Giving old items a new lease of life: Kristina Steinmetz on successful DIY projects and upcycling

A photo of Kristina Steinmetz.
As Kristina Steinmetz explains, you can create new furnishings and accessories from the most unexpected materials. © Kristina Steinmetz

The results may be surprisingly simple, but first you have to come up with the idea: we met with interior designer Kristina Steinmetz to talk about her creative upcycling concepts. She also gave a few tips on which materials are on trend right now, and how best to tackle your own DIY projects.

Kristina works as a contractor for hotels and restaurants, and also decorates rooms in private households. She's currently living with her husband in Canada, and is launching her new projects from there. Kristina keeps her followers up to date via her blog, ICH DESIGNER.

Kristina, a magazine rack made from a non-slip mat, a stool made from insulating foam – where do you find inspiration for all your projects that involve unusual materials?

For me, the DIY shop is what shoe shops are for many other women. I can spend hours in there without getting bored! I see a material or object and ideas just come flooding to me on how to use it.

  • A stool with wooden legs and insulating foam for the cushion, standing next to a sofa.
    Kristina’s stool made from expanding foam couldn’t be more comfy. © Kristina Steinmetz
  • A magazine rack made from a black speckled non-slip mat, held together with a wooden rod.
    Simple yet stylish: a magazine rack made from a non-slip mat. © Kristina Steinmetz

What fascinates you most about upcycling?

In my opinion, living more comfortably shouldn’t depend on budget. Using old items and materials in new ways and giving them a second lease of life is fun, saves money and is good for the environment. Even small things like furniture legs and table legs can be used in a number of different projects.

  • A piece of wood is attached to the top of a wooden furniture leg, with bananas placed on top. A similar piece can be seen in the background with apples on it.
    A fruit bowl made from a furniture leg and wooden board. © Kristina Steinmetz
  • Three long furniture legs attached to a wooden bowl.
    Anyone can make a bowl like this – but it’s even more likely to catch the eye if you make it out of furniture legs. © Kristina Steinmetz
  • Two large wooden furniture legs, one natural wood and the other painted white, used as candle holders.
    These candle holders made from furniture legs will make your guests do a double take. © Kristina Steinmetz

DIY shops are a huge source of inspiration for you. What else would you recommend to help people come up with new ideas?

I go on Pinterest every day for inspiration. So far, I’ve posted more than 23,000 images there. I keep everything I like on my public and private pin boards.

How do you stumble on the idea to repurpose certain things for your DIY projects? When and where do the best ideas come to you?

I love a challenge. And it’s often a challenge to turn something old into something new. Unfortunately my best ideas seem to come to me when I’m trying to sleep. When I’m finally relaxed and my head is free from everyday worries, ideas start to bubble up inside me.

I also love going to flea markets, second-hand shops and, above all, poking around in piles of bulky waste. It's unbelievable the kind of things that people throw away. Sometimes you come across real treasures. And don’t forget: the DIY shop is and always will be my favourite!

What are your upcycling tips and tricks?

I’m no hoarder, but before you throw something away, think twice about whether that item or material can be used or repurposed in another way. It might be that you can only use certain parts of it. Sometimes you may need to take the entire thing apart. Other times, you might have some leftover paint that you can use for a large DIY picture. It’s easy to create a canvas frame with a few wooden slats and some muslin – and then you can use a small paint roller to create your own abstract masterpiece.

A room in grey and white with a black-and-white painting.
Kristina’s artwork hangs in her dining room. © Kristina Steinmetz

Seeing as it’s possible to create something new from almost any material, which materials do you enjoy working with most? Where are the best opportunities for upcycling?

Wood is definitely very versatile and easy for beginners to work with. It’s one of my favourites. Metal is also interesting. I really want to invest in a welder so I can experiment more with metal. Otherwise, I’m open to using any material. I also love concrete and acrylic glass.

For people who like to save money: can you recommend any specific materials or items that can easily and cheaply be upcycled into new furniture?

Wood can be used universally. Its various characteristics make it suitable for low-cost projects too. What’s more, it’s easy to find wood in any pile of bulky waste.

Which material would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?

I haven’t tried working with mirrors yet, but I’d like to. As you can tell, I never get bored! (Laughs).

What’s the most unusual repurposing project you’ve worked on?

Oh, that’s a difficult one. But there is a lamp where nobody can believe its shade is made from crocheted black and white rubbish bags. Of course, I found the frame for that in bulky waste too!

A black-and-white lamp shade hangs from a ceiling.
Who would’ve thought that this lamp shade is made from rubbish bags? © Kristina Steinmetz

What has been your favourite upcycling project so far?

I can’t answer that because there are just too many! But for my followers, the bed slats upcycling project, originally an IKEA hack, is definitely number one.

Would you mind telling us which projects you’ve got coming up, or which ones you’re thinking about embarking on?

We emigrated to Canada a year ago. After spending forever living in Airbnb and furnished flats, we’ve finally found our dream home near Vancouver. But it needs a complete renovation. We plan to do everything ourselves and can't wait to get started. So my head is currently bursting with ideas. My husband and I sit down together every evening to draw up plans and sketches of furniture and other projects.

As a DIY expert, what tips do you have for anyone starting out on their own projects?

The right preparation is key. I always write up a list of materials and draw sketches first. You should also get used to wearing suitable protection (e.g. gloves, safety glasses, etc.) right from the start, and always clean your tools and devices.

And which materials should you definitely use? What will next year’s trends be?

Marble and brass remain popular and are my personal favourites. I especially like to combine the two with acrylic glass or wood; I love creating contrast.

A home-made brass lamp standing in front of marble boards.
Brass and marble: two materials that are bang on trend. © Kristina Steinmetz

Would you like more inspiration for new furniture or decor projects? Then browse through some of the upcycling ideas we’ve put together – you’re sure to find something you like.

If you’d like to hear from another inspiring individual, then you won’t want to miss our interview with Verena from hamburgvoninnen. She has plenty of tips for small living spaces in particular.