Eco-friendly, easy on the pocket and immensely satisfying to boot, upcycling is a trend that is here to stay.
PHOTOGRAPHY Moustache, Little Red Industries, PlanB Anna Evers, Just call me Chris,
Not sure of the different between recycling and upcycling? German engineer Professor Reiner Pilz distinguished between the two 20 years ago.
Pilz was more than a little scathing of conventional recycling and urged people to think about restoring old things in a way that would enhance their beauty and value “Recycling? I call it down cycling. They smash bricks, they smash everything, what we need is upcycling, where old products are given more value, not less,” he declared.
Pilz may have been ahead of his time in 1994, but his upcycling concept is now a key trend in interior design and fashion. It’s about time.
For those of us wanting to upcycle at home, some types of waste are more likely to be useful than others. Discarded furniture and timber, for example, are often easy to source and may be upcycled effectively; even by those without a great deal of experience or sophisticated tools at their disposal.
DIY expert Natasha Dickins of Little Red Industries, says this is part of the appeal of upcycling: “Working with something that already exists, like a chair or table, makes DIY easier. You don’t need lots of tools or skills to give an old piece of furniture a new lease of life, just a sense of design and some elbow grease. Upcycling takes time and patience, but it can be very therapeutic.”
One of the joys of upcycling is that it takes something old or past its use-by-date and gives it a new value. Catherine King. ‘chief upcycler’ at Paisely Vintage proclaims upcycling enables her to indulge her passion for interiors at a price she can afford. “Upcycling is the perfect way to get one of a kind, designer style for your home on a budget. I scour magazines and website for the look I want, and then recreate it using items that are within my budget. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I’ve saved something from landfill and made It beautiful and functional again. With a little bit of time and effort anyone can do the same,” she says.
Ready for some upcycling therapy of your own? The first step is to decide on your project. If you need something for your home, that’s a great place to start. Otherwise check out Pinterest for stacks of ideas and inspiration. If you don’t already have an item to upcycle, fret not. Second hand shops, garage sales and roadside rubbish collections all yield potential treasures. It’s also worth looking for pre-loved furniture on Gumtree and Freecycle. Spend a little time browsing and you’ll soon have more ideas than you have time to work on.
Unless you are an experienced DIY-er, it’s a good idea to keep your first project fairly simple. When you’ve gained skills and confidence, you can move on to bigger things. Decoupage, sanding, waxing, staining, polishing and painting are all relatively easy and can give a great result quite quickly.
Natasha Dickins affirms it makes sense to choose a classic style and personalise it with unique touches: “Painting old timber furniture white or a strong colour and maybe adding a chevron or geometric pattern is a trend right now. A more elegant way to repurpose is to remove varnishes and stains from timber. Although it takes more effort, it highlights the original raw timber and joints. Finish with a natural wax then add something new such as a fabric seat or handles for a designer edge without destroying the original craftsmanship.”
Experts are constantly urging us to declutter our home. That may be good advice in general, but it is worth taking a moment before consigning something to the bin to consider whether or not it could be restored, repurposed or otherwise brought back to life. Last year, for example, I came across a big corkboard on the side of the road. I took it home; painted the back with a couple of coats of blackboard paint and hung it up in the kitchen. Now we use it as the family calendar – it has the days of the week at the top and everything that is happening that day is listed for all to see.
Don’t overlook the humble wooden pallet either. While researching this piece, I’ve come across old pallets creatively upcycled for use indoors and out – vertical planters, bedheads and coffee tables are just a few examples.
It seems that upcycling is enjoyable, addictive and here to stay. Kiki Mitchell, an upcycling professional, advises us all to try it: “Find a piece you would love to make look gorgeous, seek out a class or help with it, and let your imagination run wild - have fun.”
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