“The beauty of upcycling is that we take existing objects and re-use them in a way that creates a superior product. The sum of their parts is not equal to the whole – it’s exceptionally more.” – Beth Miles, Design Thinking Strategist
When we think about the term upcycling, many people conjure up images of badly executed DIY projects. Perhaps a shabby chest of drawers, or a poorly reupholstered chair.
In reality, upcycling provides a new lease of life to objects and furniture in our homes that have lost their original use or value and there are a host of designers creating upcycled products that are beautiful, unique, and developed with a clear environmental conscience.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a shift in our attitudes and behaviours in more ways than one, including home improvement trends and DIY-related search terms increased by 48% in the 2020 lockdown period, with paint being the most searched term at an increase of 77%. In addition, many of us are scrutinising our finances, the way we make purchasing decisions, and the effects our throw it away mentality is having on the planet.
This has led to a recent upsurge in upcycling and eco-conscious home improvements in a strategised shift towards a more circular economy It’s also a creative opportunity to practice sustainability with items
Upcycling can often be confused with recycling, however, they are not the same thing. Recycling is an industrial process where one material is transformed into new material for the production of new products. Upcycling however, is a more creative form of recycling and is defined as “reusing discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.”
We all want our home to have the wow factor and upcycling is one interior design method where this is guaranteed. The object or piece of furniture that is transformed has a story to tell and is deeply connected to the person who created it. It almost acts as a tribute to what it used to be – only better. Upcycling is innovation, creativity, reinventing and reworking, without losing touch with or eroding the original item.
Upcycling recreates the creativity of craftsmanship and handmade work which is becoming more desirable with the likes of sites such as Etsy. Instead of a cookie-cutter living space, upcycling creates a unique ambiance and encourages originality.
Upcycling by its very nature adds value through the techniques needed to transform the item. It’s no longer seen as a low-budget exercise. Upcycling can use exclusive materials and expensive products in order to deliver an upmarket result.
However, if you are working with a tight budget, upcycling can be a simple way to transform items that are reaching the end of their lifespan quickly, affordably, and effectively.
Upcycling also affects our personal values and helps us to appreciate the items in our home. Instead of viewing objects as worthless, we find the potential and good in them.
We live in a society that encourages us to replace items with the latest, most up to date version frequently. In some cases, as with technology, items are simply not built to last. The days of calling the local repairman are all but gone and we now take what is no longer useful to the tip or a charity shop and buy something new.
And from an eco-friendly perspective, upcycling reduces the need for raw materials to create new products. Upcycling also encourages you to source materials locally, reducing emissions, transportation costs, and resources.
The ethos behind upcycling requires you to view objects with an environmentally sensitive mindset. To ensure your interior design efforts are eco-friendly you should focus on natural materials rather than plastic, polyester, chromed metal, or any other synthetically engineered material.
Using natural, sustainable materials helps cut down on the production of synthetically made materials that do not biodegrade and instead fill up our landfills.
Some key sustainable materials to use for upcycling projects are:
Natural fabrics are the most sustainable fabrics for home textiles. Organic cotton, organic wool, linen, bamboo, and hemp are some of the most versatile options. If possible, select a product that is either recycled or has GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certification
The FSC certification ensures the wood is sourced from responsibly managed forests.
Reclaimed wood tends to come from old buildings or ships.
Recycled wood has been reprocessed and reconstructed into a new wood product.
Salvaged wood is wood in its raw state, such as fallen trees or logs which have not been used before.
Both rattan and bamboo are fast-growing, replenish quickly, and are hard-wearing and versatile. They require significantly less energy to produce than wood and are biodegradable and easily recyclable.
Stone is highly durable, however, it is a non-renewable and finite resource and so should be used carefully. If using stone opt for recycled or salvaged material.
Rather than disposing of these non-biodegradable objects try to include them in your upcycling efforts.
Upcycling requires you to see an unwanted item with new eyes then use its elements to create something entirely new and eco-friendly and the possibilities with upcycling are only as limited as your imagination!