Rethink, reuse and recycle
One man's trash is another man's treasure and upcycling furniture guarantees a bespoke piece. You're only limited by your imagination
There's no downside, as far as I can see, to upcycling. Breathing new life into old furniture can only be a good thing. The dictionary defines upcycling as processing discarded objects or materials to create something that is better, or worth more, than the original and you can engage with it on any level you want. It's now possible to buy upcycled furniture, to hire someone to transform an old piece for you, or to learn how to do it yourself.
"I take old and unwanted furniture and I give it a new lease of life," says Joanne Condon of Kyle Lane.
Based in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, she upcycles furniture - both pieces that she sources herself and those that people bring in to her - and also runs workshops. Most of the time, she doesn't change the form of the furniture, although she sometimes alters its purpose. "I've changed old pine wardrobes into pantry presses for kitchens, but the main thing I work on is the surface. I give it a bit of colour and character."
She sources the furniture in car boot sales and charity shops, bringing an expert eye to bear on what she purchases. "When I look at a piece of furniture I can visualise exactly how it will look when I've finished. I see it in my head - completely done! I would be really picky about what I buy. It needs to be low cost, but not low quality. With the older pieces, the quality was so much better than it is now - there's often good timber in there." She also knows, even before she starts, how much she will be able to sell it for. All her pieces are individual but, in general, an upcycled hall table would cost about €170 and a chest of drawers about €240.
Condon also works to commission. Bring in an old and weary piece of furniture and she'll help you re-imagine it. "The price depends on the piece but if you bring in a standard kitchen chair it will probably cost between €45 and €65 for me to work on it." Your chair would come back stripped and repainted, and with a newly upholstered seat. A revamped locker (about €50) might have painted detail and new handles as well as a fresh coat of paint. "I can make you want it again," she says.
Some people have an innate talent for revamping furniture but most of us need a bit of guidance. For that, Condon runs workshops. A one-day Upcycled Chair workshop, suitable for beginners costs €135.
"I supply everything," she says. "You pick a chair and the paint and upholstery are included too. So is lunch." At the end of the day, you can take your chair home along with a booklet explaining the techniques that you've used.
If you get a taste for upcycling, a Furniture Techniques Masterclass (€165) at Kyle Lane will bring you through a range of more advanced techniques and includes a small item of furniture. "Everyone gets real excited - it does be buzzing in here!" she says.
Up in Dublin, Laury Poisson and Ed Donnelly are celebrating a year in the upcycling business. Donnelly is a builder by trade. Poisson, who comes from Bordeaux, has a background in fashion. Their shop, Home Street Home, in Harold's Cross, is full of upcycled furniture. Some, they have made themselves. A cast-iron industrial base from India has become the frame of a table (€3,000). Its solid walnut tabletop was once a parquet floor from an old house in Co Wexford.
"It had been stained in different colours over the years, but when we sanded it and removed the stain, the walnut revealed itself," Donnelly explains. The final piece is handsome, plays into the industrial trend, and looks like it will outlive your grandchildren.
Other pieces are more eccentric. The Club Seat (€2,000) is made from the front section of a vintage car. "We bought the car in a salvage yard in India and sent it to a workshop to have it made up." Chairs made from old cars are becoming a thing. The high-end London retailer, Smithers of Stamford, has a car sofa (€3,360 plus delivery) while the online boutique Cuckooland offer a reclaimed taxi chair (€3,347 plus delivery). "We've had a lot of interest," Donnelly admits. "We also had a vintage Massey Ferguson tractor made up into a breakfast bar - it went down a storm at the Ploughing Championships!"
Smaller purchases at Home Street Home might include trays made from the tops of oil barrels (€30); flower pots made from car bonnets in Madagascar, complete with the original battered paintwork (€15 to €21); or an African lamp (€95) made from a pierced calabash and a base made of recycled iron.
The lighting designer Shane Holland, based in Duleek, Co Meath, has just won the Best Lighting Product at the RIAI Architects' Choice Awards 2017 for his Cruise pendants. They look like the type of lamp that you'd see clustered over a smart kitchen island or dining table, but are made from the discarded by-product of the aeroplane industry. "The Cruise lights are upcycled from pressure vessels used on aircraft," Holland explains. "The discarded cylinders have been transformed into trendy downlighters, still with their markings and certification labels. We also have some painted in plain colours. They're made from pressurised fire equipment with imprinted stamped graphics."
The Cruise lights cost €185 (small); €245 (medium) and €315 (large) from Shane Holland's workshop. The Cruise lamps also won Highly Commended in the RIAI Renewable/Sustainability Award.
For those that like the upcycled look, but aren't too bothered about saving the planet, there are some entertaining cheats on the market. Woodchip & Magnolia's Tin Tile wallpaper (€112 per 10-metre roll from Lime Lace) looks like salvaged antique metal tiles complete with chipped paint, distressed metal and realistic cracks. It isn't! Upcycled though it might appear, it is simply digitally printed wallpaper based on high resolution pictures of genuine salvaged tiles. Just paste it up and bluff it out.
See kylelane.ie, homestreethome.ie, shanehollanddesign.com, smithersofstamford.com, cuckooland.com, limelace.co.uk