Excited about Upcycling

Upcycling is an exciting development in product design – reusing existing items for another purpose, or retaining their current, but updated, and improved form.    It is a very efficient use of items as resources as it extends their usefulness.    Recycling contributes to the reduction of our carbon footprint by reducing materials to new materials that can be made into something else that is useful.  Whilst it decreases the amount of  raw materials we need to find, mine, transport and work with to make something new it also reduces landfill waste, therefore our carbon footprint, but also uses energy and other resources, still contributing to the Co2 gases entering the earth’ s atmosphere. Although not ideal, it is still better for the environment than landfill.

The upcycling process requires less energy and reduces our carbon footprint and protects the planet even further, taking goods we no longer require in their current form, to the next level! Some would go to say that up cycling is even more eco-friendly, although others accept some of their upcycled items are on a temporary diversion, only delaying the inevitable trip to the recycling plant.  Whichever way you look at it, anything that ensures reuse of an object and prolongs its usefulness, reduces, the reliance on new, and avoids landfill, has to be a good thing.  On a personal level it is very satisfying to be creative in the way an item is repurposed and upcyled.  It can save money and resources, and can also be aesthetically beautiful and useful.

Some eco entrepreneurs have dedicated their skills and creativity to upycling. A simple internet search will bring up images of upcycled products available to buy, and ideas to create your own.  Instead of sending a favorite glass bottle or jar to the recycling plant, it could be made into a candle holder, vase, or even a lamp!   The level of design and creativity varies between items.  Equally beautiful and interesting are the home produced upcycled projects, made out of our own or acquired items.

Whereas old tires have often been used to make functional, fun swings, by the attachment of a tire, to a piece of discarded rope, hooked over a tree , with a good design and a few tools, it is possible to create beautiful, long lasting swings in a variety of shapes.  Our children love to play on a tire- horse shaped swing a neighbor has hung in the woods close to our home, for the local children enjoy.  Just because a car tire is no longer safe to use on a vehicle, does not mean that the life of that tire is over.  There are many ways to upcycle car tires such as chairs, garden furniture, bike racks, planters, see saws and other play equipment, even accessories such as belts, and shoes.  Car tires can also be used in building construction.

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Home furnishings may be moving away from the mass produced, flat packed look, to more individual, solid, functioning pieces.  However they come at a price. Many consumers are tiring of their home looking like everyone else’s, furnished by the same furniture ranges as their neighbor, after the same mad dash around the same furniture store at the weekend, with the same dilemma of trying to fit the same sized packaged furniture into their cars, and then driving home to build the same flat packed furniture.  Some mass produced furniture claims to be eco-friendly.  With attention to how and where it is sourced and manufactured, it is possible to reduce carbon footprint though self-assembly as the furniture requires less transportation from the manufacturer to the store.  However the journeys back and forth by individual car owners, to purchase, and possible return faulty items to be replace, or to, and ask for replacements of missing screws also has to be taken into account!  Some of these furniture items do not have longevity of use.  It might not be so long before they are taking another trip…either to be repaired, or just to the recycling plant, or the dump!  Some old pieces of furniture can be repaired and individualized with paint effects, or new handles and will outlast many new items.  We covered an old tatty set of drawers with an old copy of the Beano magazine, giving both a new lease of life!

Having devoted my time and energy to designing and building a new home, I was keen to save money and resources by purchasing good quality second hand furniture, and upcycling, to fit in with my design ideals of clean lines, and curves.  This is a family home.  A home for 2 parents, 3 boys, two dogs, one cat and a partridge in a pear tree, etc. I have learned the hard way that most modern mass produced furniture, although suiting my budget, does not suit the exuberant lifestyle of our family.  In a nut shell I needed something that would cost less, and last longer.  Furniture that would survive the rigors of family life, and look good, but would not make me nervous and worried to use.  I figured that some of the retro and vintage furniture had already survived decades of family life and would probably be able to withstand ours.

As I investigated I found that older furniture was more likely to be made of good quality , solid wood, with less reliance on veneers and mdf/chipboard as well as using  traditional craftsmen skills and methods for joints such as dovetailing.   Thanks to auction websites, and local ads I was able to locate a desk, two sideboard bureaus, a chest of drawers, a cabinet and two wardrobes made by the same manufacture in the 60’s.  Instead of individual legs, their legs are made of one piece of bentwood either side. .  Each item has matching square wooden, inset handles.  They look good and they are functional, and they are unique.  The first piece I found had been upcycled – painted, repaired and restored to fit a more modern decor, by the simple addition of some colored paints  to the drawer fronts.  This item became the catalyst for the color schemes, and the furniture choices for our home.     We use this piece for toy storage, to replace a less substantial plastic bin storage system.    Each drawer has a beautiful bentwood back, so looks good when lego, or toy cars are needed at floor level.   As these are solid but old, they could require some maintenance or repairs, or further upcyling in the future so they are in keeping with color schemes etc.  We enjoyed hunting for pieces, especially the piece that we were the only bidders for.  It didn’t seem right to pay 99c for such beautiful furniture so we gave the seller a bit of extra cash.

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Our main living space is open plan.  It is dominated by a large kitchen island, and tall larder cupboards all with clean lines and handless doors.  The retro furniture fits in, as everything we found has integrated handles and follow the theme.  I was keen to break from this for my bedroom.  After years of living rough with a family on a building site, I decided I would like one little luxury.  An old Victorian wardrobe.  Instead of a brand new wardrobe this is very, very old.  However it has been up cycled, and looks beautiful.  It has been sanded, painted with chalk paint, lightly sanded to distress it, then waxed for a shabby chic look. Over the last few years, many such items of furniture have been adapted and up cycled to fit with home fashion.    Well-made old chest of drawers  dressers, or wardrobe/closet can have gone through numerous looks.  When first made it is likely they were made with quality wood such as oak, then  stained and varnished.  Other less expensive woods, such as pine would have been painted.

A few years ago it was all the rage to find these old drawers and strip the paint off, and wax or leave the item unfinished.  Later came the scary paint effects era with sponging and ragrolling.  Like my wardrobe these items are often still available, in stripped, or repainted form. They are still going strong, and presumably they have life in them yet.  Who knows how, but these could be further up cycled in the future to conform with future needs and tastes.  I am not sure how my pretty wardrobe or retro desk and drawers will look in the future.  Perhaps they will be aluminum coated, or have remote control features!   Before they reach recycling stage, some could be adapted to other uses.    My children hope that one day this furniture will be left to them in my will and that it will be worth a fortune   Having survived countless families before, the likelihood of them surviving our family too, makes me cautious about of that, but confident that they will outlast the flat packed furniture, otherwise within our budget, and hopefully that they will last for as long as we need them, and then some.

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