Saturday, 21 February 2009

Paper trail

Yesterday we gave a shout-out to enterprising monks in Thailand. Today we pay tribute to the late Willem Kolff. The inventor of the dialysis machine, he just passed away at the age of 97. This is from his obituary in today's Finacial Times:
"It was 1941. Willem Kolff, a young doctor, had watched in horror as the Nazis invaded his native Netherlands yet he refused to let the occupation stop his pioneering work on a new medical invention.

In a cramped hospital room he was building the world’s first kidney dialysis machine and he was doing it with the most extraordinary collection of materials foraged from a war-torn countryside. There were parts from a downed Luftwaffe fighter aircraft and from the radiator of an abandoned Ford car. There were orange juice tins, an enamel bathtub, a wooden drum and thin, artificial sausage skins."

Desperate times lead to desperate measures, and that could be the silver lining to the Western world's current economic crisis. In that vein, I loved this quote from Elle magazine editor Lorraine Candy in today's Times magazine:
"It's a credit crunch, not a creative crunch. Punk was born out of recession, and creativity comes to the fore when designers are not thinking about creating an It bag."
The moral of today's newspapers? More innovative use of orange juice tins please, and fewer It bags.

Friday, 20 February 2009

People in glass houses

I think some monks in Thailand may deserve a prize for most ambitious upcycling. According to a story in yesterday's Metro, they began collecting bottles in 1984 and kept on until they had created the Temple of a Million Bottles. Inside, there are mosaics made of bottle caps. "Besides being eco-friendly," writes Jo Steele, "the disused bottles don't fade, provide good light and are easy to clean."

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Bucket seats

This week, it's all about upholstery. These stools live at Leon behind the Tate Modern. Some clever person appears to have reclaimed some industrial containers, cleaned them and hammered their lids back on securely. I'm thinking there's a piece of plywood bolted onto the metal lids, and this has been covered with a layer of foam rubber and a piece of fabric, held into place with equally spaced brads... For multifunctionality bonus points, I wonder if there's anything stored inside?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Use full

The same week Nancy and I meted out judgments on magazines like Elle Deco and Living Etc, I got together with my friend Elin and her colleague Rebecca. They work at Period Living magazine, where the emphasis is on preserving period homes. They have a real appreciation for fixing up old things in order to give them new life.

This month Rebecca unearthed Reading-based The Baobab Tree, founded in 2007 by Heidi Awford. Heidi takes classic and traditional furniture and makes pieces over in her vast collection of vintage fabrics. Take a peek at her site for ideas - you'll find a fun array of cushions, chairs, lampshades and even mirrors to browse and buy.

Also in the mag is a feature on wood-turner Sarah Thirlwell. She incorporates reclaimed materials into her pots and vases. She sandwiches recycled yoghurt pots, vending cups, cork bath mats, reclaimed Perspex and acrylic together with plywood for a striated effect. "It's not just about eco-credentials - it's exciting to work with unusual materials," she says.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Where ideas come from

My friend Nancy and I have made a discovery. Most interiors magazines are a bit lazy. It's lots easier to find a case study home that's been professionally designed and is packed with key pieces by designers than it is to dig out some off-beat, unusual home to put on show. For roomsets styled specifically for a shoot, the magazine will typically feature products that the reader can just go out and buy - new stuff from Habitat, Debenhams, Ikea and Homebase. It keeps the magazine's advertisers happy, because this kind of editorial content primes the readership to equate decorating with shopping and spending.

Here's a pic of the new Living Etc. The coverlines acknowledge that there could be a credit crunch or even recession going on, but the emphasis is still on spending: Luxe-for-less bedroom buys! 18 inspirational looks for every budget! Affordable kitchen essentials! For plenty of people right now it's not about buying, or budgeting or even affording - and why should it have to be? There are lots of solutions out there that use free materials, lateral thinking and creativity.

These kinds of magazines can provide some inspiration, but they don't encourage a reader to stretch their imagination. This is why a good old wander through Flickr can be so absorbing. You get to look at the ideas of real people and you get the chance to imagine how you can recreate something of what they've done. There's no easy get-out clause - it's not a case of marching to the store and grabbing a mass produced object off the shelf. So today rather than spending £3.20 on a magazine filled with adverts that I'll only end up recycling anyway, I'm loving Ecomonster. Who just so happens to have some good ideas for upcycling the glossy pages of magazines...

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Cycling map

First you could recycle, then you could freecycle, then upcycle and now there's Precycle! Paul Peacock's new book argues:
"Recycling is costly in energy terms. The waste is transported somewhere using petrol. It is washed and sorted and, taking glass for example, heated to over 1100°C to melt it. When you wash out the bottles at home and sterilise them for bottling wine, you are actually contributing to saving the planet."
Paul is all about making things yourself, and he is very fond of an exclamation point or two to get the message across (just see the book's title). He has recipes for everything from carpet cleaner to elderflower champagne to soap. "Soap is basically treated fat!" he observes. Transport, marketing and packaging go into the price you pay for soap, but the soap itself costs about 2p. "Imagine all the savings the planet gets when you cut out a whole industry to make your own. There might be cost implications in the financial world, but there are savings everywhere else." Now if you excuse me I'm off to make my own soda bread (page 92).

Monday, 2 February 2009


My friend Clare embodies the Raisin ethos and I can't help but love her for it. She made this nifty cushion from a Liberty shirt unearthed in a charity shop. Jealous? Me too. Visit Clare's blog to observe her methods. Or if you like Clare's taste but are already sitting comfortably, then visit her Pogostick Pie stall at this Saturday's Alma Market in Crystal Palace. She'll be selling salvaged vintage china from 10am till 4pm.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Chinese junk

I am almost painfully addicted to the work of a Malaysian company called Tradewind Treasures, which gives new life to historic porcelain shards that have been recovered from the floor of the South China Sea. Their jewellery makes a feature of sunken cargo from ships that went down along the ancient maritime Silk Route.

Being a button-free sort of boy, the real gent has cufflinks made from 19th century Qing porcelain from the Desaru shipwreck (circa 1830), and I have a ring from a 17th century Ming piece that was found in the Wanli shipwreck. It's thought that this Portuguese vessel was carrying a cargo of blue and white kraakware, a kind of export porcelain, and went down circa 1625. At the time it must have been a disastrous loss, but it's a happy ending for these broken but hardy bits of crockery.