ASK Rachel Henderson for her tips on how to get started with upcycling projects and the advice is straightforward: begin small and simple. Although, truth be told, she didn't exactly follow that mantra herself. Her debut project was an entire house.

The Fife-based author, textile artist and interior stylist first turned her hand to upcycling – repurposing or reviving old furniture and other objects to give them a new lease of life – five years ago when she bought her late grandmother's former home in Dalgety Bay.

"My grandma had moved into a care home and asked if we wanted to buy her old house," says Henderson. "She loved the idea of a young family living there and doing something with it rather than somebody moving in that she didn't know.

"Her house was decorated to an older person's taste, all neutrals, so it was very much a blank canvas," says Henderson. "All the rooms needed decorated and my grandma had left quite a lot of old furniture.

"There were side units, mirrors and old photo frames in her loft, as well as things like plant pots in the back garden. There was so much that I wanted to do with everything she had left.

Dunfermline Press: Rachel Henderson's colourful living room with an upcycled mid-century unit. Picture: Rachel HendersonRachel Henderson's colourful living room with an upcycled mid-century unit. Picture: Rachel Henderson

"I have never been into buying new furniture. I always think it is so much better to use what you have. Because it belonged to my grandma, everything held a special memory. It felt important that I kept everything in her house, updated it and brought it to life again."

Her upcycling obsession soon took root, says Henderson. "I ended up painting lots of furniture. We decorated the rooms using funky and vibrant colours. I took my grandma's lovely house and turned it into a more modern family home."

Henderson, 40, began posting some of her upcycled creations on social media where they caught the eye of the team behind the BBC show Scotland's Home of the Year, who invited her to apply as a contestant on the series in 2019.

The two-bedroom 1970s bungalow, known as Little Blair House, wowed the judges with its strong colour palette and upcycled gems. It finished runner-up to The White House in Kirkcudbright, a stunning architectural project on the edge of the Solway Firth.

"Which is totally nuts," laughs Henderson. "That home is amazing, so to be runner-up to it was incredible. I think what people liked about our house was that we hadn't spent a fortune on it. We had done it all on a budget.

"We kept all these lovely bits of furniture and my grandma's kitchen but upcycled it to our taste. That is why the judges liked it – our house told a story about us."

Then a producer from another popular BBC series, Money For Nothing, got in touch to ask Henderson if she fancied doing a screen test. "She had seen some of my upcycled designs, said they loved my work and asked me to join their team of artisans," says Henderson.

"That has been good fun because I've had some amazing and challenging projects. I have been given a variety of stuff to work on. For one episode, I was given a box of old clothing which I ended up making into a rug. That was a great project. I have worked with fabric before, but this was something new.

"For another episode, I was given an old trunk that had belonged to someone in the army. It was battered and bruised. I ended up turning that into a colourful display cabinet for drinks. Everything I have been given for the show has been very different but that is what I like about it.

"I love the challenge of thinking out the box about a project, trying to reinvent something and set it off on its new journey. That is what I love about upcycling in general. Also, you are saving it from the tip which is always a good thing for the environment."

Upcycling is testament to the old adage that one person's trash is another person's treasure. You might see an old front door destined for the skip. Henderson sees a future dining room table. "Add some nice hairpin legs and give it a lick of paint," she says.

Dunfermline Press: Rachel Henderson with Money For Nothing presenter Jay BladesRachel Henderson with Money For Nothing presenter Jay Blades

She is similarly inspired by outside spaces. "One of the first things I worked on was an old bike," says Henderson. "I spray-painted it and turned it into a bike planter. We had painted our house white and gone for a coastal theme. The bike planter finished it off by adding a bit of character and colour."

Last year, she and her husband Andy moved to nearby Dunfermline with their five-year-old daughter Lottie. They took many of the upcycled pieces from her grandmother's former home with them, although upping sticks also brought exciting fresh projects.

The sellers of their new property were familiar with Henderson's upcycling work having seen her on TV. She jumped at the chance when they offered her a selection of furniture that had belonged to the former owner.

"With our new place, we moved into a house that had belonged to an elderly person – his son was selling the house after his father passed away," she says. "It had been a family home and had lots of old furniture.

"They said: 'We have seen you on the show and know how much you like working on old pieces.' So, we inherited quite a lot of furniture from this family which was lovely.

"The furniture had been gathering dust in the attic. They sent us photographs and asked if we would like any of the pieces. We ended up getting them to leave quite a lot, including a gorgeous mid-century unit which I have given a lick of paint.

"There were things like old fireplaces and cabinets. It is a 1970s house, so a lot of it was mid-century furniture that the family before us grew up around. It is nice to use their furniture and keep it in the house with us. I think they liked that as well.

"We upcycled this house like we did with my grandma's. We did end up bringing a lot of pieces with us and some of my grandma's old furniture I have actually re-upcycled to fit in with our new interior. It was nice to hang on to those because they do have a lot of memories."

Henderson's mission is to get more people to fall in love with upcycling – not only sparking creativity but saving old furniture and other household items from landfill.

For anyone who has reached the point in lockdown where, having exhausted Netflix, baking and Zoom quizzes, they are now wondering what to do next, upcycling could be a good hobby to try, she suggests.

The great thing, says Henderson, is many of us have things have lying around our homes and gardens that are crying out to be upcycled.

Dunfermline Press: A bicycle planter. Picture: Rachel HendersonA bicycle planter. Picture: Rachel Henderson

"In terms of furniture, it is amazing what people find in their attics that they forgot all about," she says. "Because we can't get out to charity shops or recycling centres at the moment, we all need to look and see what we have in our wardrobes, attics and garages.

"Have a good rummage in the attic and get your family to have a good rummage in their attics too. Use up any tins of paint that you have at home. Everyone has leftover paint where they haven't used the full tin. Even tester pots are great – they can go a long way."

What advice would Henderson give to upcycling rookies? "Go for something basic to start with, a nice small project – perhaps a side cabinet – that doesn't require too much sanding or priming because you want to enjoy the process.

"Upcycling can be a great mindfulness activity. The whole process from selecting the item to coming up with colours, prints and embellishments, there is a lot of thinking and problem solving. You get completely absorbed and forget everything going on around you. I find it therapeutic."

Another draw is that there is no such thing as a catastrophe in upcycling. "I can't think of any disasters," muses Henderson. "Usually if something isn't working out, I will change direction and come at it from a different angle.

"Sometimes I have painted a piece of furniture and thought: 'Oh, maybe that's not the right colour …' The good thing about upcycling is you can change direction halfway through – perhaps add a bit of wallpaper or some fabric – and completely alter how it looks."

Dunfermline Press: Rachel Henderson's upcycled back door. Picture: Rachel HendersonRachel Henderson's upcycled back door. Picture: Rachel Henderson

Henderson estimates that around 70 per cent of the furniture in her home has been revamped or repurposed. "While we have bought some new things like couches and a mattress for our bed, everything, including wardrobes, units and TV stands, are all upcycled."

Her new home's original wooden front door is in the process of being transformed into a dining room table, while the uPVC back door has been given a dramatic makeover, taking it from a generic white to an eye-catching array of bright pink, yellow and orange. "The idea was to bring some sunshine indoors," she explains.

Henderson has started selling some of her designs online and takes commissions to upcycle other people's furniture. One recent project was a summer house at Victoria Hospice in Kirkcaldy. "That was special to work on," she says. "I upcycled a lot of furniture that belonged to volunteers who work at the hospice, alongside some of my own pieces."

She is particularly proud of getting the creative juices flowing by devising an entirely new use for the battered army trunk that featured on Money For Nothing.

"This old metal trunk was completely covered in rust. It had been all over the world. It did take me quite a few days to work my magic on that one and transform it. The more time you spend on something and the more challenging it is, the more rewarding it is at the end.

"I gave it a new purpose and turned it into a drinks cabinet/display unit. I really went to town with colour and painted it a bright blue. I put some bold wallpaper in the back, added a shelf and some orange hairpin legs. I surprised the original owners with what I turned it into."

Here, Henderson shares a step-by-step guide for some fun and easy projects to try at home.


1. Clean wellies and remove any linings.

2. Drill 3-4 small holes into the rubber sole.

3. Prime with surface primer, do two coats (I recommend Rust-Oleum or PlastiKote).

Dunfermline Press: Welly boot planters. Picture: Rachel HendersonWelly boot planters. Picture: Rachel Henderson

4. Paint with either spray paint (I recommend Kobra) or an exterior paint (Valspar, Cuprinol and Ronseal all do weatherproof paint).

5. Seal with varnish (I recommend Rust-Oleum or PlastiKote).

6. Put some stones into the bottom of the boot for drainage, then fill with soil.

7. Pop some flowers inside: pansies, geraniums and begonias all work well. Have fun coming up with your own arrangement.


1. Remove back of ladders.

2. Use an electric sander to get rid of any old paint.

3. Wipe down with sugar soap.

4. Paint with two coats of primer (I recommend using Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3).

Dunfermline Press: Decorator ladders shelving unit. Picture: Rachel HendersonDecorator ladders shelving unit. Picture: Rachel Henderson

5. Paint with top coat – a gloss or eggshell based paint work well.

6. If using lots of different colours, use frog tape to mask out areas.

7. Seal ladders with varnish (I recommend Polyvine decorators varnish).

8. Display shelves horizontally or vertically, both ways work really well.


1. Lightly sand down the fireplace to get rid of any little marks. If it's a really old one check for woodworm and treat before painting.

2. Paint with two coats of primer (I recommend using Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3).

3. Paint with top coat – a chalky emulsion works really well on this type of furniture (I recommend Craig & Rose).

Dunfermline Press: Before and after shots of a fireplace display cabinet. Picture: Rachel HendersonBefore and after shots of a fireplace display cabinet. Picture: Rachel Henderson

4. Seal with a wax (I recommend Rust-Oleum furniture finishing wax).

5. Cut out a piece of plyboard that measures the same size as the back of the surround and two MDF shelves that measure the inside width.

6. Attach wallpaper to plyboard using a paste brush, seam roller and paper paste. Draw a line down the centre point of the plyboard to ensure you match up your wallpaper design.

7. Screw in plyboard to the back of the surround.

8. Cut and fix three supporting MDF strips and screw in shelves.


1. Remove all mesh fabric.

2. Lightly sand down the metal and wipe down with sugar soap.

3. Prime with surface primer, do two coats (I recommend Rust-Oleum or PlastiKote).

Dunfermline Press: Before and after shots of a T-shirt yarn garden chair. Picture: Rachel HendersonBefore and after shots of a T-shirt yarn garden chair. Picture: Rachel Henderson

4. Paint with spray paint (I recommend Kobra).

5. Wrap the T-shirt yarn (you can use shop bought or make your own using old T-shirts) around the frame. Start from either the top or bottom of the frame and loop over and under the frame, horizontally and vertically.

READ MORE: Robson Green shares the secrets of walking Hadrian's Wall

Make sure you keep the tension tight. You might like to use two or three different shades of yarn to create your own colourful design.

For more information, visit or follow Rachel Henderson on Instagram: @therachelhendersonstudio