit of a tale of two cities, a request for help and a general flicking of fingers at craft and DIY snobs. Any chance of a hand?

I’ve mentioned before that The Husband runs the local foodbank /homeless resource centre / community cafe. They have 5,000 people on their books who get food bags from them, but more than that they try and support people out of poverty, to give them self confidence, to get them out of what can be a pretty rubbish and vicious circle. One of the ideas that they’ve had kicking around recently is that they would like to start a furniture upcycling project. Take some old bits of furniture that are no longer loved, get the people who use the centre to work on them, fix them, make them look lovely again and then, hopefully, sell them and use the money they make to help support feeding the 5,000 and all that. And the people who work on the project learn a new skill and can, hopefully, take that skill and hopefully use it to start thinking about doing that for themselves too.

It was a great idea. We spoke to a furniture upcycling shop in Cornwall and they gave us a few pointers, a bit of advice, they were lovely but too far away. The Husband spoke to a few of the men who use the service and they really wanted to do it. A few of them started work on it, one of the guys I know personally and he lives in a bush in a park nearby. Upskilling, gaining confidence. Great.

But the staff in the centre don’t have much experience or skills in this so they thought they would ask an expert, and today The Husband phoned a local expert who sells shabby chic furniture to ask for a couple of hours help a week or just a bit of advice. If money was needed he would have found it somehow. And would you like to know what she said?

“People like you give shabby chic a bad name.”

It would be laughable it it wasn’t so pathetic. People trying to learn something. People trying to help each other. As if shabby chic is something that people can only do if they have a masters in chalk paint. God forbid that the rest of us should ever try and do anything creative, try and make things look nice. I expect she would hate this blog, I didn’t even do GCSE art, who am I trying to kid?

So, armed with two Annie Sloan books, access to Pinterest and having read a couple of blogs on doing up furniture I’ve said that I’ll help to try and get them started. I have no childcare so The Toddler is coming too, and obviously I’m quite heavily pregnant so I can’t commit to much at the moment either. But while I may not be an expert, at least I can’t see any reason why anyone who wants to try and do something creative shouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to do it.

So if you know of any great blogs should read, tell me about them. If you have any advice on paint schemes that are popular, give me a yell. I’ve started a board on Pinterest of Furniture Upcycling ideas, if you want an invite to pin your stuff or anyone else’s to it just drop me an email at and I’ll love you forever. Share this post! It only takes a few seconds.

If you live in or near South Essex, have ever done anything with furniture and can give an hour or so to help out and share some skills, please do. We have no funding; if you have some spare paint, tools, furniture or anything of use it would be very gratefully received.

No one should be told that they can’t do something, that they aren’t the right kind of people or they haven’t done their years in servitude enough to even give something a try. I would love to somehow make this a success and show this woman that she’s wrong, if you can help me do that it would truly be a marvelous thing.

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  1. headinbook says

    That is pretty despicable behaviour from someone, given the context and the purpose of what sounds like a pretty bloody good project.

    I am at the other end of the country, so can’t help with anything other than a RT and very best wishes, but lots of luck – hopefully you get the right support and resources to make it work.

  2. says

    What an absolute cow bag, can’t believe she was so rude!

    Such a wonderful idea to do some up-cycling, I love taking old furniture and giving it a new lease of life. Wish I was nearer and could do something to help.

    One of my favourite ways to revamp something is with decoupage. Maybe a local DIY would be able to donate some end of line paint or wallpaper samples!?
    Amanda recently posted…Summer Bucket List ~ Get Good SummerMy Profile

  3. Wendy says

    I’m ashamed that someone could be like this. Not sure how useful I may be as I’m rather an enthusiastic learner than an expert. I have done courses on most hobbies and have just finished a year upholstery course and have a rather nifty air compressor staple gun. I will happily share my knowledge which should enable the covering of chair seats, stools, etc. please feel free to contact me to see if I can help out. Also if it helps I am CRB checked (enhanced) to work with vulnerable people as the day job is as a mental health lawyer

  4. says

    I don’t know of any books unfortunately, but there are a lot of pins on Pinterest that I remember coming across. I can always pass them on to you as I see them. Our broadband is a bit dodgy tonight, so may have to be later.
    What I can however recommend, is to look at the DesignSponge blog before and after projects. I have been drooling over these furniture makeover projects for years, so there are tons to see on the blog. Try and see if this link helps:

  5. says

    When I bought my first flat in London I got lots of furniture from a shop (called Morph, from memory) that was involved in a similar project. When Hackney council collected “bulky waste” if anything was furniture that could be reconditioned they passed it on to this project, where it was reconditioned by (again memory might not be 100% correct) people who were recently out of prison, who were learning all the skills to paint / varnish / rebuild / join etc etc. It was all then sold on at — what seemed to me — incredibly low prices. And I fear, perhaps, I was right, because the shop did close down after a while… I once saw a really beautiful dressing table in there for £20, wondered about buying it but didn’t, since I already had a dressing table, only to spot it in a very expensive antique furniture shop in Stoke Newington the next weekend for £450! Not quite the right attitude.

    Anyway, that’s slightly off topic, but really just to say I think it’s a great idea and though I don’t know enough to be of help myself, I hope you can find people who can. Will try and help spread the word…

    Ah, I just found this article on Morph, just in case there is any info here that’s useful. The way they worked with the council to get the furniture was a good idea, I thought:

    Sabrina recently posted…A sewing spotMy Profile

  6. says

    If I lived closer I would be there like a shot.
    I think it is a brilliant idea.
    There are some great tutorials on youtube. And Annie Sloan has a good book on paint techniques.
    I asked some advice from a professional before I did my bureau and he swore by eggshell paints rather than chalk. I guess it is down to persnoal preference.
    Ignore the rude people and plough on. I think it is a wonderful thing to do.

  7. says

    I live in Australia so I can’t help but the Senior Cat (my father) has suggested you try to get a story in a local paper. It’s what his Wood Group did years ago when they needed some help and now they have a group called “Toymendous” which repairs old wooden toys to pass on….so “Chairmendous” perhaps? And, good luck!
    Catdownunder recently posted…Right, so now we haveMy Profile

  8. says

    How disappointing to get that kind of response, and also, HELLO, shabby chic initially came from necessity, not high art!

    I don’t think I have any materials, but have a couple of pieces of kids furniture to donate, and will be in touch

  9. says

    I think it’s a great idea. I’ve seen the charity Emmaus- which does a similar thing, making good second hand furniture. It’s important that those people who are undoubtedly weighed down by the difficulties of their circumstances have their confidence bolstered so that they can thrive and perhaps Pay It Forward.

    I would name and shame the business in the local press for their appalling behaviour. If she has confidence in her product, she wouldn’t feel so threatened. And if she were supportive of your business, hers would see a benefit too.

    Businesses like that give local business a bad name.
    Domestic Goddesque recently posted…I’m Dreaming of a White Company ChristmasMy Profile

  10. says


    I worked as a community arts tutor in Glasgow for a number of years and came up against the same issue with art snobbery. Just ignore them and keep doing what you’re doing- you are the ones who are making a difference ! Unfortunately i’m too far away to help but I’m more than happy to post things to your pinterest board and you can have a nosey around my DIY craft boards on pinterest as well. You can follow me here

    Best of luck with your project

  11. says

    oh what a horrible attitude! I do hope you find someone local who is willing to give a hand, but I bet you will probably find the men wanting to give this a go might be pretty darn good even without the ‘experts’ help – good luck with the project x
    Sarahmumof3 recently posted…Children BloggingMy Profile

  12. Gaby says

    What an absolute stinker – in stark contrast to the lovely comments and support above. On a slight tangent, and perhaps something the lady in question might want to ponder, next week is Britain Cares. Britain Crafts Week – she could certainly stick that on her needles and knit it. Here’s a link to more info, if you want to get involved:

    Not sure how I can help beyond having a good root around our shed to see whether we have paint/tools etc we can donate – please drop me a line if that would be useful, or if you think of another way I can do something – happy to pitch in but no skills to offer.

  13. Mymummymakescakes says

    What a nice idea I never understand people like that. If she wasn’t interested she should just have politely said no.

  14. anona Mead says

    There are some people it is just not worth saying good morning too and that dame appears to be one of them. The Emmaus project and Tendrinf re-cycling carry out much the same idea as you have thought of and I am sure they would be a lot more helpful with advice etc. Thumb your nose to that obnoxious female

  15. says

    Only really goes to prove one thing – she is NOT a crafter. Crafters will always go out of their way to help others, whether a beginner or an expert. No doubt she is overcharging for her shabby chic so go out there and be bigger, better, louder and succeed. If I was nearer I would give a hand but I will help to spread the word. Good luck in your venture :))

    • Kate says

      Thank you :) Yeah, I think that most people who do craft like to share what they know? That’s (thankfully!) my experience anyway :)

  16. says

    I think it is a great idea. Watch ‘Kirstie’s Fill Your House For Free’ for some ideas of current trends and look in ‘House Beautiful’ magazine etc for ideas (often available at the library) I hope you get help with donations of furniture. Maybe you could contact a local night school where they do furniture restoration classes and ask if any of their students would be interested in helping out. Try to figure out how and where you could sell the finished items this seems to be the biggest hurdle. Good luck x

  17. says

    I seem to have come in somewhere in the middle of this discussion, but if you need help with trying to get an upcycling / reuse business going, I am sure we have people within Emmaus who could help – maybe even share premises / provide materials / shop space etc. The closest community to you is probably Colchester. Our communities are places where formerly homeless people can find a place to live and work – collecting, refurbishing and reselling donated goods.

  18. Maria Ingram says

    I wish I could help you out but I’m too far away. :0(

    In my experience, the neutral AS colours are the ones to go for, such as old white, old ochre, paloma, Paris grey. They work with most modern interiors. AS paints are def the best option for your husband’s team, they require little prep, go on easily and with a bit of a rub with sandpaper and wax give a very professional finish.

    I wish you all the very best of luck and if I can be if any assistance from afar (milton Keynes) please do let me know.
    M x

  19. says

    What a great idea of yours and sorry the people you’ve talked to so far have been so rude! Okay here are some links which I hope help you out:

    First off be really careful with wax! Learn from me being a dumbass :) – please be careful!

    Here’s my DIY Pinterest page – loads of good links on there – some great cost effective furniture makeovers – great for ideas and tutorials – lots of good technique tutorials

    Also have a look on YouTube there are loads of fantastic tutorials on there too. Give me a shout on Twitter if you need anymore help x
    Liz (@violetposy) recently posted…First Week of the HolidaysMy Profile

  20. ems says

    They should be names & shamed. I for one would definately want to make sure I don’t shop anywhere with that attitude.
    Not sure where you’re based but ACL are doing a course starting in September in the Rochford area. There’s also a charity called Encore in Ashbourne, Derbyshire that’s been doing similar & just recently started stocking Anne Sloane paints who im sure would be happy to offer advice. Good luck

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