From junk to new jewels

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2012, 12:00am


Transforming junk destined for landfills into one-off designer items marries the two hottest interior design trends of the moment - uniqueness and environmental awareness.

The process is called 'upcycling', seeing the potential of discarded pieces of timber, steel and even old barns or boats and turning them into something individual and distinctive.

This is either done by changing the object's purpose or enhancing its appearance.

This injection of personality gives an alternative to mass-produced furniture while creating a character piece.

Numerous blogs offer step-by-step instructions on getting more life out of your furniture. But for those who aren't so handy, Hong Kong has its own selection of upcycled pieces. ECOLS, a contraction of 'eco-lifestyle', sells chairs, tables and storage made from recycled teak collected from dismantled buildings. Other interesting finds include bottle openers made from recycled bike chains; a tea light holder made from old bicycle wheels and cogs; and a CD stand made from vinyl records.

In addition to selling locally upcycled products, ECOLS also operates a workshop where staff collect, clean and sort materials such as glass bottles and banners for designers to work with. Designers are welcome to use the workshop to develop different products by experimenting with the materials on offer.

Also locally, designer Kevin Cheung turns discarded plastic jugs into portable speakers. Cheung has even incorporated a small LED bulb so they can be used as portable lamps.

Renowned for its eco-credentials, TREE has a number of upcycled pieces. Its Ferum collection is handcrafted from wood originating from abandoned Indonesian fishing boats. Each piece is supported by rich black iron and finished with stamped pop artwork adding a playful touch.

The Tree Lignum collection is a fresh take on old classics by combining dingklik teak from old Javanese benches, together with matte grey, brushed iron legs.

Ovo's latest upcycled pieces include reclaimed teak from boats and houses. The wood has been cut into mosaic patterns producing an understated, elegant collection with clean, simple lines. The natural and unrefined finish ensures each piece retains its original character.

As an added bonus, recycled teak has a minimum risk of cracking because it has had decades to dry out.

Using pieces of discarded junk, Katie Thomas is the designer behind South African brand Recreate, which ships to Hong Kong. She takes old, broken objects and turns them into functional pieces. Old suitcases are stuffed with foam and repurposed as chairs or storage shelves; vintage bottles and typewriters have been turned into lights; kitchen scales serve as clocks, while muffin tins make vases.