The Art of Upcycling

Deepti first fell in love with chalk paint and furniture restoration nine years ago. Now she runs Big Blue Trunk, where she upcycles anything from chairs to bathtubs and helps others discover the joys of DIY.

Nine years back, when Deepti had just moved to Singapore, she found herself staring at a water- stained console table in her new living room. Surely she could fix this, she thought, and she was right. A couple of Google searches later, she wound up at the local stockist of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, then located in Dempsey Hill, where she became a convert at once.

“From the moment I walked up that old wooden staircase and into the studio at Dempsey, I knew I had discovered something amazing,” Deepti recounts.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, developed by the namesake in 1990, is billed as a versatile furniture paint that can be simply applied with no need for sanding or priming. In other words, whether you’re a two-year-old child or an interior designer, you’ll do just fine.

In the following years, chalk paint provided Deepti with a creative outlet while she worked at Google in Singapore and eventually moved to Hong Kong. At that time, the entrepreneur had managed a global not-for-profit, consulted for social enterprises and earned an MBA from INSEAD. Yet, there was a sense of inevitability—her time in the corporate world was coming to a close.

“Since I was little, I’ve loved making stuff with my hands. Egg-shell candles, wallpaper from old magazine cutouts, clay lamps on my potter’s wheel. Creating something of beauty from scratch has always brought me great joy and satisfaction.”

Deepti’s wellspring of creativity was by no means happenstance. From a young age, her mother involved her in a multitude of DIY projects, from crafting stained glass windows to tending bonsais and creating intricate diyas (lamps).

Additionally, she attended Vidyaranya, a school grounded in the ideals of Jiddu Krishnamurti, which regarded art and craft as highly as traditional academic subjects.

“These early experiences gave me the confidence and fluidity to experiment with materials and colour. As I grew up and moved around the world, I was able to explore and develop my passion for creative interiors and colourful living,” she adds.

The birth of Big Blue Trunk

A couple of years later, Deepti returned to Singapore from Hong Kong with her husband and their baby girl. This time, when she needed materials to spruce up the nursery shelves, she knew just where to go.

What she didn’t know, however, was that Annie Sloan Chalk Paint would soon become her bread and butter. When she learned that the owner then was leaving Singapore and was eager to pass on the business, she was ecstatic.

“I called my husband on the way home and all he heard on a scratchy network was ‘buying chalk paint.’ He thought I was buying a few cans of paint. He didn’t realise that I was actually talking about buying over the business!”

One thing led to another, and in 2018, Deepti became the brand’s local distributor and launched Big Blue Trunk. Shortly after, she was invited by Annie Sloan herself to a week-long workshop in Oxford with ten other stockists from around the world.

“It was the most magical week,” Deepti tells us. “We spent it with Annie and her team, immersing ourselves in colour theory, painting techniques, upholstery methods and upcycling.”

More than just chalk paint

Today, Big Blue Trunk is much more than just a chalk paint stockist. It has evolved into a treasure trove of DIY supplies from a carefully curated selection of brands. Bestsellers include wall decals, stencils and furniture knobs, with the latter being the biggest hit.

“We have the largest collection of furniture knobs in Singapore with over a hundred designs, including some fun and quirky ones. They’re a quick and easy way to give old furniture a facelift.”

While Big Blue Trunk currently caters to many expats, chalk paint is steadily gaining popularity among local Singaporean families too. What gives?

“In our busy digital world, we hardly ever use our hands to create something. Chalk Paint gives our customers a pause to do just that,” she muses. “When I paint, the repetitive brush strokes lull my brain into a meditative state. It allows my thoughts to wander and, sometimes, it even helps me to come up with some great ideas or find an answer that’s been evading me.”

DIY is for everyone

To spread the joy of hands-on creativity to a broader audience, Big Blue Trunk also provides creative workshops.

“It’s much more affordable to DIY than to hire a professional in Singapore, so customers who are trying to work within a budget often choose to do a workshop with us, pick up the techniques, and then DIY,” Deepti shares.

For beginners, Deepti suggests starting with a small piece of furniture, such as a chair, side table, mirror or stool.

If you have a sentimental piece of furniture that you’d like to restore without the risk of ruining it, you can send it to Big Blue Trunk instead and let the pros upcycle or refinish it with chalk paint for you.

Deepti’s favourite type of furniture to work on? No surprises here—it’s trunks, and they don’t have to be big or blue.

“One of the first ever pieces I painted when we started off was our very own big blue trunk, and since then we must have painted at least 15 trunks for customers including vintage, metal and wooden trunks.”

She also loves all the pianos that she’s painted over the years—and once a pink and blue bathtub for a retail store display, which she remembers fondly. “That was so much fun to do!”