Remember the wagon wheel coffee table in When Harry Met Sally? Some would call that upcycling—taking an item that was no longer useful, in this case a large wooden wheel presumably from a set of four, and turning it into something new, relevant and useful. The same can also be said of all kinds of DIY projects like coffee can luminaries and bottle cap jewelry. But is it good design? That’s the challenge many forward thinking designers are taking on—how to take discarded materials and create new forms that move upcycling out of the realm of craft and into the world of design to make items that are high quality and beautiful, aesthetically desirable and meticulously constructed. Doing this requires a significant amount of talent, innovation and sheer labor—to source, clean, and prepare used materials and then design and create a new product that can fetch a high enough price to make it worth doing for the maker.

Dutch designer Piet Hein Eek is a visionary in what can be achieved through transformation and reinvention of discarded materials such as wood and metal scraps. His designs are architectural, polished and some would argue, works of art. This chair, “40 x 40 Waste Armchair.” is composed of wood scraps left over from pieces of reclaimed wood he uses for larger items such as dining tables. He cuts the scraps into uniform 40 x 40mm cubes and uses them to build distinctive chairs and side tables. 40 x 40 Waste Armchair, $6,675 at The Future Perfect.upcycled design

Calgary, Alberta brothers Adrian and Martinus Pool found a way to combine legacy woodworking skills with a love of skateboard culture by converting broken skateboards, with their distinctive colors and graphics, into refined furniture and objects. With a commitment to using every part of the reclaimed board, including the surface griptape and sawdust generated during cutting, they create high-end design with the heart of a rebel. Recycled Skateboard Art Bowl, $282.39 at AdrianMartinus.

upcycled design

Degrees in art history and anthropology inform the work of Jane Hall. She transforms old furniture that’s been relegated to the attic or thrift shop into luxurious pieces with the soul of a bygone era and the freshness of the here and now. She achieves this by using a rich palette of fabrics, both vintage and new. Her eye for color and pattern, and ability to create sophisticated patchworks brings furniture and rooms to life, making them relevant for today and years to come. Upcycled Settee, $2,000 at Jane Hall Design.

Zoe Murphy starts with the belief that, “All designers and makers have an unshakable duty to encourage and provide the most environmentally intelligent products that they can. Sourcing and use of materials is every bit as important as the aesthetic of a piece.” Her mid-century finds are restored and then hand-printed or painted with original designs that would be as appropriate framed on the wall as they are on her cheerful furniture. At Zoe Murphy.

by Laurie Junker

Photos courtesy of AdrianMartinus, Jane Hall Designs and Zoe Murphy. 


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