How to become a Frivolous Spender (sort of): Upcycling & renewing furniture
With some of us having more time on our hands at the moment, we’ve been working on a range of ideas to help keep our minds and hands busy. We’ve covered everything from knitting to gardening, and this week we’re getting stuck into some DIY and decorating. At the AHC, we like to mix the old and new in our designs – seamlessly blending contemporary pieces by the likes of Michael Northcroft with rare antique finds and special, upcycled pieces.
Local to our Windsor outpost Great Fosters, we found the wonderful ‘Frivolous Spender’ (story on the name below) to breathe new life into some older pieces, and we were all delighted with the outcome. So impressed by the work of the Frivolous Spender (Michelle to those of us in the know) were we, that we decided to shout about it here – and also, she has some great advice for those of us wanting to turn our hand to some upcycling at home…
Here’s our Q&A with Michelle – paint brushes at the ready!
Michelle, can you tell us why you started the ‘Frivolous Spender’ and where the intriguing name came from?
My whole life I have upcycled – it was definitely how I was bought up. I hate waste and I think there’s so much more we can do with things before they a finally relegated to be rubbish. My mum, aunt and grand parents all shared this mindset, and I can say I had the bug from a very young age. I think I have always been creative too, and for other creatives out there I’m sure this will resonate – at some point, you just need to do what you love, and share with the world what’s inside. In a nutshell, that’s how I came to start the Frivolous Spender – the whole story is a bit longer of course.
My ex-partner and I separated in 2015 and that really was one of the main catalysts for me going out and starting the shop/upholstery/upcycling business that the Frivolous Spender is. Later that year, I was made redundant from a role within a big corporation that I had worked in for years – which I had enjoyed, but it wasn’t fulfilling me creatively. This was the second piece of the puzzle – I decided it was time to do something for me.
And the name? My ex-partner (he won’t mind me telling this story!) at some of the more tense points of our separation, threw into our legal back and forth that I was a (you know what’s coming) ‘Frivolous Spender’. Naturally this couldn’t be further from the truth, being a devotee of charity shops, car boots and generally hoarding everything and never bearing to part with or else not reuse items. We laugh about it now.
Where did you learn your learn and hone your craft?
Very simply, college! I attended adult education courses, night schools and so on. The courses are usually amply available and the pricing is reasonable. It’s not just for young people – please go out there and search for courses in your area if you want to learn a new skill. I studied all sorts over the years from upholstery to curtain making, CAD drawing to pelmet making. The upholstery course was about 1 afternoon a week for two years. This isn’t something that has happened overnight, and of course the more projects I have undertaken, the more experienced I have become.
How do you go about buying and curating your selection in the shop?
Well, this isn’t technical as such but I only buy things that I like and would want to have in my home – that said, my taste is very eclectic so you’ll find everything from flamingos to furniture in the store!
Where does your inspiration come for new designs and styles?
I like layers of texture, bold colours and just a bit of a mix really. I love McKenzie-Childs pieces and that style is something that inspires me to mix blocks of colour, and I guess it’s just my personal aesthetic. I’m a self confessed hoarder and have heaps of little treasures I’ve collected from my car boot outings and charity shops – I don’t buy things with a specific purpose in mind, I just have to love it. Then when I’m creating I’ll layer it up – playing with textures, fabrics, prints and so on.
Ideas come in the strangest of places – I picked up some iconic cherry prints from Pasha in Ibiza last year, and styled them up in beautiful, rickety/charming picture frames. They flew out the door!
Why did you decide to stock Frenchic? What makes it different from other ranges?
Frenchic is a revelation in the world of paint – and has recently won the Queen’s award for Enterprise & Innovation. It’s literally (in my opinion) the best chalk paint on the market. For beginners, the purpose of using the chalk paint is that it’s mineral based and non toxic with barely any smell – you could paint a child’s crib in it or a toy and not worry.
Unlike some other chalk paints, Frenchic doesn’t dry on the brush as you’re using it, the consistency is thin but the coverage is great, it self-levels as you work with it for a lovely smooth finish. The Frenchic round brushes are beautiful and two of the ranges, ‘al fresco’ and ‘lazy’ include sealant wax in the paint so when it dries, it’s sealed.
Literally on Facebook you can find the Frenchic Fan Forum, which is made of 100s of 1000s of fans (not stockists) who use the paint – it’s loved by so many people and it’s a great place to get ideas. You can even paint it onto leather to give an old sofa an update – I promise it won’t crack!
For beginners at home wanting to breathe life into an old piece, what are your top tips?
Preparation is key – but blessedly it’s minimal. Just a light sand with fine sand paper to remove any shine from the surface you want to paint is needed (we call it a light ‘key’ on the trade). Then give the surface a quick once over with some sugar soap to remove any chemical build up and paint away – of course this is when using Frenchic. I know people who are even using it to update their uPVC windows (using ‘smudge’ a charcoal dark grey).
Which product do you go back to again and again?
The paint! I love working with it – I find it very therapeutic and satisfying when I complete a piece. It’s become a core range in the shop too.
What’s your favourite colour in the Frenchic range?
I love all the colours but in particular ‘dusky blush’ which like a vintage pink. They’ve just released a similar shade in the ‘lazy’ indoor range which includes the wax in the formula called ‘nougat’ which gives a similar colour finish. Delicious!
Tell us about your wonderful store – how did you choose the location and what can people expect to find there?
It’s quite unbelievable actually. I was searching in Weighbridge, down Baker Street and found a property. As things have a habit of doing with property for one reason or another it didn’t quite work out and then I happened to notice an advert in my local farm-shop where I shop for space there. I loved the place anyway and viewed the space on the Sunday and took it there and then. We have beautiful vaulted ceilings (where I can hang my big golden flamingos!) and it’s quite an experience when you visit.
Which past or present designers would you most like to collaborate with and why?
I guess for me it’s less about the designer of the piece in the first place, and more about the story of it. I love getting a piece that used to be in a customer’s gran’s house perhaps, listening to their thoughts and creating a concept for the piece – seeing it through from start to finish and breathing new life into old pieces. I love to think of my pieces going back into homes to start a new chapter of their stories.
You can find Michelle on Facebook here: Thefrivolousspender