Monday, 1 November 2010

Flip the switch

I have been given an advent calendar, even though we're only just past Halloween. Never mind; I don't like to look a gift horse in the mouth... So I've started munching my way through what was supposed to be my December calendar.

I'm not the only who likes to think about brighter, better Yuletide things well in advance of Christmas. Check out these decs - made from sequins, silver thread and upcycled lightbulbs. Well and truly - a bright idea.

Each is made to order, priced £4 each or £15 for four, plus postage and packing from

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Ones and zeroes

Old motherboards. Old keyboards. Old power cables. Old laptops. Old screens. Old CPU towers. Old plastic and metal and silicone chips... What happens with a computer that is dead and even less useful than a doornail?

My pal Amy snapped these shots of Bloomberg's studios, where old IT kit has been re-envisioned and reformed. What do you think? I like the thoughtful journey from digital and virtual to analogue and functional. Pull up a seat I say!

Friday, 10 September 2010

In a blue mood

I interviewed a really fantastic lady recently, a fashion designer who is producing a luxury jeans collection in the UK (read the PDF of the feature here). Barbara Graham is her name and Laundry Maid is the label. And to prove she's got her finger well and truly on the pulse, she just sent me a press release about her new endeavours in upcycling. Here it is in its entirety:

Autumn Winter 2010 sees ethical brand Laundry Maid in a resourceful mood with the introduction of Laundry Maid Upcycled; a small collection of jeans, bags and a skirt all innovatively recycled from existing styles into newer directional garments. Developed to sit alongside the label’s core form flattering range of skinny, tailored and tapered leg fits, the concept minimises waste, cuts down on unnecessary consumption of raw denim and introduces exciting new product areas to the line.

A tailored chino in stone has been painstakingly unpicked to rescue knee patches and the brand’s unique uplifting back panel, which have then been applied to a signature tailored jean in slate grey denim. Excess stone fabric has been further utilised to make Jodhpur riding patches for the label’s current favourite, the high waisted skinny jean. The remaining top of the chino combines with the back panel of the tailored jean to create a skirt, nothing is wasted and excess stock is converted into new seasonal items.

Jeans styles have been further adapted to form a snap fastened fifties style handbag and a slouchy cross body bag, each featuring a base and strap handles made from the legs of the jean. In keeping with the label’s ethos, all items are designed, manufactured, laundered and customised in Britain. Due to rarity of supply Laundry Maid Upcycled will be available in numbered limited editions, exclusively at Potassium, 2 Seymour Street W1H 7NA and online at and Ethics Girls, alongside Laundry Maid’s main line. Retail prices start from £80.00 for the bags to £150.00 for the jeans styles.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Swing when you're winning

This week I finished writing a feature on hardcourt bike polo, an underground sport that touched down in London just three years ago. Here's a taster extracted from the story, with images courtesy of Chunk...
'With the sport still in its infancy, you won’t find a bike polo section in Foot Locker or Lillywhite's. As a result, borrowing and hacking are intrinsic features of the scene. Bikes are often cobbled together from spare parts, and Felix Cramer, a college student, illustrates how DIY skills have come in handy in fashioning his much-used mallet. 'It's a golf club and electrical tape,' he tells me. 'I played with it so much I broke the end off it so there was a massive hole. So what you do is put a penny on it or a cork and tape over it.'

Ski poles or bamboo are other common components used to serve as mallet shafts, while mallet heads are typically made from plastic piping requisitioned from building sites or roadworks. 'People find them, happily,' Felix divulges. 'The official rules say 12cm is the longest you can have. Drill holes take the weight out, or people will have one massive hole so they can scoop the ball with the side of the mallet.'

Wheel covers are another modification that calls upon a player’s upcycling savvy. These prevent damage to spokes, and also provide a tactical advantage. 'They’re quite handy,' Felix says. 'If you’ve got the ball on one side of you and the attacking or opposing player is on the other side of you, they can’t see the ball through the wheel.' In London, the ubiquitous signs of estate agents provide the perfect corrugated plastic medium for the job. One player’s wheels sport the unmistakable livery of one of the country’s most notoriously greedy agencies; 'I’m sponsored by Foxtons,' he grins."

For more information on rules and throw-ins (that's polo lingo for pickup games) check out the London Hardcourt Bike Polo Association site.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Teetotal thanks

PSFK consultants are trained to keep their eyes on the future. In the course of their future gazing they quite often come upon upcycling ideas...

And yet another (warning: this is the weirdest thing ever): upcycling wee into whiskey.

Not only is this an innovative example of reuse, it's a potential solution to alcoholism. Now then, who would like to join me in climbing on the wagon?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Film 'er up!

Yesterday a theatre, today a cinema... How cool is this? The Cineroleum is a pop-up movie theatre in a derelict petrol station. Everything in it has been made from donated, found and reclaimed stuff.

And.... ACTION!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010


Jonathan Glancy's article in the Guardian will reveal to you just what junkitecture is, so read all about it here. The case study he uses is pictured above, and this is how he describes it:
The Jellyfish theatre, which opens next week, is being built from the detritus of markets, timberyards and building sites; from redundant school furniture, hand-me-down front doors, recycled nails and pretty much anything that local residents and businesses have contributed.”
Like the Union Street Urban Orchard which we've covered before it's on... Union Street SE1.

Friday, 30 July 2010

The crate escape

Recycling stuff the world is done with: good. Upcycling stuff the world is done with: even better. When you can reuse instead of recycle, you're doing the earth a favour by saving energy that's otherwise swallowed up in transporting materials to and from recycling facilities (many of which are literally on the other side of the globe) and by saving the energy that's required to melt down a can or a bottle (we're talking high temps here, peeps).

So don't be too quick to recycle if you can at all upcycle instead. Containers are always a great place to start - a metal can becomes a planter, a crate becomes a shelf, and so on. But there's a worrying trend reported in the Wall Street Journal article "The Great Crate Crackdown". Companies that use plastic crates in great numbers (like Coca-Cola, Rite-Aid and Sara Lee) have noticed huge thefts of their plastic delivery containers. Thieves are apparently selling these to recycling plants to grab themselves some free money (the crate itself is worth $3 to $10 when new; a pound of recycled plastics can be sold to manufacturers for 15 cents pound). But at what needless cost to the environment? These hunter gatherers are taking objects whose use is not yet exhausted, so there's not much virtue in recycling of this kind.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Get up stand up

The New York Times recently ran a review of a new book about the spread of surfing across the world. The book is called Sweetness and Blood and it's by Michael Scott Moore. The review cites two examples of upcycling revealed by Moore in his book - apparently early Cornish surfers requisitioned coffin lids for their boards, while in Cuba surfers in the 1980s used plywood desktops. Gnarly indeed.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010


The original 1006 Navy Chair was designed by Emeco for the US Navy. The shiny little icon first appeared in 1944, and today it’s made of 80% recycled aluminium. Designed to serve the military’s need for lightweight, corrosion-resistant chairs for destroyers and submarines, each has an estimated lifespan of 150 years.

Made from 111 recycled plastic Coke bottles, the 111 Navy Chair (1944/2009) is the new plastic version of the 1006. The 111 expands the Navy collection by offering colour, plus it’s suitable for outdoor and commercial use, and and costs about half the price of the aluminium original - which is still in production.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Late edition

What's that you say? You believe upcycled newspapers to be the covering of them there walls over yonder? Correct. Read all about it (ahem) at the online design mag Core 77.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Make my day

Two new books support the notion that making things and doing stuff with your hands is actually good for you. Can upcycling some old piece of rubbish keep you on an even keel and save you lots of money otherwise spent on therapy? To find out, read Made By Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World by Mark Frauenfelder or The Case for Working With Your Hands: or Why Office Work is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good by Matthew Crawford. Or instead you could tackle some interesting and creative DIY project and find out for yourself.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

For kicks

It's not just the host continent of the World Cup, it's also the cradle of upcycling. There's an article in the New York Times today about photographer Jessica Hilltout and her project to record the pursuit of the beautiful game not in glittering stadiums but on Africa's sandy beaches, dusty plains and cracked stretches of dried clay. Part of the project includes a series of shots of homemade balls she traded with her subjects, exchanging fine factory-made ones for their versions fashioned from socks, stockings, string and even condoms. Read the article here, or let the images speak for themselves by visiting Jessica's site here.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Leaving the city

Here are pics I took yesterday at the Urban Orchard on Union Street, where tyres have been upcycled into swings and planters, and have also been downcycled into ground cover. Glass jars are the basis of a seed library, and shipping palettes are put to good use in landscaping and seating. It's there until September so go have a look.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Trash talkin'

On this blog we've seen shipping containers and skips turned into coffee shops, swimming pools and gymnasiums. How much better can it get? You be the judge. Here's Oliver Bishop-Young's ping pong table made from a skip and it's right up my very own street (literally). In my old flat I could have viewed it from the kitchen window, which would have been preferable to watching every single one of my favoured teams get knocked out of the World Cup, or witnessing the UK's Wimbledon hope shuffle back home to Scotland.

Save yourself from sporting boredom and head to the Union Street Urban Orchard. It's - ahem - on Union Street (SE1, between Borough and Southwark Tube stations).

Friday, 2 July 2010

Salvage, sew, sit

Source some vintage fabric
Embroider birds and bugs onto salvaged cloth
Sew assorted pieces together
Produce covetable cushions (priced £60)

These one-off beauties are made to order; visit Samantha's site to see how she ingeniously brings old bits and pieces back to life.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Coffee container

In the past we've seen shipping containers converted into swimming pools, and here they are upcycled into a cafe. Read all about it at Treehugger, where you'll find more shots of the green scene courtesy of B Alter.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Mary proposal

Without a doubt, Mary Portas has been reading this blog. Why else could she have promoted the concept of upcycling to the owners of 37 Old London Road in last night's episode of Mary Queen of Shops? You can catch the show on iPlayer this week, or if you're in Kingston browse the shop for yourself.

[Hi Mary!!]

Monday, 14 June 2010

Better latte than never

As I was drinking some coffee, I happened to read about the One Pot Pledge campaign. The initiative is led by Garden Organic, a charity that encourages people to grow their own food. The idea behind the One Pot Pledge is that gardening isn't difficult - you can take a disposable paper cup and get growing immediately. Here's a pic of Bojo with his coriander in a coffee cup to give you inspiration for your own one pot undertaking.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Palette o mine

Soon many of my favourite subjects will come together. Food... flowers... upcycling... Wales...

Nomadic Allotments is a project for the London Festival of Architecture being launched by the Welsh School of Architecture in Borough Market next month. Read all about it:

"The final allotment structures designed by the students will be constructed from reclaimed materials such as pallets and packaging provided onsite by Borough Market. The allotment structures will offer a variety of growing, eating and seating areas for market-goers, local visitors and residents alike."

The allotments will be officially launched on the 4th July, so grab a drink and a seat on one of the structures.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Bag bunting

Soon the World Cup will start. I wish the USA and England weren't in the same group; for a dual passport owner like myself things could get ugly. So I am supporting the Ivory Coast. All I need to show my colours is buy a bunch of stuff from Sainsburys and Marks & Spencer. With some orange bags and some green ones, I could make weatherproof bunting. Want some bag bunting of your own in order to show your own true colours? See a fabulous online tutorial by Hannah of Seeds and Stitches at Amelia's magazine, where she writes a column on creative reuse.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Crafty cakey gardening goodness

From Reestore comes yet another product in step with the zeitgeist...

Fat Bird is the complete fat cake creation kit. When you finish cooking and come up with a whole heap o fat, you're not supposed to pour it down the drain right? So pour that oily goop into the Fat Bird silicon mould, add some scraps, sprinkle on some birdseed and drop in a piece of string. Whack the recipe into the freezer and then when it's good and ready, hang it out for a feast for all our feathery birdy tweety friends.

At last, an invention that upcycles oil, hooray. Can we get a couple zillion of these sent to the Gulf of Mexico...?

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Long and short of it

As many of you may know, I'm fairly obsessed with discovering new ideas for the creative reuse of surfboards. I was browsing Ebay for a VW Campervan, and found this four-wheeled wonder which contains part of an old longboard reborn as a table.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Essential oil

As I become more obsessed by the concept that metal containers can make great seating, I have no choice but to share my findings with you. Atelier Abigail Ahern offers the Drum Chair, made from hammered oil drums. They come in blue or red and cost £365, and it's not wrong to want one.

Reestore meanwhile has all kinds of objects suitable for resting your behind upon. Like a chair made from a shopping trolley, a settee crafted from a car bumper and a loveseat devised from a clawfoot tub. Their oil drum chair goes by the name of Ray, and when you lift up Ray's seat he returns the favour by offering you a hidden storage compartment.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Slippery business

Not long ago we read about the upcycling endeavours of Rafinesse & Tristesse, who make big olive tins into seating and toys. On my visit to Denmark last weekend, every corner held a giant olive tin or two doing double-duty as planters. We don't seem to have such aesthetic containers for our industrial fats in this country. It's just not fair!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Drink up!

The Hotel Ville d'Hiver in the Gironde region of France has many eco credentials, but it's coolest claim to fame might be that it is itself a grand exercise in upcycling.

Its central building is a water plant that opened in 1884 and operated for a century until 1984, when it became the property of Arcachon town council in return for a symbolic fee of one franc.

Though it was ravaged by fire in 1990 and spent several years in a derelict state, it rose up from the ashes last year to be reborn as a luxurious, inventive and atmospheric hotel.

Its former life as a water facility is best viewed from the side of the pool - which was in fact sliced out of the original underground reservoir. Many of its features - including the funnel-shaped Victorian water pipes and smoothly curving ceilings - are in evidence. As you languish here in fluid serenity, these are reminders of its hardworking liquid past.

(Thanks to super shooter Vaughan for the photos, which he took while I was busy snooping around the grounds...)

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Post script

PS - I Made This is a whole new wonderful world where coffee stirrers can be reimagined as necklaces. There are heaps of projects - most leaning toward the fashion end o' the eco invention spectrum - and a weekly newsletter, so get yourself involved. In the meantime, take a gander at the chandelier made from plastic water bottles shown here.

The mastermind behind PS-IMT is Erica Domesek, a writer in New York City. According to the website, her "creative motto 'I see it, I like it, I make it' reflects the belief that one can find inspiration anywhere and transform what one sees into something fabulous to wear, use or look at." To that, we say hooray.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Beach rubbish bingo

Check this out, and maybe check in...

Opened less than a year ago, The Scarlet is a gorgeous hotel not far from Newquay. In spite of its name, it's ultra green. This is reflected in the eco activities on offer - from tree climbing classes to sustainability courses to upcycling workshops. For the latter, read all about it here:

Recycled beach finds workshops with Sarah Drew: Sarah Drew is holding a series of jewellery workshops at The Scarlet. Guests are invited to spend a relaxing day making jewellery from salvaged materials collected from the beach below the hotel.

As well as creating some contemporary jewellery, you can also enjoy a two-course lunch, which is included in the price.

Dates: 8th May, 17th July, 18th September, 16th October and 13th November 2010

Location: The Lower Dining Room

Time:10am - 4pm

Price: £52

Booking is essential. Please contact reservations for more details on 01637 861800.

For more information go to

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Not Ralph Lauren

Once upon a time polo required a string of ponies, a handful of grooms and a whole shed-load of cash. In fact, a castle-load of cash would be preferable. Today, polo requires a fixed-gear two-wheeled vehicle, some scraps, some skills and the ice-cold nerves of a bike courier. There's a playground near where I live where men and women battle it out frequently. I inherited a polo mallet from my grandfather who used it when he was at agricultural college and everyone had to do some kind of junior cavalry business to get their degree. The riders I observed in Elephant & Castle weren't playing with wooden World War I era equipment though. After a bit of reading, it seems today's mallets are made by upcycling ski poles or golf clubs. Find DIY instructions at Hard Court Bike Polo and get swinging.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Canny idea

Basically I've tidied up our balcony, but I still have some issues. Such as: where do I stick a bag of potting soil that I am not particularly fond of staring at? What I would really like is to get an empty container, store the soil inside of it and sit upon it. I'm thinking a gigantimous industrial yoghurt pot would do nicely, or something from a building site that possibly previously contained a vast amount of primer or what-have-you.

I did come across these natty stools over at They're from the good people at Rafinesse & Tristesse, and I think they are really quite clever. Perhaps even more clever though are the kiddie sink and stove made from upcycled olive oil tins. Will they accommodate my potting soil as well, I wonder?

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Casa suite casa

The Casa Surf Project is a hotel with 10 suites, each one designed by a different surf brand. It would be nice if my fairy godmother would play concierge for just a minute and check me in to Suite 207, the Etnies crib. Upcycling ideas include a playful patchwork mosaic of shoe material scraps that serves as an artistic headboard and hand-painted skate wheels decorating the bathroom mirror.

Also in the bathroom is a kidney-shaped bathroom sink that doubles as a tiny skate pool complete with a pair of mini decks for finger boarding... Yo Fairy Godmother - are you reading this??

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

gives me a charge

Curious to know what you're looking at? It's a sculpture made of discarded batteries by Michel de Broin, and it comes via the brilliant blog known as Designsquish.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Take a seat

Read all about it… My blogging buddy-o over at Pass the Pattern couldn’t get the cushion she wanted at her local Habitat store. So instead she bought Habitat’s shopping bag made from the same fabric, unpicked the handles and the seam at the opening, inserted a cushion pad and used a slip stitch to close it all up. It’s pictured here with two salvaged Ercol chairs spruced up with a new lick of paint.

You could do the same thing with any shopper bag. I seem to accumulate these free at an alarming rate, but I will despair no longer now that I can see them in a new light – as (almost) readymade cushions.