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Upcycling vintage furniture: Sunday Stroll’s top tips
Jessica Russell, owner of Toronto-based Sunday Stroll, offers upcycled vintage furniture (such as these reupholstered chairs) and a selection of vintage decor. Photo: Sunday Stroll

Upcycling vintage furniture: Sunday Stroll’s top tips


Jessica Russell, owner of vintage decor shop and upcycling studio Sunday Stroll, shares how to get custom looks for less with furniture flipping

It started with a splash of bright white paint. As Jessica Russell watched the beige walls of her condo transform to a cool white in March 2020, a deep-seated idea for a new business venture was beginning to take shape.

Now, more than two years later, Jessica runs her own vintage decor shop and furniture upcycling studio, Sunday Stroll, in Toronto.

Jessica took on upcycling by way of a pandemic hobby. “I was at home, not sure what to do with my time, and nobody was really working from home yet,” she says. “Every minute felt like an hour.”

She got in early on the home-renovation phase and scored some white paint to make over her living room, well before paint became harder to come by. That led to more improvements for her living space — a little paint here, some new hardware there. Then she turned to the furniture.

“I thought, well now that the wall is white, the bench might look better black. And then that kind of just snowballed,” she says. “We had a totally different living space after only a few weeks!”

A pair of three-tier puce end tables with rounded edges and topped with brass decorations and flowers.
Upcycling “is a way for the person to describe their personality through their furniture they choose, what colour they paint the room. The fact that everything is one of a kind, more or less, is something that I think we’re all attracted to,” says Jessica. Photo: Sunday Stroll

Building an upcycling brand

With only so much of her own furniture available to work on, “I started to outsource,” Jessica says.

The timing was serendipitous — just as she was running out of furniture to make over, others were selling or giving away furniture during their own home renovation projects.

To share her creations, Jessica started posting pictures of her upcycled pieces on Instagram “with no intention of starting a business,” she says. But when she started to receive inquiries from people wanting to buy the pieces, Sunday Stroll was born.

At first, Jessica arbitrarily charged for the pieces, grateful to have sales. But when she decided to commit to building her brand, she knew she needed a proper price structure that accounted for materials, time and labour.

“I used my experience to build my pricing strategy,” Jessica explains. “There’s a lot more elements to the equation now than there were when it was a simple hobby.”

A vintage radio unit with black painted details repurposed as a liquor cabinet with a gold ice bucket on top.
Jessica usually knows what the finished piece will end up looking like as soon as she sees an item in its raw state. Sometimes it requires more than a paint colour and some new hardware — like in the case of this antique radio that Jessica transformed into a bar. Photo: Sunday Stroll

Entirely self-taught, Jessica goes well beyond sanding, painting and adding some decorative paper to a piece of vintage furniture. She’s added many techniques to her repertoire, including stencilling patterns, reupholstering and, in some cases, completely altering a piece’s function. For one client, she transformed a solid oak TV stand into a tall console table by sawing off the stand’s feet and adding hairpin legs.

“I’ve grown to understand the demographic that follows my work. I know the kinds of things that they like, the kinds of styles they want in their home,” Jessica says of her upcycled creations.

And know her clients she does — Jessica’s Sunday Stroll furniture offering is complemented by a fanciful set of decor objects that make her pieces pop. Among other things, she sells vintage lighting, barware and tableware, textiles, mirrors and vases. Her website even has a separate category for “pink things” because of her clients’ penchant for pink.

A teak secretary unit with blue and mauve painted details repurposed as a bar cart with glassware and a sculptural white lamp in the form of a wave.
“I want people to not even necessarily be looking for a new bar cart or a new credenza or a new pair of end tables,” Jessica says. “You don’t necessarily need to be trying to fill that void, but I want you to see [the pieces] and realize that it’s something you can’t live without. And it’s a bonus that it solves the problem you’re having.” Here, she transformed a roll-top desk into a smart-looking bar. Photo: Sunday Stroll

Pandemic created need for ‘unique’

Over the last two years, shifting consumer attitudes toward secondhand items have been a refreshing change, Jessica says.

Shoppers are increasingly appreciative of vintage goods for their quality and low environmental impact, and it’s been a boon for her business.

But when it comes to Sunday Stroll’s corner of the market, there are more trends at play. “Our generation has been influenced by the pandemic,” Jessica notes.

The desire to stay home and “nest,” and the impact of closures and supply chain struggles on small businesses are just a few of the pandemic’s side effects impacting shopping decisions today.

Fresh advice about old stuff

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As a result, “we want to shop and support local, and we want to introduce ‘unique’ into our homes,” she says. “You don’t want to walk into your friend’s home for drinks tonight and her living room looks just like yours.”

A geometrical brass bar cabinet topped with brightly coloured spirits, cans, and popcorn.
Social media, as much as business owners may not love it, is the way of the world today, says Jessica. “I don't show myself on Instagram very often, almost never,” she says. “You can hide behind your work, but you do need to put your work out there because people aren’t going to know that it is available to buy or that it even exists unless you put it out there.” Photo: Sunday Stroll

Upcycling vintage furniture achieves this because no two pieces are ever alike, says Jessica. “It’s like going into someone’s own personal museum when you go into somebody else’s home,” she explains.

“You know when you’re like, ‘I love that. Where did you get it?’ With upcycled furniture, it doesn't matter where they got it because you’re never going to get one. It’s one of one.”

A pink metallic chair with built-in magazine rack and side table as well as purple and green floral upholstery.
Jessica specializes in finding small pieces of furniture that work for today’s condo-dwellers. A fresh coat of paint and a reupholstered seat in a fun fabric brings this mid-century-era phone chair into 2022. Photo: Sunday Stroll

Custom work on the menu

Jessica always imagines the potential final version of a piece as she’s choosing which furniture to refinish. The room it’s likely to be used in, such as a bar cabinet in a dining room or a nightstand in a bedroom, informs the colour choices, as does the piece’s overall condition.

“Often when I do patterns on pieces, it is an effort to circumvent a problem that it had in its raw state,” Jessica explains.

“Sometimes there is a giant gash on the side, or there’s a chip missing, or there’s something that I know I’m going to need to lightly repair with putty or glue or sanding that’s going to affect the wood. There isn’t really a way to come back from all of that and I think, okay, the paint has got to cover that.”

A teak desk painted with a scale-inspired pattern of green, grey, and mauve.
Some pieces require thoughtful paint placement to cover imperfections, such as this vintage desk that came with a deep scratch. “I really like clean lines. You can make a stencil on a Cricut and I recently introduced that to my bag of tricks,” says Jessica. “I made a stencil with arches because painting arches freehand is a disaster!” Photo: Sunday Stroll

But not everyone wants to purchase a piece that’s fait de compli. To expand her business, Jessica takes orders for custom pieces through a service called Sunday Bespoke. It’s geared toward clients who want to refresh one of their own pieces of furniture.

With her first orders on the docket for September, Jessica says she’s looking forward to working together with clients to help refine their vision or dream up a project together. While she chooses the creative direction of her “off-the-shelf” upcycled pieces, Sunday Bespoke allows for more flexibility.

“Just because I’m painting big, pink stripes on a table doesn’t mean I can’t help you. If you want four different shades of beige, we can do that,” Jessica says. “I don’t want customers to be afraid to express what they want.”

A wooden rocking chair adorned with black and white patterned fabric depicting birds.
A vintage bentwood rocking chair gets an upgrade with a graphic fabric. Photo: Sunday Stroll

Upcycling tips

Jessica Russell shares some of her best upcycling advice in a FREE downloadable tip sheet called Upcycling Vintage Furniture. Download it now!

What do you want to know about the business of upcycling? Let us know in the comments!

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