Austerity craft: Never mind the flatpacks

Who needs Ikea when your local skip has so much to offer? Drills at the ready as we show how to turn a load of old junk into the hippest of homeware
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The Independent Online

Eight years ago, Grace Hawthorne and Shoshana Berger launched ReadyMade, a craft magazine for the under-forties, after getting frustrated that the only DIY publications out there catered to housewives wanting to create "the über-perfect doily" or the hardcore DIY set.

"My friends and I were young, urban, eco-minded," explains Berger. "We wanted an outpost for our ideas about how to create extraordinary design out of ordinary objects."

With the magazine and, now, also a website and a book – which feature projects including making a coat rack from empty detergent bottles, and a (surprisingly beautiful) coffee table from old phone books – the pair say they are redefining the terms "DIY" and "craft", making them cool for a generation that grew up without everyday household skills. "Our generation has grown up behind a computer screen, in a very disposable, mass-produced culture," says Hawthorn. "They are hankering for a way to roll up their sleeves and get back to the tangible world."

And that attitude couldn't be more relevant as we square up to economic uncertainty, adds Berger: "These times require a new resourcefulness. If we don't change our single-serving ways, we'll soon be swimming in our own junk."

All DIY instructions adapted from 'ReadyMade' by Shoshana Berger and Grace Hawthorne, published by Thames & Hudson at £14.95. Read more at

Eames-style shelving unit

Inspired by the tower of stacked drawers by the Dutch design collective Droog, and Charles and Ray Eames's plywood storage units, we created this assembly of aluminium brackets and old drawers. Next time you pass a skip or some fly-tipped furniture in the street, see whether there's a nice chest of drawers or dresser you can pinch the drawers from.

Three cast-off drawers
Four 8ft aluminium angles, 1/8in thick
Handful of 3/4in flathead Phillips screws
A few 11/2in carpenter's nails
Black eggshell paint (optional)

Tape measure
Permanent marker
Hacksaw and sandpaper
Hand drill
1/8in drill bit (for the starter hole)
1/4in drill bit (for the sink part of the hole)
Phillips-head bit
Paintbrush (optional)

1. Settle on a pleasing arrangement of your drawers.

2. Measure the height of your configuration.

3. Measure and mark off one aluminium piece, five inches plus the height of your configuration (the extra inches will be the raised footing of the piece).

4. Use the hacksaw to cut the first aluminium piece. Use this piece as your template for making the other three.

5. Lightly sand the sharp, freshly cut ends.

6. Starting from the top of your configuration, position one of the aluminium pieces on the front edge of the top drawer unit. Make sure the top of the aluminium piece is flush with the top edge of the drawer unit. Hold in place.

7. Work out an appropriate pattern for the screws that will connect the aluminium piece to the drawer and mark. We positioned ours 31/2 inches apart and 7/8 of an inch from the outer edge.

8. Using the 1/8in drill bit, drill a pilot hole through the aluminium for each marked hole

9. Using the 1/4in drill bit, slightly drill the larger bit into the same hole so that the head of the screw will sink down into the wood when drilled. '

Ladder bookcase

If you have too many books and too little wall space, this project is for you. Though we'd all like to own those built-in, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves we've seen in the fire-lit libraries in old movies – their rolling ladders giving access to the loftiest tomes – we'll settle for this version. All that's required are two ladders (if you can find the old wooden variety, all the better), and a few sturdy sheets of plywood.

Two 6ft folding aluminium ladders
Five shelves in varying widths and a standard 83in length
85in of iron-on wood-veneer tape
Semi-gloss varnish

Hand circular saw

1. Stand your ladders next to each other, steps facing out.

2. Measure, mark and cut five shelves with your circular saw. Note that the steps of a ladder narrow as you ascend, so cut to varying widths – approximately 111/2in, 13in, 141/2in, 16in and 171/2in respectively.

4. Iron the veneer tape on to the edges of your shelves.

4. Trim and sand any excess tape.

5. Brush two coats of varnish over the shelves.

6. Let dry.

7. Rack up your shelves on the ladders (you may have to file a little bit of the underside of the ladder shelf if the wood planks are too tight a fit).

8. Move assembly into place, and stack it up with books.

Comb and ruler letter rack

Two large combs of equal length
1m wooden ruler

Hot glue gun

1. Measure the combs and cut the ruler into four pieces of the same length. Sand the edges.

2. Use the glue gun to glue the length of the wood, lying flat, to the length of the comb's bottom edge.

3. Repeat and glue so that each comb has wood glued on both sides.

4. Slot in your post in priority order.

Clothes-peg doormat

192 33/4in doll-head clothes pegs
16-gauge or narrower steel wire

Hand drill
Diagonal pliers
Nose pliers
Drill bit larger than wire

1. Drill two holes through 176 clothes pegs: one 11/8in from the head and one 1/2in from the foot. Now drill two holes through the remaining 16 pegs, one 11/8in from the head and one 1in from the foot.

2. Use diagonal pliers to cut 11 pieces of wire, 27in long.

3. Sleeve the wire into the pegs, alternating the height of each pin accordingly. (Be patient here: the wire will not slide through like butter. You will have to nudge the wire through a little at a time, sliding the upper connecting row over by hand every time you sleeve a new pin.)

4. On the penultimate row, flip the orientation of your pins so your outer edges have a continuous look. Use the second type of pins (the remaining 16 pegs) to make the penultimate row.

5. Trim the excess wire to 3/4in.

6. Drill a hole immediately adjacent to where the wire exits.

7. Use the pliers and hammer to bend, tuck, and hammer the excess wire into the adjacent hole.

8. Flatten the mat by bending the web of pins into place by hand.

9. Set by the door and wipe up.

Shrink-wrap chair


An old metal chair frame
Shrink wrap (think industrial-sized plastic wrap)
Clear packing tape

Utility knife

1. Clean everything from the metal frame.

2. Wrap the plastic around the frame's backrest 10 to 20 times, depending on the opacity and tightness you want to achieve.

3. Cut the wrap with your knife and secure it with a small piece of packing tape.

4. Wrap 30-40 layers of plastic around the frame's seat for appropriate strength.

5. Cut the plastic with your knife and secure it with a small piece of packing tape.

6. Sit down.

Sawhorse table

One pair of sawhorses
An old 1in-thick door or a custom-cut piece of glass

1. Arrange the sawhorses apart to hold your table surface.

2. Set your tabletop surface on top. (Note: you may want to place a couple of 1in x 2in slivers of thick carpet underlay in between to prevent your surface slipping.)

Measuring jar

Empty jar

Permanent, dishwasher-proof markers – two colours
Rubber band
Measuring cup

1. Clean and dry your jar.

2. Measure and pour increments of 1/4 cup water into your jar with your measuring cup.

3. Wrap the rubber band around the jar. This is your guide for drawing straight lines around your jar's perimeter.

4. With each pour, move the band just under the height of the water and mark with your pen, alternating colours.

5. Use your new measuring jar to bake a cake.