HOW TO

Upcycling and Repurposing 101

Kiyonda Powell recently converted a school bus to create the most awesome community-focused mobile classroom ever. As our resident upcycle queen, it’s only right that we asked her for tips on upcycling and repurposing for those interested in getting their DIY on.

Kiyonda Says…

I designed a co-working space last year for a client whose body of work is heavily community focused. She later approached me with an idea to create a mobile version of the co-working space that would host small group activity sessions on a converted school bus. The bus would go into local communities to engage with its users. I loved this idea because it breaks down access barriers for those limited with transportation resources – it was genius! We later purchased a school bus and began the journey of converting it into a mobile office and classroom space.

The initial concept and inspiration came from the physical co-working space – we wanted to make sure we had similar components and features present on the bus. The finishes and overall design concept were inspired by high contrast and nostalgia with a fresh twist.

Kiyonda Powell Design Studio's converted bus and community center
Design by Kiyonda Powell Design Studio

We wanted to use forms that were familiar in some way. We re-used some of the existing bus seats and had them reupholstered in a classic 1950’s channel back pattern with fresh and funky color schemes. We took typical shipping pallets and turned them into a divider wall that also served as a planter. We had a local artist transform them into black and white graffiti art with one of the brand mantras illustrated in repetition – “it still takes a village.” Items like these we have all experienced. Changing their physical appearance and or use helped us to bring a fresh twist to the design.

What’s your favorite source of inspiration for repurposing?

I love scanning Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration for DIY projects. There are how-to tips on faux finishing techniques as well as inexpensive hacks on styling pieces for a home. THE BEST inspiration comes from hitting the ground and going to antique stores, or shops that specialize in repurposed items. There you will discover so many creative ways to reuse furniture as well as custom finishes from some super talented artist and creatives. Go explore your local arts district and you are sure to find them.

How people are repurposing big items like airstreams and buses for new uses?

There has been a trend in the last several years of people wanting to restore and repurpose airstreams and school buses for both residential and commercial use. On the commercial side, we see them for promotional use, pop up shops, etc. It’s really cool to see how they get transformed!

What about smaller items, like headboards, bookcases, chests, doors or dressers?

I think the trend of upcycling and repurposing items to give them a new life can never really go out of style! There are so many possibilities, and some I’m sure we haven’t even thought of yet. A few of my favorite examples include using peel and stick wall coverings to add a pop of color to a cabinet or bookcase, using stencils to create a pattern on a tabletop or acrylic cart, or even faux antiquing a door and adding nailheads or appliques for adornments.

Kiyonda Powell upcycled a bus and creating a green patio on the back with chairs and flowers
Design by Kiyonda Powell Design Studio

What are your best tips for someone looking to take on a project like this?

Try not to bite off more than you can chew. If you are new to DIY projects it is best to start with something manageable. For example, you’ve picked up a set of vintage chairs from an estate sale but you can’t live with the existing seat cushions. This may be the perfect DIY project for you! Source your fabric, get some new foam/batting and a staple gun. Pop off the old and replace with the new – voila! Now you have a set of chairs with so much charm and personality that look and feel like you – perfect for your home!

Now maybe you are ready to take on refinishing that dresser that belonged to your grandparent. Maybe it needs a little love or a full-on makeover for that spare bedroom in your home. Be sure to do the research and take your time. You’ve got this!

Any items someone should avoid repurposing OR anything they should avoid doing when repurposing?

You should always assess whether or not the cost and time to repurpose is worth your investment. Is it a piece that has been in your family for years, or did you score an amazing find from an estate sale or consignment shop? Those may be worth an investment depending on how much is required to bring the piece to its full glory.

I typically would look for pieces with an amazing detail that would be hard to find anywhere else. It must also be in relatively good condition with solid construction requiring very little fixing. If purchased, I would consider the price and my plans for the piece to make sure I am not blowing the bank. Take note of these key factors to determine if it is a worthwhile investment.

Final thoughts

When you have taken time to transform the perfect DIY project, it becomes more than a conversation piece, it’s a part of your home’s story. A repurposed piece can add so much value to your home experience. They are each unique with soul and personality and have a story to tell. Why not write the next chapter from your point of view. Happy re-imagining!

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