Treasure your trash

Posted 5 September 2016 by Richenda Oldham

It’s time to go in search of your inner trash to learn more about the increasingly popular trend of upcycling…

The next time you think about taking a battered old piece of furniture to the dump, just pause a few seconds to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes, because you could be throwing away the perfect upcycling opportunity.

Most people are familiar with the concept of recycling and the importance of sending less waste to landfill. But upcycling - or creative reuse - is a different beast as its purpose is to convert old or discarded items into something useful or beautiful, whereas recycling breaks the material down so the base product can be made into something else.

Upcycling is not a new concept. Our grandparents were doing it as a matter of course in the 1930s and 1940s, when money was tight and even more so when rationing came into force during World War Two. Make do and mend was the prevailing mantra and consequently nothing was ever thrown away and everything was repurposed.

Don't be afraid to be adventurous when starting to upcycle - mistakes can be remedied with paint, handles can be removed and paper can be stripped off to start again. When you have run out of upcycling projects at home, go and hunt through charity shops, reclamation yards, skips, junk shops and rubbish tips.

Helen Johnson of Wear Valley Decorating Centre recommends viewing every item as an opportunity for upcycling: "I'm not just talking about pieces you have around your house, I also shop with my upcycling glasses on. These days there are lots of great home accessories and affordable pieces of furniture, but sometimes they can lack style and flair. So why not buy something you can personalise that doesn't break the bank?"

Upcycling is certainly as important as recycling, because it is a green process that removes items from the global waste stream and reduces the consumption of raw materials. Yes it does require personal ingenuity and hard work, but unlike recycling it doesn't use vast quantities of energy or water to break down materials.

Some of the world's leading designers have even taken upcycling to a more sophisticated level, known as Luxecycling, which interior designer Anouska Lancaster is a big fan of. "The finish of a luxecycled piece has to be sharp and clean and the attention to detail is vital. Quality is key when it comes to luxecycling. The finished product has to be fully operational and have a purpose, as well as look beautiful."

Upcycling is a way of life in some countries and certainly a regenerative design culture is increasingly in evidence in the UK, with the added benefit that it is unleashing creative talents in unexpected corners and producing some highly exciting results.


1. Complementary shades of Sunflower Yellow and Flamingo pink dyes have been selected for their vibrancy to brighten up these curtains and accessories, Dylon fabric dyes from £3.39 per pack,

2. Mix materials and finishes for a stylised look, upcycled cabinet by Anouska Lancaster from Noushka Design

3. Decorative paint expert Annie Sloan says: "Upcycling is a perfect way to transform something quite cheaply while still expressing your creativity. I find that taking a piece of furniture that may have seen better days and transforming it into something new, with just a little bit of love, time and paint, can be utterly therapeutic." Annie uses her own brand of Chalk Paint™, £18.95 per litre from Annie Sloan 

4. Helen Johnson painted this charity shop bargain table in a Rust-Oleum gloss finish liquorice paint, £18.99 per 750ml, then pasted wallpaper samples to the draw fronts. She use silver furniture paint on the handles for added glamour from Decorating Centre Online 

5. Kate Gould's The Wasteland garden, which won a Gold medal at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, featured an innovative chair made from a steel bath tub by eco designer Max McMurdo, whose company Reestore specialises in upcycling everyday waste objects.

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