Pictured: Nicky, Natalie and Rob (a trio of upcyclers) with Chris, founder of Upcycled Hour (third from left)
We had the pleasure of meeting Chris, founder of Upcycled Hour – the UK’s only independent agency supporting and promoting the work of professional upcyclers – to discuss the art of upcycling and dispel myths surrounding the movement . Read on to learn more, as well as Chris’ top tips to integrate upcycled pieces into your home.
What is your personal experience with upcycling?
I began upcycling items when I bought my first flat way back in the 1970s. I wanted to fill my home with unusual things and the only way I could afford to do so at the time was by buying preloved and changing the look to suit my taste by reinventing and refinishing. Fast forward over forty years and there is a creative reuse coup happening and it now has a name – upcycling. Of course I still love to upcycle items for my home because its a great way to reflect your own personal taste but these days, as eco chic interior style ambassador and Upcycled Hour founder, I am also very fortunate to have access to all kinds of wonderful professionally produced pieces and always very spoilt for choice.
Can you give a brief history of upcycling
In the late 1980s an inventive designer and writer by the name of Jocasta Innes made using a variety of paint techniques on walls, floors and furniture into a huge interiors trend. With her parsimonious approach to interior design, she became a household name and wrote a highly successful series of books including ‘Paint Magic’ and ‘The Thrifty Decorator’. These books included a lot of furniture refurbishment and reinvention but we had to wait a few years until the word ‘upcycling’ made its first appearance. During an interview with Thornton Kay, creator of the Salvo empire, German salvage dealer Reiner Pilz used the term when talking about the European waste systems and although a different kind of upcycling to what we associate the word with today, nevertheless it gave a name to a new type of creativity. Environmental issues brought to light in the late 1990s led more artists to look at ways to incorporate upcycling into their work but it was not until the early 2000s when artist Annie Sloan created a new type of paint which did not require surface preparation (chalk paint), that the modern-day upcycling movement as we know it really took flight. By 2014 many artisans were working professionally as upcyclers and so the Upcycled Hour agency was created, the very first independent association to support and promote the work of professional upcyclers creating for interiors.
Buying Upcycled Pieces
How do I choose the right upcycled piece for me and my home?
When purchasing an upcycled piece check the quality of finish, functionality and consider whether you want this to be a stand-out, statement piece or whether its something that has to have more flexibility of style. The fusion between interior design heritage and contemporary craftsmanship results in some pretty incredible upcycled products these days so take time to source an item that reflects your interior design personality, that fulfills its purpose beautifully and is something that will always make you smile.
Can you explain the different ways in which something can be upcycled?
Upcycling is taking an unwanted or damaged item and renovating, reinventing or repurposing it to produce something of higher quality and value so its not make-do and mend, its not DIY and its not hacking – the clue is in the first syllable! The only limitations with upcycling, apart from the materials involved, are the imagination and skills of the designer-remaker. There are a huge variety of ways to upcycle an item from simply repainting or reupholstering a vintage piece of furniture to taking discarded ring pulls and creating a chandelier, using the pages from old magazines to make a piece of art or even reinventing old bowling balls into table lights.
Why choose an upcycled piece?
There are so many benefits in choosing an upcycled piece: individuality of style, low environmental impact, knowing you’re the only person in the world to own such a piece, UK craftsmanship as well as being at the forefront of supporting a new craft movement that is truly rocking the interior design world.
What are your favourite upcycled pieces on Vinterior at the moment and why?
This Poul Henningsen pendant light is so incredibly iconic and really does pass the test of great design time. Many mid-century styles look as fresh today as when they were created, they retain that brave new (design) world vibe and as yellow is one of my favourite colours to wake-up an interior, I’m sold!
Poul Henningsen pendant light – £3,487
The lacquered upcycled credenza is from a completely different style genre, it has an old world look of luxury that appeals to my love of heritage chic styling as well as ubiquitous but always adorable black furniture. With clever reinvention its difficult to know whether this piece of furniture was created in 1780, 1950 or yesterday, the mark of a superior upcycling design that will not only hold its worth but also its owner’s attention.
What do you think is the best way to combat the stigma surrounding upcycling? – (if you feel this question is appropriate)
Historically misunderstood, upcycling is a generic term that has encompassed the bad and ugly as well as the good. Thankfully since Upcycled Hour was created in 2014, things have gradually changed and we are now seeing professional upcycling not only becoming a respected craft but a sought-after choice. More and more interior designers and celebrities are buying upcycled, appreciating the wonderful way in which these items inject individuality and eco chic into the home.
Chris Billinghurst is an ambassador for eco chic interior style and the founder of Upcycled Hour, the UK’s only independent agency supporting and promoting the work of professional upcyclers creating items for interiors.