Canadian designer Sarah Richardson has a long-standing appreciation for DIY projects and offers up tips and advice on how to get it right.
Can you describe some of your earlier DIY projects? Let me tell you a little story. My very first published work was my own loft apartment, which I shared with my best friend. It was entirely decorated with vintage treasures from estate auctions, yard sales and little vintage dealers in downtown Toronto. Not only did House & Home magazine publish a feature on our loft, they also put it on their cover and to this day I have not forgotten that my first piece of published work—and my first cover—featured a $5 chair, a $2.50 lamp, a $20 table with chipping paint and a $50 window frame. I truly believe that budget and style are not mutually exclusive, and I will always be passionate about DIY projects and reimagining and renewing pre-loved pieces with great bones, sculptural lines, and unique character.
To what do you attribute the renewed interest in DIY? Saving money and being kind to the planet have always made recycling, upcycling, reimagining and restoring very attractive options. I think the enduring appeal and interest in DIY can also be credited to our collective desire to live with less but with better, more meaningful and unique goods in our homes. I find the process of reupholstering or reimagining finds to be extremely rewarding.
What are some of your favourite pieces to DIY? I love creating one-of-a-kind bathroom vanities using vintage dressers, you would be surprised at the kinds of pieces you can thrift or repurpose as a vanity. Check out my YouTube channel because I’ve got a Design Life episode dedicated to upcycling furniture to create the ultimate bathroom vanity! I’m also keen on salvaging and repurposing elements like corbels to use as legs for a wall-mounted desk or as decorative supports beneath kitchen island countertops and flanking entryways. But truth be told, my heart belongs to vintage chairs. I have a hard time passing them up simply because of their potential to become something beautiful and unique once they’re reupholstered and refinished.
Do you hit up flea markets? Absolutely! Every chance I get, which admittedly is a lot less often than I’d like these days. Whether it’s a flea market, yard sale, antique store, consignment shop, or Kijiji, I always enjoy the thrill of the hunt. I’m known for my love of sourcing outside the usual retail destinations and I have storage lockers full to prove it! As a designer, there are few things more exhilarating than finding preloved vintage and antique treasures that I can reimagine into something totally unique. I have a deep appreciation of the soulful element that vintage, antique, reclaimed, up-cycled and repurposed pieces can bring to any project. I’m always inspired by the unique result that can be created when you mix a harmonious blend of old and new.
Any tips on ensuring that the quality is still there? When it comes to pre-loved items, no two are alike in terms of condition. If you spring for a find, try to be mindful of what you paid and what you’ll need to invest to ensure they are aligned. I’m all for reimagining and restoring to bring something up to date, but I don’t do broken, cracked or in need of repair items... that story never ends well for me.
What tools should the average DIY’er have in their tool kit? If you can, buy pieces in near “mint condition” not “as is” for best results that require fewer tools. I’ve always said, the power of paint can transform any item from drab to fab, so my number one tool kit must-have for the budding DIY’er is a good quality paint brush! Check out my YouTube channel to watch our one-day two bedroom cottage transformation on a remote island using reimagined Kijiji finds!