Reuse, recycle, reclaim: Interior scavengers are turning everyday items into chic homewares

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

 

When is a door not a door? When it is a table (or perhaps a bed headboard). And when are buckets not for putting things in? When they're lampshades. And can a falling-apart suitcase be anything but useless? Yes – when it's a shelf, a drawer, a coffee table with storage. This is not quite "upcycling", a now-familiar term where, say, an unloved old piece of furniture is given new knobs, stencilled or re-upholstered back to life. Indeed, many talented designers are building entire careers out of doing just that, brilliantly, which perhaps illustrates just how craft-friendly you'd have to be to try it at home. Or how much you should expect to pay someone else to have done the hard craft for you.

But now a trend with all of the eco feel-good factor – but without the budget (or effort) – is bubbling up into the mainstream. It is the art of hacking, or reappropriation, of giving new life to an object simply by using it for something other than what it was designed for. Even the DIY-phobic can get involved – perfect for this conflicted time of year, when skintness combines with the desire to feel inspired enough by our interiors to positively relish not going out. The catch? You will need a bit of what those upcycling designers and resourceful interiors stylists have in buckets: creativity. But the more you tune into this way of thinking, the easier it becomes.

Ferdie Ahmed runs two bars in London, Barrio North and Barrio Central, which are bursting with inspiration. The gentle, coloured light above the bar at the Islington branch comes not from expensive lampshades or even from vintage versions, but from those builders' mixing tubs you see stacked outside DIY shops for a few pounds a-piece. They'd been used in the bars to carry ice – but Ahmed spotted their alternative potential. Elsewhere, apple crates and broken chests of drawers become wall-hung shelving units; scaffold planks clad the entrance wall and the tiles opposite – a patchwork of earthy tones and interesting textures – didn't come from a designer tile shop, but from the discount bin.

Ahmed, who designed and sourced everything himself, says: "I thought they were really nice colours and textures; then I realised I was looking at the reverse side." Undeterred by convention, he bought them anyway and used them that way around. "The bonus is that I didn't have to buy matching ones; it's a cheap way to pick up a lot of tiles," he says. And the result is surprisingly good. "The whole design was partly inspired by my travels, particularly in some Latin countries and by the ingenuity people showed in reclaiming, reappropriating and reusing stuff found on the street – scrap metal or colourful old food cans to build shelters or beach carts – and how they made them look cool without a big budget."

But if even that is too much DIY action, the approach can be pared down further still. It can be as simple as peeling the label off an empty can of beans and turning it into a planter or a utilitarian utensil holder. The beauty is about the twist of the unexpected.

Using objects in unusual or new ways gives a home-interiors magazine individuality. It is a playful way to decorate, prompting satisfying comments from friends – like, "oh what a clever idea" – but all without the upscale interiors price-tag.

"For the average person it's a lot about finances," says Jasmine Orchard, an interior stylist who works with recycled, upcycled and found objects. She acknowledges the trend is starting to infiltrate the mainstream. "People want something individual and cheap: you can get cheap at Ikea, but not individual, and you can get individual, but expensive, in designer shops."

Orchard's own reuse projects are brilliantly simple: glass jelly moulds-turned-soap dishes; nice teapots (lids removed) to display earrings, hung around the rims; a bent cymbal used as a magazine rack; a colourful old plastic milk crate to stash washing up paraphernalia; and paper cups as lampshades for fairy lights.

Sally Bailey, co-author of Handmade Home, has been doing this for over 25 years, since she and her husband, Mark, opened their shop, Baileyshome.com, with the philosophy "repair, reuse, rethink". She can see a trend: "In the beginning no one got what we were doing," she says.

"But now it's become very fashionable. Which is brilliant. The trick is to keep an open mind."

She cites a house she knows that uses a wall-mounted pallet to display books, and another that positioned an old door behind a bed for an instant headboard. Currently the Baileys are enjoying their ex-RAF chocks from Brize Norton (door stops); the old washing "dolly" that has become a kitchen-roll holder (it looks like a wooden-handled sink plunger, which you could also use); an unusual wall cabinet made from seven mis-matched floor cupboards fixed to a wall together; and the cluster of anglepoise lamps attached upside down to the ceiling, instead of – traditionally - to walls. They look "a bit War of the Worlds," Bailey says. "I think it's about a whole mood with the economic crises we're going through.

"People have become really anti-disposable culture and landfill and want to personalise their homes."

To get started, William Morris's mantra about having nothing that isn't useful or beautiful in your home is a good one – but focus on what you already have and make it one or the other. Whether it's a stray drawer that finds a new life as a portable storage caddy with the addition of castors, a nice bit of plastic from a broken toy that, upside down, is suddenly a striking desk tidy, or just a beautiful-but-useless object that would look better on the mantelpiece than languishing in the attic – the main thing is to have a go. And to persevere. As Bailey says: "You can find a use for most things. But it can take a while – sometimes you have to look at something for a long time."

Reappropriation: Get the look

Stylist Jasmine Orchard's top tip on getting the reappropriation habit:

"This is a really good way to start if it doesn't come naturally: pick something you want or need – a new vase, a thing to put the recycling in – then go to a car boot sale and look at anything that could physically do the job. Upside down, it could hold water? If you attached to the wall, would it fit in your kitchen? See it as an exercise: set yourself the task of looking at any object and seeing it in different ways – and forgetting about its original function."

Jasmine Orchard offers a budget-friendly home styling service (jasmineorchardstyling.com).

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker