Decorating with heirloom pieces – Discovering and restoring an old cupboard

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Elle's upcycled cupboard is the perfect display for her Opus Cupra collection | © Elle Hervin - @elle_the_home_bird


Timeworn furniture, thrifted crockery and cookware passed down through the generations. Old oil paintings propped up in cosy nooks. And dusty books from a generation gone stacked high on shelves.
There is a subtle beauty and a delicious sort of pleasure that comes from curating a home using furniture and homeware from times gone by.

Antiques and second-hand pieces of furniture make wonderful and interesting additions to the home – they tell a story that only something of age can do.

I have many old items of furniture in my home – old chests passed down by my antique-loving grandmother, wardrobes that don’t quite close due to their age and cupboards with a patina that boasts a lifetime of being both used and useful.

My collection will never be finished; I am forever hunting for my next treasure.

But that is the most joyful element of decorating with vintage furniture and homewares. Flea markets, online selling sites and of course, eBay are all fantastic places to find second-hand furniture. But sometimes, the most unexpected places will throw up a diamond in the rough; a forgotten piece that has lacked love or attention for so long it has simply blended into the background.

Seeing the beauty in something that others may consider ‘ugly’ isn’t necessarily a skill but it is something you have to become attuned to, especially if you want to snap up a bargain before anyone else.

Not so long ago, I became aware of an old school cupboard which was headed for a rather sorrowful end to its working life – namely the dump!
It really wasn’t the best-looking item of furniture. But then it had never been intended as a piece to be admired; it was destined for a lifetime of being useful.
Despite this, it had something about it. Two glazed doors with Georgian-style bars with shelves inside and lovely deep cupboard space underneath.
The wood would have to be painted
, it wasn’t good enough to be restored. And it lacked any discerning features such as nice handles or trims. But nevertheless, I set about giving this ugly ducking a new lease of life.

Before and after | © Elle Hervin - @elle_the_home_bird

Delicate aged brass handles were added to the doors, a new decorative trim was fixed to the top of the cupboard to give it some character and detail, and tongue and groove panelling was added to the back of the cupboard, again to add interest.
The decision to paint the cupboard was an easy one. Not all of my furniture restorations have involved painting, as sometimes the original patina of the piece is too beautiful to cover up. But in this instance, a lick of paint was the right way to go. I used an off-white shade, which added freshness but maintained the ‘aged’ look of the piece and would be an easy neutral to live with long-term.

Elle's curated selection for the cupboard: white crockery, delicate glassware and her Opus Cupra collection | © Elle Hervin - @elle_the_home_bird

The old school cupboard, destined for the dump, was now transformed into a beautiful glazed dresser ready for its new life in my kitchen!
Then came the fun part – filling it full of beautiful items. I wanted a sort of relaxed uniformity to the styling of the cupboard; too many colours or tones would spoil the rustic neutrality of the piece. I filled the shelves with white crockery, delicate glassware and my copper Ruffoni pots as a sort of accent colour.

Copper adds such warmth to a space and in a kitchen, brings a certain authenticity to the overall atmosphere. The delicate detailing on the Ruffoni pieces compliments the subtle white crockery, adding just the right pop of colour.

A couple of herb plants and some candles finished off the overall look of the piece, which is now both useful and beautiful.

And what a sense of satisfaction it was to breathe life once again into this forgotten and somewhat neglected piece of furniture.

The old school cupboard, destined for the dump, is ready for its new in Elle's modern rustic kitchen | © Elle Hervin - @elle_the_home_bird

My top tips for finding and upcycling old furniture:

  • Any piece of furniture can be made beautiful – don’t be put off by its ‘ugly-duckling’ appearance!
  • Scour charity shops, Facebook Marketplace, eBay and flea markets and have fun haggling!
  • You don’t have to paint furniture to bring it back to life – a light sand and a couple of coats of furniture oil/wax can breathe new life into a piece
  • Invest in some decent quality paint brushes if painting furniture
  • Older pieces will need a stain-blocker and primer applied before painting

Materials I used:

  • 2-in-1 stain blocker and primer (at least two coats)
  • Eggshell paint (I used F&B Shadow White on my cupboard)
  • Good quality paint brushes

Meet the author

Elle Hervin

A former journalist turned full time content creator, writer and interior stylist, Elle Hervin lives on England’s North East coastline with her husband and three boys. Filled with one-of-a-kind, heirloom pieces – and with a color palette spawning from rich, moody blue to natural wood, white, pink and sage green – Elle’s period home is the perfect example of her approach to interior styling focused on making every day living spaces practical yet beautiful.

A former journalist turned full time content creator, writer and interior stylist, Elle Hervin lives in a period home that perfectly encapsulates her approach to interior styling focused on making every day living spaces practical yet beautiful.


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