Written by Harriet Davey

Fashion editor Harriet Davey has started upcycling rattan furniture – here’s a step by step to do it yourself. 

It all started in H&M Home. I popped into the two-floor homeware haven on Regent Street on my lunch break (if you haven’t been there yet, you should) and as soon as I walked in I spotted the rattan chair. I sent a picture to my boyfriend – little did he know we would later be doing a three hour round trip to Cambridge to pick up a similar style I found on Facebook Marketplace. 

I had never used Marketplace before, but I searched for rattan furniture and after a while of patiently scrolling I found one for £5. Granted, it needed a bit of work but I couldn’t believe I had bagged such a great deal considering the one in H&M was £180. We then took a trip to B&Q to get the materials we needed, set up our DIY area in the living room and got to work cleaning, sanding and painting. 

After seeing the results, putting it on my Instagram (@harriet.davey) and getting so many positive comments, I quickly became obsessed with all things rattan. Next, I was roping in friends who lived near the furniture I had found to collect for me. It may sound extreme, but what I’ve found is that people who have furniture to get rid of want it out of the way, so you have to be quick. If you don’t message the seller and arrange a collection ASAP, it’s gone.

Within a few weeks, I had a chair, a side table, stool, coffee table and some draws. Next, I taught myself how to do the weaving with cane using YouTube tutorials to fix another chair. Upholstering was also needed for this one so I found the perfect velvet fabric at one of my favourite home destinations, House of Hackney.

Do you want to know how much I’ve been spending on all my furniture? The most expensive piece I’ve bought so far is £45. The cheapest? Free. Another person’s junk really is someone else’s treasure.

Tips for finding the furniture to upcycle:

1.Research: Look on Pinterest and home brands (here are 9 under-the-radar homeware sites I like) for furniture you need/want first. You can then search by product or style, e.g. for rattan, it’s best to use keywords like ‘cane’, ‘wicker’, ‘cane-backed’ and of course, ‘rattan’.

2.Explore: Most of my furniture came from Facebook Marketplace but a lot of people also list the same items on eBay. It’s also good to visit vintage fairs, flea markets, independent second-hand furniture shops or even your own homes for pieces to give a new lease of life.

3.Be patient: It takes time to find the exact item you want. Once you get the right one, you’ll enjoy spending the time transforming it.

What you need:

  • Furniture paint for the wood (B&Q own brand velvety smooth paint in Liberty black)
  • Multi-purpose paint for the rattan (B&Q own brand silky smooth in Toronto cream)
  • Two paintbrushes (for each colour)
  • A paint roller (and extra sponge roller heads)
  • A kitchen sponge
  • Newspaper (to protect the floor)
  • Masking tape
  • Sandpaper/electric hand sander
  • A glass of wine while the paint dries (optional, but advised)

Rattan chair upcycled with new cane and fabric

I’ll kickstart with my most recent upcycling project; the chair I caned and upholstered myself. All my other projects have been completed as a team with my boyfriend (he’s the perfectionist who makes sure they look good) but due to self-isolation, this was the first one I did on my own. 

Note: he did fix the broken leg before I got started, as I had no idea how to do this. 

For this one you will also need: 

  • Pliers 
  • Metal rod (or kebab stick)
  • Cane material
  • Fabric 

First, I wiped the secondhand furniture down with an antibacterial wipe. I then removed the old material (in one piece if possible, you’ll need it later) and cut out all the old cane using scissors. The back was already ripped and I wanted to take the sides out to make it look more modern. Each hole has an individual plug so you’ll also need pliers to pull these out or a metal rod (I used a kebab stick) to push them through. I then sanded the entire chair (using an electric sander), wiped it down again and then painted with matte black furniture paint.

Once the paint was dry I taught myself how to cane the chair. I used a DIY kit from seatweavingsupplies.co.uk, an independent cane company in Dorset. Before ordering, I emailed the owner images of the chair to make sure I was getting the right cane.

I used the handy guide that the kit came with, along with this YouTube video on ’how to cane a chair using the 7 step method’ – this is the usual weave you see on rattan furniture. 

I soon realised that it’s tricky. You need a lot of patience and it took a lot longer than I thought. This chair took me two whole days to complete. I definitely made a few mistakes but all in all, I’m so happy with the end result. You’ll find a full step-by-step of the process on my Instagram. 

Once the chair was caned I moved onto upholstering the seat. I used the old material as a template for the new animal print Hackney Empire fabric in midnight from House of Hackney. Known for their unique prints, they also have matching wallpaper, cushions, lampshades and other home accessories usually in the same prints so you can match and clash. 

I used a felt pen to draw around the old fabric on the back and cut out the template using fabric scissors (get these from eBay for £7). Putting the material in place, I fed it through the small gap between the frame and seat of the chair pulled it tight. Turning the chair upside down I then secured using a fabric staple gun (you can get these from Amazon for around £7). 

Rattan chair upcycled with paint

To upcycle a rattan chair without redoing the cane you’ll just need the first list of materials. This is the chair I bought after seeing the H&M iteration. My boyfriend and I collected it from Cambridge, gave it a good clean and sanded it down using sheets of paper before we invested in an electric sander which saved a lot of time.

The cane was already painted cream and it was hard to remove so we repainted over it. To do this we used a normal kitchen sponge and dabbed it on, using a paintbrush to get in any smaller gaps.

Once the rattan was dry we used masking tape to cover the edges and painted the black frame with two coats. 

The final chair is still one of my favourites. 

Rattan side table

For the side table, I wanted it to match my other cream and black pieces so we repeated the painting steps as above. 

If you get any black or cream paint drips on the opposite colours, the paint from B&Q has really good coverage so it’s really easy to touch up at the end. For a flat surface like this table, it’s best to use the roller for a more even finish.

I changed the knob on this mini draw with a shell-style I found in Anthropologie. It’s now my cute little bedside table and the first piece that felt like a complete transformation. 

Rattan stool

I then spotted a stool on La Redoute that I wanted for £80, I managed to find this one for £3.

This one still had natural rattan but we painted it to make the set complete. 

And here they are together – it’s the best £18 I’ve ever spent (plus the paint and draw knob). 

Rattan bench

It’s clear that after these few pieces I had developed a real addiction; I kept searching for more rattan. H&M put a bench online that I loved but I found a similar one on Facebook Marketplace. We repeated the painting steps as above and, as some of the rattan was torn, I glued these carefully with superglue. 

Chest of drawers

I deviated from my rattan obsession and found a wooden draw and mirror set. It was a bit worn at the edges and very plain but we painted contrasting draws and found some shell knobs to update it on eBay for £3.99 each. 

Now the duo sits perfectly together in my room. The rattan still wasn’t perfect on the bench so I used a strategically placed plant to cover it up. 

I had no experience in furniture upcycling or upholstering but it’s simple to learn and it’s now my new hobby. Some people have said I should make it my new side hustle but for now I’m just keeping them for myself (sorry housemates). 

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