Get in touch about letting your property

Style Seminar 02: upcycling furnished holiday lets

How to holiday let

In February 2016, Classic held their first Style Seminar at Nancarrow Farm, Truro.

Our second talk of the day came from Caroline of Saffron Cottage furniture, based in Hayle, Cornwall. She gives lots of helpful hints and tips on modernising furniture and creating feature pieces, both on a budget and in terms of commisioned pieces. Working solely with Annie Sloan products (other brand products are available!) she talks predominantly about upcycling furnished holiday lets with a variety of options.



Other videos in this series:

Style Seminar: soft furnishings in furnished holiday lets

Style Seminar: making the most of your holiday let




Style Seminar Transcription – Caroline
Owners Seminar 2
Caroline: If I just introduce myself, I’m Caroline, and my husband Lee over there. Four years ago I was an Inspector in Devon and Cornwall Police and having finished my thirty years, I retired. And Lee, as a Lieutenant in the Navy then retired last year because we’re starting to get busy. So, we have no design background and have no qualifications other than having done an Annie Sloan workshop, which is the chalk paint that I use, but it’s just a natural thing I like doing. And the reason it came about was that, on our retirement, we decided to go into the holiday cottage, having spoken to Simon for two hours on the boat coming back from the Scillies. I was looking for something to do; you know, too young to stop working but I wanted to be in control of our own destiny.
We own two cottages that we rent through Classic Cottages; one is a little 1890’s Cornish tiny, little cottage in Hayle just down from the railway station, with its original Cornish range and it’s really quirky and sweet. And this year, we live in a big barn just up the road from there, and we renovated the upstairs with a lovely apex ceiling in wood. Again, quite quirky, and we’ve moved downstairs in our hobbit hole, as we call it.
So, when we had these two properties, we wanted furniture. There’s a few here who have spoken to me about the fact you want something a bit different and you’ve also got a budget, and that’s when we looked at our modern Ikea etc sorta stuff, and thought oh dear, this isn’t working in here at all. Lee, is quite good on eBay and started sorting rough old bits of furniture, a bit like this *example*, and drawers and anything. Also, a really good source is car boot sales, charity shops, of which there are many in Cornwall, and local Freecycle as well is a great place to look. And, anything your gran or your parents have got stuffed in the back of an attic.
All you have to do is have somebody near you, like I have, who can fix it if it’s broken. So you maybe need to have a little bit of DIY to make sure your chairs are stable, that your hinges are fixed, that your drawers are glued back together. But once that’s done, depending on the piece of furniture you can, if it’s a nice wood, you can polish it up – sand it down and polish it up. Lots of work – Lee does French polishing – I would never have the patience to do that, but sometimes it’s really gorgeous.
And then, if it’s a bit rough you can paint it, like this *example* and you can have so much fun with paint. So I’m just going to show you some examples of ‘befores and afters’ that I’ve done, and then I’ll talk you through the paint that I use, but there’s loads of other options out there – you don’t have to use chalk paint. There are some people that don’t like and it is a bit of an art, but the reason I like it is, it’s like working with oil paints really – you can do what you like with it if you’ve got the patience. But when you’ve got to run a business, it can be a bit of a messy business; you can’t do it quickly can you?
Ok so here we go, this is an old table similar, to the chair here, and just paint it white and it looks great. If you want to go a bit further, do a bit of a decoupage, which is literally if you’ve got some old wallpaper or wrapping paper or anything. This, I actually did for a neighbour; that was her wallpaper, and I cut out accents from her wallpaper and I decoupaged it on her table, so she’s got a lovely white room with an accent wall and a little table on the other side of the room that fits in with it.
This is – I bet loads of us have got furniture like this in our houses – a plain old wardrobe, and that’s what it looks like when it’s painted with some new knobs on. Again with the bed, beautiful carving, but its heavy old pine and orange bed – and that’s what it looks like when it’s finished. We’ve kept a piece of pine in the room, the old pine, because it complements it. You don’t have to get rid of all your wood, it’s just breaking it down as [Lindsey] said.
The great thing with chalk paint, you can use it on metal, most plastics, even on marble, and once it’s on and you’ve waxed it and it’s set, it’ll stay there. This was an old, brass metal light-fitting and she wanted it to match her wallpaper, so that’s what I’ve done.
That’s our van outside and this is again a very tired-looking dressing table; not very interesting but a really practical piece of furniture for a holiday let. And then you paint it up, keep the wood on the top because it’s got some nice decorations in the wood, and it looks lovely.
This a set of old chairs that I bought; I don’t think I paid much more than a fiver each for them. I stripped them down, painted them different blues, I used Annie Sloan upholstery which is the same tones as the paint to re-cushion them. *picture* And that’s the front of our cottage and that’s where they live – they’re in the cottage. Now, I did these nearly three years and people say how long does the paint last, and the last couple of weeks we’ve been doing some tidying up in the cottage and the upholstery was a looking a bit, you know, so I got some upholstery cleaner, gave it a good old rub and they looked brand new. They look as good as the day we put them in, so I’m really impressed, I didn’t know how long they’d last – and we’ve had kids in that place.
So then you can get some heavier pieces of furniture and they really can look hideous. Sometimes, when you deal with old furniture there’s all sorts of weird varnishes and resins and goodness knows what they’ve used on them. Annie Sloan says with the chalk paint you don’t need to do anything with the wood, well I disagree with that. Sometimes you do have to – and you can see I’ve had a good old sanding down getting rid of some rubbish there. Then put together, that’s what it looks like. Now, that wood wasn’t very good. I don’t know if you can see in the photo very well, on the top instead of leaving it wood I wanted the effect of wood, but I’ve used Annie Sloan paint to give it a better surface. So I’ve used, believe it or not, this colour which is original, which is just an off-white really, and dark wax. That’s the effect it gives; it gives a proper wood-effect and it’s really clever.
Simon: What wax do you use?
Caroline: Annie Sloan wax. I have tried other products; dry wax works really well, most waxes, but what she’s designed just seem to work together really well so what’s the point in messing with it really.
So there’s another – that’s an old ercol 1960’s, looked a bit hideous. It was very dark brown wood. Some people do these up and they don’t paint inside the cupboard and it just looks hideous, so I do always go inside as well with the white, because I just think it makes it look fresh and more modern.
This is the one we have in our barn – our piece de resistance – we love this one and that’s the first one that started us off really. That is a French walnut wood which we’ve polished up and I did dry wax that one on top and it’s really useful. My mother left me a beautiful bone china dinner set which I didn’t have anywhere to put it; I put it in there and guests are starting to use it. I don’t mind cause I can buy bits of it on the internet even though it’s Wedgwood (it’s out of date now). It’s really nice to open those cupboards and find a really nice bone-china dinner set in there. I mean, they’ve got all the normal stuff in the kitchen, but I think some of them have loved it.
Now this piece is what most people would throw down the skip; it’s cheap, heavy, MDF tat to be honest. But the dimensions of this particular piece – it wasn’t very wide, it wasn’t very deep – fitted perfectly into one of my customer’s houses, so I did that to it and it looks fantastic. Even I was impressed with that one – I didn’t want to do it, did I?
If you’ve painted something or you’ve got something already painted and waxed like this orange piece here, two-tone orange – nobody wants to know, it’s hideous, horrible , – so again, it went white and you see I’m using a lot of white. It seems to be the ‘in’ colour – it’s not my favourite to paint with to be honest because it’s quite tricky on some woods. I’ll show you some coloured stuff in a moment. But, this one I painted and it’s now a display cabinet at the Fat Apples Café in Porthallow. At that café in Porthallow we have a shop, if you like, a sort of a showroom, where we keep our furniture while we’re waiting to sell it and it very often gets sold down there. It’s open in the summer for anybody who wants to go down and have a look. I personally, I do all the changeovers in my own cottages and the barn and I am semi-retired; I don’t have to get up in the morning and open a shop every day so this works perfectly for me.
*picture* This is my office at home, I had a very modern layout of an office upstairs which I had to move out of because we came downstairs, and where am I going to put everything. I had this giant, horrible brown cupboard so I had a bit of fun with that and everything from that space of under cupboard went into that one big piece of furniture, so that worked really well.
*picture* So this is what you call Stag Minstrel furniture, has anybody heard of that? Dirt cheap; you can pick it up at a charity shop, a chest of drawers like that, for £20 and it’s really well-made. It’s solid wood and there’s no fixtures on the drawers, it just slides in really nicely and they’re usually really clean inside, but you can change the knobs, keep the top nice and paint it, and it looks a bit special.
If you’ve got a really lovely piece of furniture that’s got lovely wooden drawers like this, or a piece of the furniture is really nice but the rest of it’s gone a bit tatty or bashed about – in fact I think this chest of drawers actually spent some of its time in somebody’s workshop, it was so bashed about in the case – then you can keep the wood and paint the rest of it. Again, that broken up look is really nice. Oh, and old rocking chairs, paint those… I’ll sell those like that, (clicks fingers) can’t keep them. Yeah, but anybody look at them not painted, not interested.
Now colours, I love playing with colours and I love using the same tones of a colour and keeping it all together. That’s one of my favourite combinations, I love blues as you can tell. *picture* And then this is an old bureau that I did, I had lots of fun, and on the bottom – I don’t know if you can see it very well – I did some decoupage with some old stamps. So, all decoupage is, is a bit of paper and varnish over the top. So it gives you a great surface for your coffee mug and it’s just, whatever decoration, however you want to make it.
Guest: If you wanted to change the decoupage would you be able to scrape if off?
Caroline: Sand it down
Guest: Just sand it down?
Caroline: Yeah, get an orbital sander, whip it off and start again.
Again, combinations of colours: now this just on the corner there is Old Charm. There’s a lot of Old Charm furniture out there. It’s solid oak, and it’s very often really dark stain; it looks hideous now. But if you get a sander on it, it brings up the oak: that lovely light colour that’s on the top of that coat hanger there. If you can get hold of that it’s brilliant quality and you can get it really cheap.
*picture* This is just a chest of drawers that was a really plain, modern chest of drawers that we put in our cottage – that’s one of our bedrooms. And again, I just played with a couple of different coloured greens and made it look a bit more interesting. And then, barley twist legs on anything are so much fun. If you have a couple of colours that go together, put them together.
Lee: Behind you…
Caroline: Oh yeah, here! Any twists in furniture you can start playing around with colours: it just makes it look really nice.
Stencilling; anybody ever done any stencilling before? I hadn’t done much of it – this is the board I did on my course and I realised how easy it was. If you don’t have too much paint you can do all different colours with the stencil. I have bought a decent camera since we started with this now; I used to do it all on my phone and realised the photos aren’t great so I apologise for that. But yeah, different coloured blues and then you can get something that’s really plain, so that’s an art deco, well 1930s very plain piece of furniture, but then inside it’s still pretty as well – you can make it look really lovely just playing around with a few stencils really.
Mirrors, I love doing mirrors. Here’s one here; dirt cheap, I think this cost me a fiver. It was gold so I painted it and just rubbed the paint back so you’ve still got the gold going through. You can pick these up at car boots for a couple of quid sometimes. I love mirrors and you can have fun, and there’s gilding on one of those as well if you’ve got a property that’s a bit grand and you want it to look a bit posh but not too old fashioned.
Drawer knobs: you can paint the existing drawer knobs; that’s the one at the bottom there – I just painted that a different colour (the drawer handles) and it stays on metal really well, ceramics. I’ve also got clients that love twinkly knobs – I haven’t got any photos unfortunately, but on white furniture it’s really nice. And then I started going a bit mad with printing; just paint the picture you want then print it – that’s what happened with that coffee table.
Again with wicker, if you have wicker items it honestly takes about ten minutes, a bit of watered down paint, go over it and leave it. You don’t need to wax if you don’t want to, I tend to because I like the paint to set. It just transforms your wicker, easy-peasy.
I also love these candle sticks and I did two or three different colours, then I let a bit of the metal show through. They look really nice in the middle of a table; another thing to have fun with. That’s all the photos I have, but I brought this chair just to show people how easy it was. I was talking to a couple earlier and they said how did you do this. So, first of all, for this effect I’ve put the blue underneath and then literally I did that in the coffee break and all I’ll do now is to get the chalk paint – you have to water this down, you can’t use it as it comes out of the tin because it’s really thick – so if someone said “oh my god, look at the cost of that paint”, then actually I think you’d get another 20-30% of volume out of my paint because I water it down. And then, I just go over the top of this and because it’s really warm in here this will dry in minutes few. It’d probably need another coat of the cream. The trick is, if you want to show a bit of the blue through, just take a little bit off as you’re going along and then you get these little blemishes effects.
When it gets waxed, the tones always change a little bit deeper and if on the next coffee break you want to come and have a look I’ve put some examples, and I’ve half waxed it half not it shows you the difference. Once this wax sets it’s really hard; you can knock it you know – it won’t take hot coffee cups very well, that’s one thing it doesn’t do, but pretty much anything else it can withstand.
I’ve got some books here to have a look at if you want to have some ideas. Just to let you know, our business is – I paint furniture as and when I can, we sell on eBay, we’ve got our own website – our card is in the bags there – but I also do commission work because for some people, especially these big pieces, it’s quite daunting to take on, and so if you wanted me to do a piece for you we’re very reasonably priced, I don’t charge very much, and give us a call. Anything else?
Guest: I’ve got a question, what about on melamine?
Caroline: Melamine is tricky, but is possible.
Guest: Do you prime?
Caroline: No, I don’t prime. If you want to know a bit more about Annie Sloan – I don’t use anything else, but there are other makes out there – but she developed this paint so that she didn’t have to do any prep. As long as there isn’t any grease on it – I used to use sugar-soap but sugar-soap seems to react with the chalk paint – so all I do now, if I want to clean something down and make sure there’s no grease on it, I do a very light mix of washing up liquid and water. Literally, just wipe it over, make sure there’s no dust or grease. If you have a particularly knotty wood, you might want to use Shellac sealer. I do have to use that sometimes but mostly on the old furniture because it will blow through.
Guest: Do you sand?
Caroline: No I just put it on. The thing is with the white, all the whites, is that if you’ve got an orange wood or an orange-based varnish, it can blow through. I work quite closely with Ben who owns Helston Furniture, and he does some amazing paintwork, and he sells the paint, does the workshops but he doesn’t like working white the white at all. One of the ways around it is to do the two-tone effect; so use the darker colour underneath; that can usually stop it. So that’s the only issue that can be a bit of a problem with the whites.
Guest: Even if you put two or three coats on?
Caroline: Yeah, if you’ve got something that’s coming through, you need to get the shellac… or just give up and do it a different colour. All the coloured paints seem to hold it back, I don’t know why.
Lindsey: That’s been my experience, I’ve had the knots blowing through and in the end I went to the eggshell which in effect seals on the lighter colour.
Guest: So do you paint the wax on?
Caroline: Yeah, I’ll show you how to wax. So, I actually use a brush because generally I’m doing up old furniture and there’s always dinks. You can put it on with a cloth as easily but I love the brush effect and I literally just do this; rub it in, make sure I get in all those little bits because you’ll see if you haven’t got any of the bits because it looks dry. You take off the excess so there’s not any lumps, because it does go hard, and you should use gloves because it makes your hands go hard. I’ve got no nails left but that’s my world. Then let it dry and that’s it; let it dry, go back half an hour later and get the cloth again and just shine it up as much as you want, and you get a nice sheen, a really nice shine on it, and that’s it.
You might find you have to do it again depending on how much wax you put on the first time. Then occasionally, some of the stuff I’ve done three or four years ago, I’m thinking I’m going to do the side of that and just put a little bit more wax on. Or if I’ve got the dry wax out doing the top, I’ll just rub some of that on. Dry wax works just as well; clear dry wax that it is.
Guest: Do you have to take the wax back to do the next coat?
Caroline: No, the wax is at the end of the whole process.
Guest: But if you decide six months to change the whole colour?
Caroline: No, straight onto the wax.
Guest: So would it work over glossy kitchen cupboard doors?
Caroline: Yes definitely. The reason I hesitated with the melamine is it’s a really smooth surface but I think it would work because it works on marble, so all I suggest is you paint it and you let it dry completely overnight, then put another coat on and then very gently wax it and let it set. But then you might find a bit of chippy – but then if you’re looking for character… I mean I used to paint perfectly. It took me ages to get my head around – I don’t do shabby-chic, not really shabby-shabby, sometimes I look at things and I go “oh no” – I always do nice edges on my drawers and inside the drawers. I never leave these half-rubbed out bits on the side, but I am conscious that I’m perhaps trying to be too perfect with chalk paint and you just can’t be; it is what it is. It’s textured; it’s to make something look old but bright, and so I’m now getting better at letting things show through and it does actually look nice.

Now kitchens, I hesitate with a kitchen – Annie Sloan says she can do kitchens and they’re great – but you’re talking about moisture and I think if you’ve got a particular spot in your kitchen where you’ve got a lot of steam going I think it might affect the paintwork. I don’t know what you think?

Lindsey: I think it would be an oil or eggshell personally

Caroline: I think eggshell is probably your best bet in a kitchen. And then, you do have to sand with putting eggshell on don’t you?

Lindsey: Not really

Caroline: But you put an undercoat on don’t you?

Lindsey: Yeah and then eggshell then wax, because again even on eggshell it’ll offer up, you’ve got to have that sticking power, for countertops.

So all I hope is that that helps you have some ideas about brightening up your own places if that’s what you want to do.

Related guides

Guide to VAT for Furnished Holiday Lets

Here is our rundown of VAT for Furnished Holiday Lets in 2024 so you can navigate these waters with confidence.

The Government announces regulation changes for short term lets

The government has set out new rules for short term lets, focusing on a registration scheme and changes to planning laws. We have summarised the changes and given our stance on how these changes will impact the industry.

New fire safety regulations for holiday homes in England and Wales

Understand the new guidance and regulations for holiday home fire safety in England and Wales with our handy guide.