Saturday, 31 October 2009

Measure of success

Just when I thought my driving instructor could not possibly have further upcycling ideas to share, voila - look what he posted on his blog. (By the way, I am a safe and alert driver. If you see me coming down the street at you in a Honda with L plates, you have my solemn word that I am concentrating at the business at hand and am not chatting about upcycling. Very much.)

"A couple more Upcycling ideas from the House of Bear... These enamel liquid measures - actually 3 of those, plus one salt holder - were pretty hopeless around the house. There wasn't room in the kitchen to hang them on the walls and they couldn't stand up on their own, being legless and round bottomed, so for months they were sent into internal exile in a comfortless box in the cellar. But then, one day, hurrah! a brain wave was had and they were rescued from their damp exclusion and attached to the sunny, south facing, wall of our extension and duly planted up with, er, well, plants. This was greeted with much joy by the enamels and they have been happy with their botanical charges ever since (yes, I know these plants don't look too healthy now. But believe me during the summer they were thriving). Enamels are especially good for this kind of task because they each have a spout which allows for free draining, meaning they don't get waterlogged."

Friday, 30 October 2009

The talkies

The enterprising Mr Slope opened the Cinema Royale in Chiswick in 1910 and had great success until the ultra modern Art Deco Odeon styled cinemas turned it dark in 1934. The deserted fleapit served briefly as a parachute factory in the 40s and then fell into further disrepair until the 1970s when Martin Hanness and some other antique dealers took it over to ply their trade. Today Martin runs The Old Cinema as a giant shop of antiques, organised by department according to theme and era. I asked him about old stuff, upcycling and the business of upcycling old stuff...

What does your work as buyer for this unusual enterprise entail? There are about 15 dealers who help me supply The Old Cinema with the variety of stock now expected by our customers who include professional stylists looking for the next big thing and young locals in search of bargains. I travel around the UK buying at trade fairs and warehouses plus some regular haunts in Europe but my big love for the last few years has been buying 50s Americana and vintage industrial pieces from the American rustbelt.

Who are some of your influences from the world of design and elsewhere? William Morris was my first hero but currently I am very interested in the mid-century Cotswolds furniture maker Gordon Russell and E Gomme Ltd which became G-Plan. However my real passion is for the lost and found objects, things which have been ignored but deserve appreciation. Faded old advertising signs, factory trolleys, old school lockers and printers drawers full of old type faces. The greatest inspiration for me to keep searching is Sir Peter Blake, whose work with ephemera, found objects and popular culture I think is of huge importance to us all.

What’s the weirdest object that has been sold at The Old Cinema? The most bizarre was a stuffed lion in a huge glass case, which we wheeled down Chiswick High Road one Summer’s afternoon from an auction house in town.

What do you consider to be your best ever find? Oh! That’s easy - my wife! She’s had to put up with broken clocks on the kitchen table, 50’s ball gowns soaking in the bath, rusty balconies in the garden and much worse over the years. Fortunately she makes just as much mess with her pottery making.

What’s your favourite piece in your home? We don’t really go for grand pieces at home so our favourite piece of furniture is an old Victorian chesterfield I bought with Mary in a barn somewhere in Wales 30 years ago. It’s curved and fits perfectly into a bay window, we had it completely restored and upholstered and have watched it slowly sag under the weight of jumping children and hairy dogs. Good furniture for good memories! 

What’s your current bestseller or something in the shop that you’re really excited about? At the moment I’m interested in early twentieth century American industrial design.  I love picking through the derelict objects in abandoned factories.  Americans, like the Victorians before them, designed and manufactured to a very high standard, so with a little love and know-how we have rescued some amazing pieces which should be around forever now.

Some of the pieces in the shop are upcycled, meaning they incorporate objects or materials originally conceived for one purpose now being used for another. Why is this kind of practice interesting and important right now? We’ve had a lot of interest in this idea. Antiques are green by nature but upcycling objects is ecological and exciting as we think of new uses for old stuff. Typewriter keys for cufflinks, inverted water tanks for tables, old flags for upholstery  - it’s just the start of something very big that anyone can get involved in. 

Special Christmas event!

The Old Cinema will host the spoof filming of a pilot TV game show featuring Quizmaster Eben Scruise and plucky contestants Mr and Mrs Cratchit. Be part of the studio audience as the penniless couple value, auction and bid their way to a dramatic and heart-wrenching finale. Drinks and canap├ęs reception at 7pm, show commences at 7:30pm, late night shopping with special 15% discount until 9:30pm. Tickets are free but limited at; see for more information.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Light of my life

Everyone and his blog brother is talking endlessly and writing on and on about Anthropologie on Regent Street. Being from the US, Anthro is a place I go to in the mall with my mom when I am at home and buy things when they are on sale and browse a bunch of very aesthetic stuff, much of which I don't need but all of which I want.

Here is a pic borrowed from beloved journalist India Knight and her excellent blog depicting the Regent Street shop's chandelier of upcycled plastique. It's gorgeous, I know. No wonder that place is the talk of the town.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Bed (side) table

And here's one last Graemism, in which we learn how to upcycle some old bed bits into something useful:

"The small table you can see was built from the bones of a bed frame and then painted with an old piece of blue sky that I found in the road and liquidised. It is a sturdy little chap and can be sat upon, stood upon and generally put upon."

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Ifs ands and butts

Welcome to the second installment from my guestblogoperson Graeme. His new blog at is coming along nicely, and I am going to recreate some of the magic here.

"Here is a Baby Burco that I adapted as a water butt. What is Baby Burco? I hear you say; well Baby Burco was a very early washing machine which was basically just a tub with a plug. You would fill with water, then switch on and marvel as said H2O atoms wiggled and jiggled themselves into a boiled up frenzy. Then you would add clothes and torture them with abrasive soap powder and wooden tongs until they came clean. The Burco was bought for 50p from a bootsale, but having no wish to harass articles of soggy clothing I turned it, with the help of a piece of washing machine pipe, a funnel and some gaffa tape, into the magnificent water collecting specimen it is today."

I especially like the re-use of the wine cork depicted above - gently used and with a corkscrew scar in its head - for some extra upcycling activity. Tune in tomorrow for a final piece from Graeme...

Monday, 26 October 2009

For the birds

It turns out that there's more to my driving instructor than a handy ability to reverse around a corner. Graeme is also a natural-born upcycler too. Here is his fascinating account of how an ammunition box became enhanced by bird life and now serves a peaceful existence in his Balham house. (By the way I lifted this from Graeme's brand-new blog at

"The box, originally an ammunition box was found naked and shivering without even a coat of paint to keep it warm in the attic of a house that I moved into in 1989 in Balham. For a while I kept it warm but failed to clothe it, and it was content, but rather embarrassed at being left continually naked for all to see. But then one day, having no canvas to speak of but a hell of a lot of newly acquired acrylic paint to use, I decided to dress it.

And so I did: initially I just added the blue coat and left it at that. But box was not happy. It wanted more, so a flock of gold finches and two parakeets were added to its lid and a pair of Shelducks to its front elevation. When it was finished both artist and canvas were surprised at how well it turned out. And that was it. Box and man were, just like ye olde American beat group The Turtles, happy together and have remained so ever since. Box now lives in my bedroom and guards all manner of miscellaneous crap within its pink interior. It's a quiet life, but a happy one."

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Candid can-do camera

Yes yes, I know what you're thinking; I'm thinking it too. This is the best upcycled camera creation the world has ever seen. Get them at Oye Modern - or get to work on that old broken Pentax K-1000 in your loft/shed/attic/basement and see what you can do.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Win win win!

Checkitout people - an upcycling contest!

Upcycle Christmas is a competition for people to take second hand and charity stuff and make it into something new and desirable to be sold at an online auction starting on the 7th December. It's sponsored by Folksy and benefits Sue Ryder Care and the judges are:

Wayne Hemingway MBE, who’s been at the forefront of British design for yonks, initially with Red or Dead and now moving into architecture and built environment

Louise Roe, the fashion journalist and ex BBC Clothes Show presenter who now guests on programmes like Britain’s Next Top Model

India Knight (wikipedia), the columnist, champion of craft and making, and author of amongst other things The Thrift Book: How to Live Well and Spend Less 

There are all sorts of exciting rules and prizes and tickets and forms and things, so I'd better start typing and get myself over to the website NOW.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Craft activism

This weekend my glamorous life took me to the school hall in a Lincolnshire village called Claypole where the PTA was hosting 80s night. In spite of drinking cans of £1.50 cider all night (I was doing it for the kids!) I managed to keep my beady eyes open for good raisin ideas. And bingo! I found a flyer for free art events called Scrap Tots and Scrapsters which are held by the Unique Scrap Store.

What's the Unique Scrap Store, you ask? Let me tell ya... Unique Scrap Store is the first online scrapstore in the UK, as well as a social enterprise which exists to support the Unique Coffee Bar charity. Scrapstores operate by collecting industry's usable, safe and clean waste products and offering them for sale at low cost for arts and play projects. (Such as the nifty die-cut seahorses above, 69p for a pack of 10!) Regular collections are made from key businesses in the area. The products are brought back to the central warehouse where they are sorted. Then the general public, schools, play organisations, drama groups and youth groups come along to the Unique Scrap Store and collect the products which they take back for use in play and arts projects. And if you're not lucky enough to live near the bustling hotspot that is Claypole, UK mainland delivery starts from £5.49. 

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Sim again

Another great find from Sim - this time she's emailed me about Alex Randall, a designer who takes found objects, wires em up and - voila! Let there be light. Above is a telephone - one of her more famous ideas - and below is a chandelier made from brass pipes borrowed from an organ.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Plastic craft

My friend Belinda just emailed me about a upcycling mastermind she's come across at Contemporary Applied Arts...

Raised by parents of the ‘waste not, want not’ generation, artist Kristina Kitchener was encouraged from an early age to re-use and recycle. Her current work is a reflection of this upbringing – it is concerned with redesigning and transforming the physicality of the most mundane of materials, giving them new form and purpose. In coaxing ornament from the ordinary she provokes a re-assessment of their value and beauty.

Anyone who can make a covetable necklace (above) or brooch (below) from carrier bags is the kind of lady I want to know. Upcycling, she explains, is at the heart of her creative endeavours:

"My knitting is usually done with cocktail sticks, or small off-cuts of a bamboo blind from our last home. (I knew they would come in handy one day!) My ironing is done on my mother's ironing board, which was bought in 1952 and has a seat attached - very comfy with a cushion! I often use household objects to create shape and form, such as a cereal bowl or large spoon to make a curved surface. I also use various textile scraps to create surface texture. I have been investigating the re-use of findings (brooch pins, ear wires, etc) from discarded jewellery in charity shops, rather than buying new, in order to continue the 'leftovers' concept. And I try to either make my own packaging, or re-use unmarked boxes, hair gel pots, plastic fruit boxes..."

Where can you see her work? CAA is a registered charity promoting British craft and for 60 years has been the premiere exhibition and retail venue for learning about, appreciating and purchasing contemporary craft. The organisation offers dedicated exhibition and retail space across two floors with a changing programme of shows and associated events. Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm, closed on Sundays.

Contemporary Applied Arts, 2 Percy Street W1T 1DD, 020 7436 2344

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Totally tubular

Hey look what I've found. Near my flat is an office with some Tube-tastic modular seating. Londoners will recognise the upholstery as the fabric found on Underground seats. My hope is that the fabric pictured here was upcycled. (I fear however that the lack of chewing gum indicates otherwise.) 

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Recipe for coffee success

Take one old motorcycle

Add one espresso machine

Weld em together

Drive around until you find thirsty customers

Fix up a drink

Serve hot

(You can see the coffee bike at the Mutate Britain show under the Westway. It's probably best not to try this at home, kids.)

Mutate Britain's One Foot in the Grove runs 9-25 October Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays 2-10pm 

Friday, 9 October 2009

Jamie's Italian Upcycle Idea

Several years ago I found myself growing very weary of Jamie Oliver. But yesterday when my old pal Vicky sent me off to review Jamie's Italian at Canary Wharf for The Guide magazine there was no way I was going to say no. And people, let me tell ya - the man really knows his way around a stick of salami and a slab of pecorino. It was all so super good. So much so that I like Jamie all over again. And can I just say that there's another reason I'm glad me and the naked one are back on good terms? If I'd not gone last night I'd not been able to appreciate Jamie's little upcycling endeavour... You see, the antipasti come out of the kitchen on wooden slabs. To make them easier to access, the slabs are placed on tins of tomatoes. The photo I took was toootally crap, so I've borrowed the one above from the very tasty Frolickingfoodie blog. Dig in!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Cinematic vision

I'm researching a feature I've been assigned to do for Westside magazine about The Old Cinema in Chiswick. This mega-wonderful department store sources vintage things from the home and sets them out for display in - yes that's right - an old cinema. In addition to cool vintage furnishings, they've got some great upcycling for sale too, like midcentury dressers repainted for a mod new life, lockers that both contain stuff and display spraypainted art, and old chairs and sofas reupholstered in 19th century grain bags from France. Ooh la upcycle.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


Strictly speaking, it's too early to think about Christmas. But Few and Far has just sent out some info on their offerings for the season of good cheer, and these upcycled pieces of tin caught my eye. Who can resist an angel whose previous life involved encasing a quantity of processed pork? If you're crafty and clever, maybe you could make these yourself - if not they'll be a bit over the £5 mark in the shop. 

(Santa, if you're reading this I want the Spam angel - ta.)

Make do and amend

I recently interviewed Donna Wilson, a textile designer who knits amazing creatures and furnishings sold in places like Liberty, SCP and the Royal Festival Hall shop. She's such a cool girl, and when I asked her for her top knitting tips she said: "Don't waste it. If you've run out of steam and have some half finished knitting, maybe it can be turned into something else – a cushion, a purse or even an egg cosy!"

It got me thinking - can't you knit things out of all kinds of stuff? Not just yarn but old strips of fabric and scraps and other materials? A quick search revealed you can even knit things out of... plastic bags! Honestly! If you're into that kind of thing, then check out the tutorials on and upcycle all those old carrier bags under your sink into something much better, like the sturdy shopping sack above.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Singer sewing machine

Remember Madeleine Boulesteix's amazingly desirable chandeliers made of upcycled kitchen utensils? Her work has been included in the Geffrye Museum's new exhibition Eco Home, and that's all the endorsement I need to go and check it out.

There's a serious upcycling angle to the show, or so the press release tells me:
"The exhibition will be loosely divided into four sections: reducing energy and water consumption and adapting our homes and behaviour to conserve these resources; the life cycle of a chair and its impact on the environment, from materials used and provenance, through to its repair and biodegradability potential; recycling and the diverse ways now available to recycle all types of household waste; and eco-friendly materials and how they can be transformed into desirable new products for the home."
If you are one of those who baulks at the look-but-don't-touch aspect of a museum, then you'd better sign up for the workshop that goes with the exhibition. Encouraging both looking and touching, the Eco Excluder session enables you to create a unique draught excluder using recycled fabrics, with textile designer and Sew It Up author Ruth Singer. Saturday 23 January 2010, 11.30am-4.30pm. Tickets £25 (includes materials). That's Ruth's work pictured above, and she has a lot of crafty ideas for using salvaged fabric so be sure to browse the Sew It Up blog for ideas.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Puff the magic

Sorry so sorry... I have been away in the waves. I have been awave. Or maybe awayve?

ANYhoosie, all this silly muttering brings me to today's topic. I quite like word games. Bananagrams is quite addictive and Wordscraper is slowly, pleasantly ruining my life. Sweet old Scrabble however is probably my perennial favourite.

Some people find Scrabble boring, in the same way that many people find the debate about plastic bottles a bit wearying. For those people, I'd advise you to click away. Because Hartfelt is a groovy outfit I want to talk about, and they make cushions out of 100% recycled plastic bottles, AND they make said cushions in the style of Scrabble tiles.

Annie Hart is the genius behind these cushions, and here are some fun and fearsome facts from her website...

4 plastic bottles = 1 cushion cover

6 plastic bottles = Filling for 1 cushion

10 plastic bottles = 1 pound of polyester fiber

1 ton (2000) lbs of plastic bottles recycled saves 3.8 barrels of oil.

1 million plastic bottles recycled saves 250 barrels of oil.

1 million plastic bottles recycled eliminates 180 metric tons of CO2 emissions from being released into the atmosphere.

10% of all US oil consumed (2 million barrels per day) is used to make plastics.

Recycling plastic bottles takes 8 times less energy than to produce an equivalent amount of new ones.

Supplying the plastic bottles that Americans consume each year requires 47 million barrels of oil and releases 1.0 billion pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.