Baby's First Upcycle


If you're anything like me, when you move into a new space you get that itch to create a whole new vibe. Moving into a new apartment is a chance to change what it means to be at home. This itch is usually followed by a trip to Target and Homegoods followed by a month of cringing as I wait for my credit card bill. 

When my boyfriend and I moved into our new place this past fall I got that familiar, dangerous itch to throw everything out and start over. As I perused the depths of the interior style hashtag on insta and the archives of my "homie home home" Pinterest board, I began making a list of the items I needed to create my ideal space. That was when I stumbled on #trashtoterracotta, an upcycling trend started by Geneva Vanderzeil. This trend is simple, you take an old vase, plate, etc. and touch it up using a terracotta paint and baking soda mixture. Despite its simplicity, the trend changed my whole perspective on redecorating my apartment. I realized I didn't have to buy every trendy new decor item to create the space that I wanted. I could use items that we already had to create a new atmosphere. 

Anyway.... I thought I would share my creations from #trashtoterracotta! (I swear I will never buy a new vase again)

 Instructions came from Geneva's Collective Gen blog. 

What You Will Need

House Paint 

House paint is not required. You can use acrylic, but I found that the house paint works much better. I went to Home Depot to get the paint that I used. You can pick paint colors in person or online (COVID friendly option), and then order the 8 oz samples which come in small plastic jars. The colors that I used were "Rusty Gate" and, you guessed it...... "Terra Cotta" (lol). For paint brushes, the larger the better. Small brushes make it hard to get a smooth and even texture. I also found that it was best to have 1 or 2 brushes per paint color. Once you get the brushes dipped into the house paint they are super difficult to get clean. 

Aluminum Tray for Mixing 

I started by using solo cups for paint mixing and it did not go well. The best way to mix the paint is to use a throw away aluminum tray that you typically bake cakes in. These can be found at the grocery or hardware store. 

                                                                                     Baking Soda 

You can use any brand of baking soda, I recommend getting the cheapest. Also make sure to get a paint-specific thing of baking soda or keep it separate from the baking soda that you bake with. 

A Couple Funky Vases 

Here's where the upcycling comes in. I used a couple bowls / vases that I already had, but you can also head to your local thrift store, the funkier the shape the better!                                                            

Porch or Area with Good Ventilation 

Be sure to paint in an area that has proper ventilation, honestly outside is the best. Also wear clothing that you don't care about as this process definitely gets a bit messy. 

The Process 

Step 1 


Remove any tags from the bottom of your vases and wash with warm water and soap. We want to make sure that we have removed any obstacles to our painting process to give us a smooth paint job. 

Step 2


Pick your first color paint. Mix a small amount of paint with equal parts baking soda in your tray and watch the texture change. I say equal parts but honestly it is up to you how much baking soda you want to use, the more you add the more “gritty” the paint will look. When the mixture is the right consistency and you’ve added enough to notice you will notice the paint start to puff up a bit. Paint directly onto the vase of your choice and you should start to see the the gritty terra cotta texture. It is important to note that after you add the baking soda it is important to apply the paint relatively quickly as the mixture will start to harden. 

Step 3


After you have let the first coat of paint dry evaluate your work. Many vases can be painted to a satisfactory level with just one coat, but I have found that the vases I have painted with two coats have turned out the best. Repaint if you are still able to see any of the color beneath or to touch up any areas that you missed during your first round of painting. 

Step 4


As your first or second paint coat dries, watch the texture. Some vases I watched because the paint would pool at certain points in the body of the vase creating a smooth texture. I wanted an even, grainy texture. When the paint would pool I would take a small brush to move the paint around as it was drying. Again, this addition is up to you in terms of your style preference. 

Step 5


Here comes the fun part, styling your new vase. I found that some of my vases looked amazing on their own in a corner of our apartment (typically the larger vases). Others I styled with dried flowers and eucalyptus. The great part of styling these vases is that they work with any type of seasonal decor that you have. Dried flowers for fall? Looks great next to the upcycled vase. Greens for winter? Never better when combined with the warmth of the terracotta vase. With such a minimalist and versatile piece, the opportunities are endless. 

After trying this painting trick on vases I bought some candlestick holders to paint using the #trashtoterracotta method. These turned out even better than the vases! I finished off the look with burgundy candlesticks from Anthropologie (shown above). 

I'm going to continue exploring the world of upcycling! I have a few new project ideas in mind including: 

Have you tried upcycling home decor? How has it turned out? If you end trying this trend let me know in the comments!