From drab to fab: north London upcycler on the benefits of restoring furniture and homeware

dark peacock sideboard

1950s dark peacock decoupage sideboard, as featured in British Vogue, £415 - Credit: Jenny Adler-Potts/Glasshouse Girl

Whether it’s the pandemic making us reassess our consuming habits or simply because we’re spending more time at home, our interest in reusing and restoring is on the rise.

Second-hand selling sites have seen a buzz of activity in recent times, while #upcycling projects fill our Instagram feeds as people seek to keep themselves busy during lockdown. Then there’s the growing popularity of feel-good TV shows like The Repair Shop, which captures hearts with its moving stories behind the treasures in need of fixing and the skilful craftspeople who bring them back to life.  

off white sideboard

Off-white country oak sideboard, from £485 - Credit: Jenny Adler-Potts/Glasshouse Girl

But for Jenny Adler-Potts, aka Glasshouse Girl, a professional furniture and homeware upcycler, the growing interest in reusing and restoring is more than just a trend. “It’s a sustainable way to express your style and personality while reducing your carbon footprint,” she says. “I think the fact that repairing and upcycling is becoming more popular shows a shift in mindset from the throw-away IKEA generation who are moving away from mass-produced goods and looking for more unique, quality pieces that have been crafted by artisans.” 

Working from a converted greenhouse (hence the name) in her north London home, Jenny creates beautiful interior accent pieces out of salvaged items from local auctions and pre-loved selling sites. She describes her style as ‘shabby luxe’, mixing vintage designs with high-end finishes, though her repertoire varies greatly, from mid-century sideboards and French country cabinets to handmade lamps, upholstery and bespoke carpentry using reclaimed timber. 

bottle lamp

Sirop de Groseille bottle lamp - Credit: Jenny Adler-Potts/Glasshouse Girl

While many of her pieces are transformed with a fresh coat of paint, Jenny also adds creative flair with decorative techniques such as gilding and decoupage, demonstrated in her popular 1950s dark peacock sideboard, which featured in British Vogue last year. “I love being creative with designs and customising the piece so it’s unique,” she says, “even if it’s just pop of colour inside a draw or some funky handles. It can really brighten your day and make you feel more connected to your home.”   

grey sideboard

Grey Beautility sideboard, £895 - Credit: Jenny Adler-Potts/Glasshouse Girl

And it’s precisely this connection to our living spaces that has become so important over the last year and driven the demand for more meaningful interior design. Throughout the pandemic our homes have become a refuge from the threats of the outside world, leaving us with an increasing desire to surround ourselves with items that bring us comfort and joy.

One of the ways we are doing this is through keeping hold of furniture that has sentimental significance. “I was recently commissioned to make a lamp out of a vintage sewing machine which belonged to my client’s grandmother,” says Jenny. “That’s the beauty of upcycling – you can create something new and practical that suits your individual style while keeping its original charm.”  

Singer sewing machine lamp

Singer sewing machine lamp - Credit: Jenny Adler-Potts/Glasshouse Girl

For those keen to get stuck into their own restoration projects, Jenny offers tips and advice on her blog, including what tools to use and how to achieve the best finish. She’s adamant that anyone can makeover a piece of furniture, even a complete DIY novice, but cautions that there’s plenty of elbow grease involved. “Each piece I get has its own unique issues and the job of an upcycler is to solve problems as they emerge, whether it’s fixing a broken leg or tackling a tough stain,” she explains, “and it requires a lot of patience and makes a lot of mess!”   

black chair

Black velvet Bristow Easy chair with gold studs, £360 - Credit: Jenny Adler-Potts/Glasshouse Girl

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But overcoming these challenges is part of the satisfaction of restoring and upcycling for Jenny, and like many people who do craftwork, whether professional or amateur, she finds the process to have tangible benefits for her wellbeing. “There’s something incredibly therapeutic about working with your hands,” she says, “and it’s definitely helped to improve my mental health, especially over the last year. I love the whole problem-solving aspect, thinking about how to make something better than it was before.”  

glass display cabinet

Oriental dragon glass display cabinet, £435.00 - Credit: Jenny Adler-Potts/Glasshouse Girl

When asked what key piece of advice she would give to a beginner, Jenny says: “Don’t be tempted to give up or chuck something away. With a little TLC you can repair almost anything and give it a new lease of life, no matter how old, boring or broken it may seem.”