Six Hong Kong shops making home accessories from waste
An army of young artists and craftspeople is transforming the territory's waste products into usable objects. Your old floorboards could be next, says Vanessa Yung
Yuen Yeung is named after the Hong Kong beverage that is a mixture of milk tea and coffee. "We want to cast new light on how people see our local culture and aesthetic by combining objects that are seemingly incompatible, just like how the drink works its magic," says Choi.
The pair have joined the city's growing community of upcycled product producers who turn waste into more valuable, or useful, objects. Upcycling differs from recycling in the sense that the objects are not reduced to raw materials before being reused.
Wong attracted Choi's attention when she saw his "Sign Shelf" - a design made from shop signs and bits from the now-closed hardware store, Lee Kai Kee - while decorating the artist residence, WontonMeen, that she set up in her family's property.
The two began generating more ideas for the artist residence. An old wardrobe, fitted with two doors, and flanked by shelves, serves as a room partition in the studio flat. The wardrobe cancels noise and creates a special "Narnia" effect, as you find a new space when you step through it. Elsewhere, table legs from the now closed Ngau Kee Food Cafe, have been given a new life - and a new look - by adding a marble top.
As the pair's collection of creations continues to swell, the artist residence is struggling to hold them all. This is why they're working on a new showroom in a tong lau flat just a few blocks away. It will open in late May.
Inside is a kitchen sink made from a used wok, a ceramic cylinder and a dingy wooden stool. Old-fashioned plastic baskets and rubbish bins are shaped to make colourful lampshades that cast curious patterns when lit up with bulbs.
A bed is now "floating" in the air - thanks to the four elegant metal chair legs that lift it up. Another bed was originally a discarded broken vintage day bed. The pair fixed its two legs with a wooden stud, a tailored metal screw, and a milk bottle.
"They're almost like inventions from a Stephen Chow Sing-chi comedy - an object turns out to have functions totally different from the ones it's usually perceived to have," says Choi. "We're into exploring the cultural aspect of treasuring these old items - every piece has a back story. But we'd also like to inspire people to rethink the current 'fast food' culture in interior design and the mindset that new is always better.
"Mass production gives rise to cheap, homogenous furniture and the trend is to market furniture as fashion - something that you should change every season. But many neglect the problem of waste and discarding large-scale furniture," Choi says.
Many other creative types are involved in upcycling. Déjà vu Creation, the brainchild of furniture designer Wong Ming-wai and civil engineer Tang Wai-ling, is determined to use its craft expertise to extend the life of what some people consider to be waste.
Déjà vu began making accessories with used vinyl banners in 2010. The two former schoolmates now experiment with creating furniture from used wood. They struck upon the idea after they were given nine large wooden doors from a mansion. The duo made them into a range of items, including a huge armchair and a coffee table set. Then they started to experiment with old teak floorboards.
"There is an abundance of them now as many people remove their flooring when they're renovating their flats," says Tang. "It's a very strong wood that won't shrink or expand over time. It gets even better with age."
They treat the timber first, polishing it before new coatings are applied. They then use the boards to create different furniture pieces. The results have a raw, warm feeling. Déjà vu create customised pieces by order, and they will soon launch Woodrite HK, a collaboration with the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. This time, they will work with veteran woodworkers to create a collection of furniture from used timber.
KaCaMa co-founder Kay Chan Wan-ki believes in enhancing the characteristic of each material. Chan has many approaches to this idea. Living Pixels, a lampshade made with vinyl banners, takes advantage of the colourful material to add colour to an interior. Hangers collected from exhibitions are made into practical coffee tables, or fruit plates.
Eggy Candle, which floats in water, is lit up to add a special glow as light penetrates the eggshell. KaCaMa are working to make wine corks into a reading light - the corks are lined up into an adjustable tube.
Ooobject, a line launched by souvenir producer Green & Associates, is about getting buyers to appreciate the many functions of everyday objects. They have a wide range of items including shampoo bottles, plant pots and mugs that are made with biodegradable compounds mixed with coffee or grounds, eggshells, and recycled glass and coal ashes.
Founder and creative director Lam Cheong-leung wants people to contemplate how much waste we're producing daily: almost all the items have the materials they're made from printed on them. Occasionally, a note is included about how much waste from that particular material is created every day.
Customers are encouraged to get involved as much as possible. A hanging lamp base comes with eight screws, so that you can fit any regular plastic bottle to it. Pour sand or water into two plastic bottles and fix it to a handle they sell and you have a customised dumb-bell.
"Although minimising waste should start with using less, it's not easy to spread the message," says Tang of Déjà vu Creation. "By injecting new designs into waste products and turning them into useful items, we hope people will start to realise they're just as good, if not better than the new ones."
Founded by three designers, The Alchemist's motto is to "turn neglect into shine". Their CAN Light series features lamps made from the bottom of soft drink cans which play with light. Available at alchemisthk.com
All products are made from parts of discarded cars. A driving wheel becomes a stool seat, while glass is fitted to car components to make unusual coffee tables. Available at atbautoart.com
Déjà vu Creation
For customised tables, benches and shelves made from used teak, call 6905 2878. Other items available at dejavucreation.com
For funky home accessories such as floating candles made from real eggshells and floral-shaped lampshades made from used vinyl banners. Also available at Megaman Concept Store, 703 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok. kacama.hk
Visit ooobject.com for a catalogue of products ranging from hangers to lampshades and candles
One-of-a-kind items created by the interior designer-and-artist duo to challenge our perception of aesthetics. yuenyeung.org