Friday, 31 July 2009

Stuff and the city

A reader introduced me to Urban Upholstery and now I feel compelled to introduce it to you. While reupholstering furniture isn't anything new, the Urban Upholstery peeps have introduced an upcycling slant into their manifesto. They do operate like a typical upholstery shop in that you can bring in your sofa, leave it with them and return in a short while to collect your old settee now covered with different fabric. But they also keep their eyes peeled when traversing the mean streets of London for strays, and are well known for rescuing dilapidated cast-offs and giving them a jazzy new refurb for the fun of it. Their website shows a whole series of these neglected old things in situ, and it's an interesting document in itself.

If you live in town and don't have a car offloading big old stuff can cause a conundrum. Last week I saw a denuded chair one day and a huge gilty glassless frame the next, both on the street not far from my flat. I hope someone with strong, long arms and long, strong vision grabbed them and gave them new life.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Really, a rug?

A valued Raisin reader brought a cool company to my attention today. Carpet-Burns manufactures a plywood-style sheet material called HTC (heat treated carpet) that is produced from polypropylene based carpet waste - which is why you can get it complete with a carpet pattern. Drill it, saw it or even buy it specially moulded. This stuff is waterproof, durable, hard wearing, low maintenance, non-porous and has a very high resistance to staining, making it suitable for interior and exterior applications

Shown here is the result of a collaboration between Carpet-Burns and Electricwig. As you can see the Albert Stool features hard mouldable plastic made from faulty and end-of-line carpets. Why? Among other reasons, because 1.7 million tons of carpet is landfilled annually and can take over fifty years to biodegrade.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Easy being green?

"I have mixed feelings about ecofriendliness: I’m worried that it’s fundamentally human-hostile. However many foreign holidays we forgo, plastic carrier bags we refrain from using and dolphins we fail to eat, we can never score a perfect 10. The great unspoken premise of the green movement is that the world would be better off all round if you and I hadn’t been born."
Hm, controversial! This is from an article in The Sunday Times by Katrina Burroughs. Read the full story for interesting upcycled inventions available to buy... or if you have ample supplies of glue, wire, know-how and creativity, to imitate. The article led me on an interesting adventure around the interweb discovering talented designers, and I've included some of the best bits of work here. Pictured top to bottom are:
  • Madeleine Boulesteix (chandeliers from all the odds and ends you'd find in an old kitchen)
  • Ting London (interiors accessories from rescued seatbelts and bags from upcycled leather belts)
  • Massey and Rogers (lampshades and baskets made from recycled maps woven with fabric)
  • Resilica (a worktop made from 85% bottle bank glass chunks held together with solvent free resin) 

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Shabby tweak

Isn't my friend Elin the bestest? The little Norwegian wonderwoman sent me this pic of her back garden. The planters (okay, okay, buckets containing plants) came from a skip, and she made the cushion from fabric remnants - the bottom panel is in fact from a coffee sack.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Friday stroll: Lower Marsh SE1

I live just down from a street called Lower Marsh. Along this stretch of tarmac is a quirky collection of mismatched shops. All the idiosyncratic orphans of the retail world have congregated here, and really I wouldn't have it any other way.

Naturally, upcycling examples abound. A recent arrival to the street is the Shared Earth charity shop, where an inverted papasan chair makes a clothes hanger. When I asked to take a photo, the shopkeeper - completely unprompted - said, "Well, I do like finding things on the street..." Awesome.

At vintage shop
What the Butler Wore, a redundant dummy's better half invites a closer look. Taking a break from the arduous job of modelling fashion, it's now engaged in the lofty task of flyer distribution. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to dress it appropriately for the occasion.

Next door is
Scooterworks, where you can pick up spare parts for your ride, drink a Peroni and admire all manner of clapped-out objects enjoying the autumn stages of their lives. An old Vespa is the window display while musical ephemera poses as wallpaper. The whole place is casually devoted to extraordinary examples upcycling. They take their coffee seriously too, with a restored original 3 group Faema coffee machine built in Milan in 1957 churning out the black stuff Italian style. So drink up!

Thursday, 23 July 2009


Givemeonegoodraisin is in love. Here is the object of the little blog's affections:

Love the name, love the copywriting, love the concept, love the how-tos. 

So, everyone within the sound of my voice - if you value your upcycling credentials, then you'll pay the magnificent Mungo blog a visit.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Turn turn turn

Hardly a day goes by that I don't hear a Michael Jackson tune blasting out of someone's car or creeping into a radio show I'm listening to. When I think of hearing those songs for the first time, I am reminded of a substance called vinyl. Remember that stuff? If you still have some but have replaced your turntable with an iPod and a Bose Sound Dock or something similarly sleek, then put your records to good (re) use. Vinylux will use your very own vintage vinyl to make bowls, frames and even jewellery. A perfect upcycled tribute for that beloved but scratched Thriller album you wisely held on to. 

Monday, 20 July 2009

All washed up

All kinds o' crap lands on beaches around the world every day. Artist Fran Crowe is making a statement about it by upcycling washed-up debris into tongue-in-cheek products, such as "food" for birds.

While Fran's busy quietly doing what she can to tidy up the Atlantic, over on the Pacific collects broken, dead and abused surfboards as well as waste from surfboard factories. They then pulverize these down to dust and reintroduce a percentage of this by-product into concrete and asphalt mixes to create roads and several other products such as lightweight fireproof roof-tiles that look and feel like regular cement tiles.

In addition to facilitating sales of used boards in order to keep them out of landfills, another Pacific set-up collects damaged, broken and unrideable boards. Their partner Ecocentric Renovations recycles the surfboards and pieces to use them as a filler in concrete for lightweight, non-structural applications. This means your next tabletop, sidewalk or skatepark could contain one of your old used surfboards.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Obsession continued

Welcome to the second installment of surf obsession week.

The optimist in me would like to believe that the grassroots upcycling efforts of individuals (like Joan with her maxed-out-thruster-turned-chalkboard I posted about earlier or this upcycled billboard surfboard bag by Green Guru) are inspiring big companies to think up closed-loop recycling solutions of their own.

The cynic in me says that companies come up with large-scale upcycling schemes in order to get more mallrats in landlocked places to wear their brands. What do you think? Are they good guys or just engaging in green gimmicks? Here's a brief survey of what the surf clothing and hardware industry's up to...

Volcom - V.Co-Logical range recycles PET (plastic bottles) in flip flops and to create boardshorts from 100% recycled polyester
FCS - uses 50% recycled post-consumer waste in the form of nylon fibres stripped from old carpets in making new fins
Rusty - uses recycled PET in to make 100% recycled polyester boardshorts
Vans - uses recycled rubber and PET in soles
Rip Curl - recycles neoprene and uses off-cuts to create “resurrection rubber” - a mixture of chopped neoprene (30%) and rubber - in making espadrilles and flip-flops

Swell, thanks

If I weren't busy surfing, driving to go surfing or scheming to go surfing, then I'd probably have more time for blogging. So maybe it was inevitable that eventually I'd blog about surfing.

Surfers are arguably more aware of the environment than normal, sane people. When you're out in the ocean on your little sliver of fiberglass-encased foam, you're literally immersed in nature. Surfing is 99.9999999999999% percent about the environment and .00000000000001% about you. It's an algorithm of millions of gallons of water, tons of liquid moving weight, sand, rocks, reefs, swell, wind, rain and temperature. 

In some parts of the world though, it also includes vast quantities of plastic bags (like those we swam in, around and through in Bali's Kuta Beach) or an unfeasibly large number of condoms (as witnessed recently in the Atlantic waters of Zarautz). Here in the UK, Surfers Against Sewage is a charity that campaigns to clean up the debris that washes up on our island shores. In the US, the Surfrider Foundation serves a similar purpose.

This summer Vans is working with the Surfrider Foundation on a collaboration called Trash to Art. If you find yourself in the US, Canada or Puerto Rico, you can submit art upcycled from plastic flotsam and jetsam found at your local break, then each month the best artwork wins a pair of Vans shoes made with materials from recycled plastic.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Friday SE22 stroll

When I met my friend Noella for coffee today I had to admire her bag. "Don't worry, I haven't been to Thailand - I got it in west London." Either way, it's a great colour and the Thai script makes it thoroughly cool - an upcycling exemplar.

We got together at Le Chandelier, where mismatched china and loads of old chandeliers set the reclaimed scene. Just a few doors down is Karavan, a shop that's been promoting eco living in the area since even before East Dulwich became so darn trendy. They have upcycled goods a-plenty in there, including shoppers recreated from Bangladeshi cement bags from a company called Turtle Bags and notebooks with covers made from plastic bags by a company called Revolve. (Visit Revolve online to see what clever things they've been making from redundant yoghurt pots, CDs, juice cartons, coffee cups and plastic bottles too.)

When I see a bag that once contained rice in Thailand with a stylish new life, or a cement bag from Bangladesh that's dutifully serving a new purpose, or a plastic bag that's now reinvented itself as a notebook, I feel a bit sad for all those forlorn and abandoned bags sloppily going to waste in a pile of rubbish or floating around in the ocean, don't you?

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Hip up hop cycle

A hip hop scholar (yes, yes, trust me – there is such a thing) will tell you that one of the most important social phenomenon to come out of the 20th century originated in the Bronx. The neighbourhoods of hip hop’s nascence were short on privilege but long on the kind of creativity that does a modern-day upcycling advocate proud. The early hip hop gods and goddesses created their kingdom thus…

B-boy: “I haven’t got a violin or a saxophone or a piano. I do however have functioning body parts; I will invent beatboxing.”

B-girl: “There’s no ballet studio on my block, but I do have a piece of linoleum, a cassette and a boom box; let there be breakdancing.”

B-boy: “I’d like a drum kit but haven’t got one. I’ve got this record and a turntable though; herewith I introduce scratching to the world.”

B-girl: “Art supplies are thin on the ground in my neighbourhood. But who needs a canvas when I can upcycle this underutilised brick wall in the name of graffiti?”

So let this tale be a warning to you – today’s upcycling experiment could be tomorrow’s cultural movement. Think twice before you dispose of your linoleum off-cuts won’t you?

Monday, 6 July 2009


A line in a press release from a very nice man called Jamie caught my eye: "These days we all know its better to renew than buy new. Not only will it save you money but it’s also kinder to the environment." Clearly here's a man after my own heart. He looks after Hammerite, the paint range for metal surfaces, which includes this new doohickey of theirs called the Metalmaster. It's a cordless electrostatic paint gun that helps overhaul intricate metal surfaces like mesh, railings and random curlicues. It sounds like an excellent toy for upcyclers, so I'm just going to liberally lift from his press release, thus allowing you to be easily and efficiently enlightened about the project pictured above...

We collected some perforated kitchen sink drainers from the pound shop together with some lamps and lanterns. We also found an old Victorian ‘meat safe’ which, in the days before fridges, was kept in the larder to keep flies away from food.

We used a combination of Hammerite Smooth paint for the lanterns and then Metalmaster on the complicated ornate items. The speed with which the Metalmaster works is thanks to its simple ability to put the paint only where it is needed, limiting overspray and avoiding overpainting.

If you’ve got metal objects that are a little worse for wear, the hammered finish Direct to Rust paint may be just the thing. Any uneven surface looks restored with the hammered finish disguising any lumps and bumps.

Hammerite Metalmaster costs from £42.99; canisters come with smooth or hammered finishes in Black, White, Dark Green or Blue. Each canister costs £16.99 and covers up to 7m2. Hammerite Direct to Rust is a combined topcoat, undercoat and primer and is available in Black, Blue, Copper, Dark Green, Gold, Red, Silver and White. The Yellow is only available in a Smooth Finish. Prices start at £6.49 for 250m.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Just do it (yourself)

Mrs Jones, who’s styled The Killers, Kylie, Scissor Sisters and Goldfrapp, has joined forces with Oxfam to reinvent the Camden Oxfam store as the ultimate fashion resource for independent style seekers. With a hand-picked range of eclectic fashion, music and homewares, the new and inspiring shop – known as Oxfam DIY – opened its doors to the public on 6 June.

Proving just what you can achieve with secondhand clothing, Mrs Jones styled a photo shoot featuring real people modelling unique looks created entirely using garments from Oxfam’s recycling facility. Visit the Oxfam DIY website and you can see a whole portfolio illustrating how discarded garments became individual street-style creations in her hands. You can also enter the competition like I did to win a custom outfit by Mrs Jones.

And intrepid upcyclers must must must visit the “How to” section of the site for excellent Mrs Jones masterclasses in topics including customising jeans, customising tees, turning jeans into skirts, making Hammer pants, creating jumpsuits, customising shoes and making a halter top from a scarf.

I mean, the woman made a ballgown from a bedspread! What are you waiting for? Go there! Go there now!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

In character

The Bassin d'Arcachon in France is famous for oysters. Sure, I made sure to have my fair share while we were there. But what I will mostly remember were the weird creatures we came across behind one of the oyster kiosks near the waterfront. Salty bivalves aren't known for their sparkling personalities - they don't even have eyes, appendages or faces - which is maybe why some upcycling oysterman introduced these lively friends to his yard.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Write stuff

In the amount of time it took me to get out of my tent and into my wetsuit, Joan at Good People Surf had already spray painted two old tables and stenciled onto them hibiscus flowers in shiny black paint. She's someone who can not only surf and skate, but she can make coffee and jewellery and anything else she thinks of with a few swift motions of her hands, while concurrently juggling a million responsibilities and having a laugh. I have a feeling she might have been behind the genius surfboard-cum-chalkboard you see here.

You can find Joan and the upcycled surfchalkboard and Good People Surf in Zarautz on the sunny Atlantic coast of Spain.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Rub a dub dub

My grandfather raised horses, and bathtubs played a significant role in the landscape of the farm. An old bathtub makes a sturdy and all-around superb trough for watering your animals. While cycling in France, I saw that my grandfather is not the only person to have realised this. French livestock farmers love their tubs too.

Here's an ex-bath that's unconcerned with providing drink to animals, although it seems more than happy to serve the local leafy life in its village.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Hit the trail

Now that I've returned from my recent adventures, mostly I find myself just wanting to get back out of town. Devon would be quite nice... And here's an excuse to go:

The Recycled Art Trail, South Devon, 19 July - 6 September

Now in its fifth year, artworks created for TRAIL will be in place along the South Devon coast linking Shaldon, Teignmouth and Dawlish for seven weeks. A Recycled Art in Landscape project, the event will feature dozens of structures created by local and national artists as well as Devon community project groups. Predominantly made from waste materials and designed to highlight concerns about the environment and climate change, the individual sculptures showcase the creative talents of the artists involved and an opportunity for the public to experience art in unexpected places.

Among the many original works on display will be The Hub (a giant ammonite fossil made from 1,500 old hub caps), a Tyre Rainbow, a Mosaic Bench and a huge sphere created entirely from around 2,500 tin cans.

In addition, TRAIL will showcase wearable art in the Carlton Theatre in Teignmouth on 27 July. Artists have let their imaginations run riot to create an array of extreme costumes from those made of bubble wrap to others inspired by mythical sea creatures. Tickets for the catwalk show and collaborative performances featuring music and poetry are available from July 1st at Teignmouth Tourist Information Centre, 01626 215666.