Say hello to Emma Everton-Jones (aka @designretrobrighton): an expert in midcentury furniture refinishing, geometric design and decoupage.
We caught up with Emma to find out more about her restoration process and how – with a perfectionist's eye and an artist's vision – she transforms tired, old furniture into statement pieces.
Can you tell us how you started restoring furniture?
During my childhood, my parents renovated several old houses and collected antique furniture. I grew up exploring salvage yards, antique emporiums and flea markets, with all kinds of restoration going on around me.
Midcentury design is so beautifully simplistic and stylish – I love the way it sits in a contemporary setting. So as an adult I was drawn to furniture from this era (and back to flea markets!) to bring warmth and character to my own home.
If I came across a piece that needed a little help to live its best life again, it would always find its way home with me!
Made with 14" copper hairpin legs.
What do you enjoy about making your pieces?
I enjoy the whole process – from finding them, all the way through to seeing them in place in their new homes. Every piece of old furniture has a story, which I get to play a part in.
Interior trends are changing and moving in a more sustainable direction, and more and more people are looking to purchase preloved ‘built to last’ furniture for their homes. I can help make sure some of the most neglected pieces aren’t overlooked, and perhaps help them appeal to a wider audience by giving them a contemporary twist – that’s so satisfying!
What inspired your unique style?
I think my furniture designs reflect my character quite accurately! I’m a bit of a perfectionist by nature, so the precision and predictability of geometric design has always appealed to me.
My decoupage pieces also require methodology and precision, but the prints I choose express my playful side and allow me to be a bit more experimental with pattern and colour.
Made with 14" pastel green hairpin legs.
What's the process for creating one of your pieces? Where do you start?
Occasionally I come across a piece that’s been so well looked after over the years, it only needs a little cleaning and oiling to revive it. But the pieces I seek out to restyle often need a lot of attention before painting can begin. Stripping back old varnish, repairing damage, thoroughly sanding each part. Lots of cleaning, then priming, undercoating, stain blocking.
I usually have an idea in mind for the restyle from the moment I find a piece. Or if it’s a commission, I work with my client to finalise the design and then go about bringing it to life. That’s definitely my favourite part! And when hairpin legs are added, it’s always an exciting turning point in the transformation.
Made with 14" raw steel hairpin legs, sprayed gold.
Why do you use hairpin legs?
For me, it’s the perfect marriage of old and new. Midcentury design was all organic shapes, sleek lines and smooth curves. Hairpin legs provide an instant update, helping a piece fit perfectly into a contemporary setting, but they are still very much in keeping with the midcentury style.
There are so many options to transform a piece - an edgy colour-pop with bright yellow or orange hairpins, bare steel hairpins for a more industrial aesthetic, or sprayed metallic gold for a touch of glamour.
And you can adjust the height of the piece exactly to requirements too. One of my favourite requests was for a piece with long hairpins, to allow room for a special pet bed underneath!
Made with 16" raw steel hairpin legs, sprayed gold.
What is your favourite hairpin leg piece you've made to date?
This G Plan sideboard, refinished using Divine Savages amazing Gershwing print, with bright orange hairpins is definitely one of my favourites.
It was a commission piece, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process – exploring ideas with my client, settling on the design and colours, then bringing it all to life.
She wanted a dark and glamorous piece with a playful twist, and the orange hairpins gave it just that!
Made with 12" orange hairpin legs.
What advice would you give somebody who wants to start upcycling their own furniture?
Don’t skimp on the prep! When it comes to restyling a piece, certain paints claim to work ‘straight to wood’ with minimal preparation. But for me, it will always be the most important step for the best possible finish that stands the test of time.
Invest in the right tools – an orbit and/or mouse sander will be invaluable (along with a good dust mask)!
Take the time to make any repairs and ensure you have a lovely clean, smooth base with primer/undercoat applied, before picking up your paint brushes.
Made with 12" raw steel hairpin legs, sprayed gold.
Want to build your own furniture with hairpin legs?
Our hairpin legs are available in a wide range of sizes and colours – from playful primary colours to shiny metallics. See the full collection to find the best ones for your furniture project.