The borrowers

House Style: The skip scavenger creates a cross between Shaker and industrial chic. By Morley von Sternberg
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The Independent Culture
"Almost everything in my home has been stolen, borrowed or donated," says furniture-maker Simon Turner. But rather than being a candidate for Crimewatch UK, Turner is one of the new generation of skip scavengers and recyclers - who find a use for the things other people have discarded.

Skip scavengers almost disappeared in the Eighties, after a decade of infuriating homeowners by constantly finding Georgian fireplaces and original oil lamps where others could only see stained mattresses and plywood doors. In the heady years of the 1970s, they dominated the house style headlines by picking up original fixtures and fittings thrown out by those who had thought they were "modernising" their homes. By the mid-Eighties, skips were of intense interest to everyone, and fireplaces were being put back into houses, rather than taken out. Now there's little chance of finding an original piece of cornicework or a Victorian door in a skip, but old sink strainers, discarded steel work-surfaces from office canteens or rusty scaffolding can still be picked up, and Turner is making the most of them.

"I do spend quite a lot of money, too," he points out. The Victorian terraced house which he shares with his partner Jo, and their 18-month- old daughter, Rosie, was a victim of over-eager modernisation, with fireplaces ripped out' windows replaced with inappropriate modern substitutes and extra walls erected to create tiny additional bedrooms. Jobs such as replacing windows with traditional sashes and removing walls cannot be skimped and leave little cash left for furniture and fittings.

By combining his furniture-making skills with discarded or reclaimed materials, Turner has come up with a style between Shaker and industrial chic. It is warmer and more user-friendly than some of the hard-edged industrial recycling that is becoming fashionable. It has to be - he is making things for a family home rather than the warehouse and loft conversions which adapt more naturally to furniture made of steel and aluminium.

"I try things out in my own home, to see if they work before suggesting them commercially," he says. "It's a house full of prototypes." Downstairs, in the basement kitchen-cum-dining room, Turner removed the false wall to open out the room. He fitted a kitchen into the small extension at the back, using scaffolding to create the framework: "If I can't find old scaffolding, I buy it new - it's still very inexpensive." The carcasses of the units were constructed out of medium density fibreboard (mdf). Scaffolding hinges attach the doors, which are a combination of softwood and sheet aluminium.

"The college I teach at was renovating its canteen," he says, "and I found several sheets of old aluminium in a skip outside. They must originally have been catering work surfaces or counters. It was just being chucked out, so I took it to make the doors for the kitchen units."

Turner cut the aluminium using a jigsaw with a metal blade, set it into square softwood frames, and used the jigsaw to drill a pattern of holes. For the doors on the wall units he has inset aluminium sink strainers, polished to a sparkling shine with a buffering wheel, into plain softwood panels.

"People can't imagine what they are until they open the door," Turner says, "and see the back, and then they recognise it as the bit which prevents things going down the drain."

Space is at a premium in such a small room, so Turner utilised every inch. Instead of a conventional drawer for cutlery, he used a narrow vertical gap between the sink and the stove to inset a series of steel pull-out "drawers" for knives, forks and spoons, one on top of the other. They are, in fact, food storage containers from the self-service counter of a canteen. Catering plate warmers have also proved useful: "I use one in the kitchen with a light inside it," he says, "so the light is thrown up onto the ceiling and through the holes - softer than overhead light - and we hang kitchen utensils from the holes too.

"The rubbish is housed in an aluminium flour bin, also from the college, which I put on casters. It's just the right size for black dustbin bags.

"The kitchen work surfaces were given to me by a school who were getting rid of the old teak tops in their science laboratories. I cut away around the sink, and routed in grooves for water to run away."

These work surfaces are raised just above the kitchen units with the scaffolding - "which provides good storage slots for trays, chopping boards etc."

In a small space it's important to keep colours simple, and Turner has used a smoky blue from Farrow & Ball's historic paint range throughout the kitchen and dining area. Here he was inspired by the tongue-and-groove panelling, reaching halfway up the walls, in Jo's parents' Georgian house. When an old warehouse was being gutted, he was able to pick up its old pine tongue-and-groove boards for free.

There wasn't enough for the whole room, so the rest of the panelling is inexpensive mdf, painted and cut to look like wood. Turner tried to cover an ugly radiator with a traditional lattice cover, but "it wouldn't really fit", so the sheet aluminium, pierced with tiny holes, was used again.

The kitchen table is one of Turner's latest experiments, and is made of birch-faced plywood with wooden legs and industrial glass bricks inset into the centre. It also adds light to the rather dark room, because a light can be shone upwards through the glass.

A Seventies skip would have been useful for the main living room as Turner had to buy the fireplace. But he found the insert at a reclamation yard for pounds 150. He was, though, able to use offcuts of wood left over from commissioned work to make bookcase shelving: "It means we don't have standard-sized shelves, but that's OK."

The shelving uprights are scaffolding again, but there is an elaborately carved wardrobe top from the South of France which gives it a baroque appearance: "We were near Agen with a theatre company, and I always check out the brocantes (second-hand furniture warehouses). I've used the wardrobe tops over all the doors as well, and we also found the mirror over the fireplace there, and brought it back strapped to the top of the car."

The random element to discovering things in reclamation yards, skips and renovations means that Turner cannot always use finds in commissioned work. He draws up the designs first, and then sees what he can source second-hand. Scaffolding, which he uses to make fitted wardrobes, is cheap and easy to find, and means that he can do an 8ftx8ft set of fitted wardrobes for around pounds 900.

"I go to reclamation yards and try to get old doors for the fronts," he says, "because that looks nice, but prices are now rising fast in most yards." The kitchen table, with its plywood and glass bricks would be around pounds 400. To make fit a kitchen like his own would cost around pounds 1,5OO-pounds 2,000 for everything, which compares well with the cost of other hand-made kitchens

Simon Turner, 5b Tenter Ground, London El 7NH (0171-426 0529)

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