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Upcycling: Ecological alternatives to ‘throw-away’ design

November 9, 2012

If you look at past generations, things were made to last. Today, there is a tendency to throw things away instead of making the most of the object’s potential.


For the environmentally conscious homeowner, upcycling is a great away to breathe life into old and worn-out furniture using a range of crafting skills and techniques.


With vintage seemingly being a key home interiors trend this winter, upcycling is a great way to get creative and make a design statement.


If you need inspiration to get you started, then a new series presented by Kirstie Allsopp, which started last night on Channel 4 called Kirstie’s Vintage Home, has some great ways to refresh your home using craft skills to revamp furniture and interiors.



 Kirstie Allsopp uses vintage style to transform unloved houses into beautiful homes


We’re also here to help. So if you’re looking to add something quirky to your home, take a look at some of our favourite fun upcycled furniture to give you some inspiration.


Screen printing retro furniture


These days, in our increasingly environmentally-aware society, many designers are looking to promote design that makes use of found objects, saving more waste from landfill and bringing new life to pre-loved furnishings, homewares and furniture.


Innovative young British designer Zoe Murphy takes ‘unloved’ furniture and makes it delectable and desirable by screen printing 1950s style imagery inspired by her home town of Margate onto retro furniture.


Her approach to upcycling is refreshing and transforms mid-century furniture into something with a modernist flair; breathing new life into old tables, chest of drawers and cushions. Here are some of the pieces from Zoe’s latest range of restored vintage furniture.



The Margate Collection; retro furniture restored and printed with drawings from Margate seaside. Dense patterns inspired by Formica cafés colour the front and linings with bespoke imagery. From £650.



Recycled silk cushions made mostly from un-picked wedding dresses that have been hand dyed and screen printed using environmentally friendly inks; 48 x 48cm including feather cushion pad. £75 each


Recycled bath time


Reestore are a Bedfordshire-based studio who take everyday waste objects and playfully upcycle them into beautiful accessories and functional pieces of furniture. The current range includes chairs made from shopping trolleys, roll top baths transformed into sofas and magnificent desks produced from aeroplane wings.


We particularly love Max, the Bath Tub Chaise, a contemporary twist on the sofa briefly featured in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. ‘Max’ is created from a vintage cast iron bath and upholstered in the fabric of your choice.


 Max the Bath Tub Chaise by Reestore


Door dining


Ruby Rhino create a range of bespoke tables created from old recycled doors. The old doors are treated and restored to make beautiful rustic table tops. The stylish wooden frames are handmade to measure and finished in a choice of colours. Each table is completely unique and makes a stunning centre piece to bring history into your home.


The tables are full of character with all the quirks of age. They will suit a range of chair styles, from traditional models to a mis-match selection of old and modern styles.


Samuel upcycled door dinning table by Ruby Rhino


Reawaken old furniture with colour


Achieving your dream home doesn’t mean buying everything new. Sometimes just a lick of paint will do to transform an old piece of furniture that doesn’t quite fit with your interior.


Inspired by colour charts, the upcycled collection by Revived Furniture brings preloved furniture back to life by injecting colour, pattern and a lot of passion.


Each piece is carefully restored, reworked and then painted by hand to update its look to create a range of furniture that is unique and not mass produced. The stripes and blocks of colour give each piece a very geometric, yet dramatic feel that is softened by the use of gentle pastels.


Here are some of the pieces from the collection, waiting to be re-homed and re-loved.



The ForestLake bedside cabinets (left) have been restored in different shades of rich, mossy greens inspired by the forest to bring rest and pleasure to your room. The cabinets consist of two drawers covered in complementary red floral fabric and are delicately patterned inside.


The Waterlily Blush dining chairs (right) have been restored in a deep shade of pink making them ideal for a breakfast or dining area that has an eastern influence. Each seat is padded and has been covered in a pink linen fabric making them comfortable and durable.



Painting and distressing for that vintage look


Upcycling is also a great way of saving money, so if your budget won’t stretch to one-off pieces and vintage or shabby chic are your thing, then taking the distressed approach is one of the best ways to completely transform an old piece of furniture.


Choose a neutral pale topcoat with an undercoat of your ‘accent’ colour to match your room. The colour goes on first as a primer, followed by the topcoat. Sand back the paint lightly, over the areas where there would naturally be the most wear, to create a subtle and convincing aged effect.


 Follow Kirstie’s distressed chair project


Why not recycle old material and reupholster your newly distressed chair to give it a new lease of life.


Have a go yourself and breathe new life into things in your home that you would may have just thrown away.


Catch next week’s episode, Channel 4, 8pm, Kirstie’s Vintage Home, or get the book that inspired the series.


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