A rush of people buying second-hand furniture has caused an 80% increase in searches on eBay in the past three months.
But not everyone looking for bargains is looking to furnish their own home. Part of the increase is due to savvy furniture swimmers turning old chairs, sofas and tables into desirable pieces – and making a handsome profit.
They say it’s easier than you think to make money by “recycling” unwanted items listed on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, auction sites and Gumtree. There are so many that much of it is available very cheaply (or even for free).
Upcyclers: Brenda Melaniphy and her partner Stuart Cooper have made a profit of £6,000 since starting their Flip It & Restore It business in January 2022
Brenda Melaniphy, 37, and her partner Stuart Cooper, 38, from Littlehampton, West Sussex, have been turning vintage furniture into profit for the past year.
The couple have sold 34 items and made a profit of £6,000 since launching their Flip It & Restore It business in January 2022.
They say the key is to buy high quality furniture, not just any old item. They also try to stick to a limit of £50 per coin.
Before bidding on something that appears to be of good quality, check historical auction site listings to see what similar items were made.
The couple work on no more than three items at a time, evenings and weekends, alongside their full-time jobs at a bank and as an electronics engineer.
“Look for real wood pieces that are only lightly scuffed and always avoid items with structural damage such as cracks or broken legs,” says Brenda.
“When it comes to paint, buy tester jars rather than a can, because you won’t need it all.” If you are using wallpaper for decoupage [where coloured paper is glued to furniture]look for gifts on Facebook Marketplace.’
Brenda and Stuart’s biggest profit was £275, the result of refurbishing an Ercol table they spotted for £50 on eBay. The famous British furniture manufacturer Ercol has been around since 1920.
Flipping furniture: A growing group of bargain hunters are turning old wooden chairs, sofas, tables and furniture into a profitable side business
The couple spent around £50 on paint and varnish and, after a few hours of grafting, listed the painting on their website. It sold out in ten days for £375.
Many furniture turners learn their skills from instructional videos on social media websites such as YouTube, which teach people how to reupholster, varnish, and use a stapler.
Lucy Ward, brand manager at second-hand site Vinterior, says that with chairs and sofas, the key is to focus on the form, not the fabric.
Mid-century and 1970s styles are popular. “You can easily buy an old sofa or a cheap armchair with a unique shape and reupholster it to bring it up to date.
“Using a trendy, modern fabric, like a white or beige sherpa, can get you reselling it for a lot more than what it was bought for,” she says.
Fleecy Sherpa is under £10 a yard on sites like Etsy.
“If you’re reupholstering a chair, a stapler is the easiest way to do it. There are plenty of how-to guides online,” says Lucy.
Bargains online: Junk furniture listed on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, auction sites and Gumtree is often available very cheaply – even for free
Another easy recycling trick is to focus on the small details. “Updating hardware like pulls, knobs and hinges can make a big difference to an item. It gives the room a new look and makes it more functional,” says Lucy.
Look for supplies at garage sales and charity shops, she adds.
Jamie Whittle, from Bournemouth, Dorset, says most people don’t check inside drawers or under tables to find the manufacturer of the piece of furniture, and so may underestimate its true value.
He says verifying these details helped him make a profit of £7,000 from his hobby. He is not afraid to get on all fours to look for marks.
Quality marks often stamp items with initials, dates and addresses.
The 37-year-old sports coach spends three days a week upcycling and his videos have earned him more than 20,000 followers on social media.
He says, “My biggest profit was on a G Plan buffet that I picked up for free on Gumtree. I knew it was a quality brand, so I refurbished it and sold it on eBay for £400.
“It had significant damage so I had to strip it, fix it and reapply teak oil. All in all, it took several hours, and it was a project that I was only able to complete after months of practice on other objects.
G Plan is a British brand that has been making wooden furniture since 1898. Jamie sells his revamped pieces on Facebook Marketplace and eBay.
He advises never to be afraid to refuse furniture if it’s not in the condition advertised when you arrive to collect it. He says, “I focus on solid wood because it is more desirable and stronger than MDF or veneer items.
“Patterns in the grain and peeling or cracking of the surface are all signs that an item is not made from real wood.”
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