How one trash can thrifter brought a vintage footstool back to life, for free

It owes its boho charm to a pair of free fabric curtains found on Facebook

Three shots of cream upholstered footstool styled in living room with Persian rug
(Image credit: @nyctrashtotreasures)

Cheap DIYs that require little to no skill? We're here for it.

When you want to add some charm to your space, without spending a ton of cash, there's no doubt about it: thrifting and upcycling are the way to go.

If the last thing you want to do in your spare time is learn how to work a drill or take on a more complicated DIY project, you might feel like your options are limited. In reality, it's a cool chance to get creative and think a little more... resourcefully shall we say? 

Enter: Bronwyn Tarboton of @nyctrashtotreasures, an expert in finding items intended for — or already in — the trash and turning them into gorgeous, modern creations using basic tools and materials without much additional spend.

The maker

From crafting bamboo lampshades using solely items found in the trash to creating mosaic wall art out of a broken lamp, you will find all of the coolest projects on Tarboton's Instagram grid.

Taking a super unique and inspirational approach to her makes, if you're throwing out "junk" in NYC, there's a chance it may be picked up, reimagined, and given an entirely new lease of life by the talented Tarboton.

This bamboo bentwood footstool caught my eye immediately for its modern edge and no-fuss charm. The most exciting part of this cheap DIY is that Tarboton created it for free.

"I found this footstool in bad condition upside down on a trash heap in my neighborhood," she says. "I recovered it using a curtain and staple gun I got from neighbors in my local buy nothing Facebook group."

Sourcing the materials

When Tarboton recovered the footstool, it was badly stained but she loved the cool base, so she knew it needed some TLC and looked to her trusty Facebook Group.

If you're upholstering something, you'll usually want a staple gun like Yeohome's Heavy Duty, 4-in-1 Stapler Gun on Amazon. I've used one before and they are a breeze but Tarboton openly says how this was her first time actually upholstering something, or even using a staple gun, actually. 

"I definitely learned things in the process and would do a better job now, but hey it still ended up being a cool project," she says.

When it came to sourcing the fabric, money-saving was at the heart of her decision. By taking a similar approach for your own projects, you'll find it's a fun way to give your makes a more unique spin. "I decided to use whatever fabric I could get for free," she notes, adding that you could just as easily use old curtains or spare fabric you have lying around at home.

As chance had it, Tarboton found some cool textured curtains, and they were going for free.

"I looked on my local buy nothing Facebook group and someone happened to be giving away these curtains," she explains. "I liked the texture and neutral color, so I figured I’d try to use them." Tarboton didn't even have to pay out for a staple gun. "Then I posted in the group asking if I could borrow a staple gun and someone let me use theirs."

They do make great investments for different DIYs, but if you really can't afford to spend anything, it's always worth asking your local community if you can borrow tools.

Sharing is caring.

The process

To tackle the job, Tarboton kindly shared her simple method. "Basic reupholstery is super simple," she says. "I unscrewed the pouf from the base using a screwdriver [and] laid it upside down on top of the curtain fabric. Then I used the staple gun to secure the fabric and pulled it taut on all sides. After that, all I had to do was trim the excess fabric and re-screw the pouf onto the base."

Noting that she used a screwdriver, the borrowed staple gun, scissors (everyone is likely to have), and the fabric (free!). 

The refreshed footstool results

There's no doubt about it, the results are stunning and although Tarboton felt attached to her make (we would too) she did eventually decide to sell it on Facebook Marketplace.

Finished footstool upholstered in cream fabric staged in living room

(Image credit: @nyctrashtotreasures)

She also explained that this passion of hers helps her learn new skills and encourages her to be a bit more adventurous with home decor, not to mention, stretch her budget further.

"I love using discarded items for projects because that way you can try projects and learn new skills without spending money," she says. "I found this exact footstool listed online on Chairish and Etsy for $450–$550. In the end, I ended up selling it for around $65, so I actually made a profit on it and was able to remove something from the trash so it was a win-win."

Finished footstool upholstered in cream fabric staged in living room

(Image credit: @nyctrashtotreasures)

This project was totally free to do and great for the environment as it stopped a useful household item from going to the landfill. If you want to decorate your apartment on the cheap or want a cool weekend project to look forward to — not to mention one that might give you a little cash on the side — take inspiration from Tarboton and see where your next thrifted or trash can find takes you.

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Former Deputy Editor

I'm Cam, the former deputy editor of Real Homes who worked on the site from 2020 to 2023. As a renter myself, sharing a home with two friends (and my cat) in London, I know all too well the challenges that this can pose when it comes to creating your perfect setup. As someone who has always loved everything interior design-related, I cannot rest until a home feels right and I am really passionate about helping others get there too, no matter what their living situation, style, or budget may be. It’s not always the easiest to figure out, but the journey is fun and the results are so worth it.

After interior design, travel, art, and photography are my next big passions. When I’m not writing or editing homes content, I’m usually tapping into other creative outlets, exploring galleries in London or further afield, taking photos, scribbling, or drawing!