Out with the old and in with the new. That’s the mentality which plagues our society. From fashion to technology, we are constantly after the latest and newest models. In interior design, it seems we have adopted a similar approach.
In recent years, though, the world of interiors has seen an interest in luxury upcycling. Instead of being tossed aside and replaced by new furnishings, objects are getting reimagined, upgraded and upcycled, giving them a chance to be useful again.
“Luxury upcycling [is about] taking pieces of existing materials, adapting them using sustainable techniques, and adding an eclectic mix of materials,” says Harry Tucker, co-founder of Britain-based Fallen Furniture, a company which specialises in crafting objects out of recycled aircraft parts.
Ajax Law and Virginia Lung, interior designers and co-founders of the awardwinning One Plus Partnership in Hong Kong, agree. They find the diversity of the concept of upcycling to be intriguing and creative.
“Upcycling gives you the option to add value to what might otherwise be considered waste,” Lung says. “But [the upcycled product] can also come from something which is already very luxurious and very expensive.”
In fact, the beauty of upcycling is that it comes in many magnitudes. Whether it is inexpensive materials put into the realms of luxury or already luxurious goods given a breath of fresh air, there are many ways, shapes and forms to the process of luxury upcycling.
Small-scale versions include brands and designers creating one-off pieces which can easily find its place in a home.
Hermès, for example, embraced the notion with its Petit H collection. The concept is as straightforward: the maison takes discarded materials from its workshops and transforms them into new and exciting objects befitting the brand’s luxurious and glam DNA. Past creations range from mirrors framed in leather and buckles from Kelly bags to sauce ladles turned into pendants and large spoons re-envisioned as lamps.
Similarly, Fendi commissioned Italian design duo Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin of Formafantasma to create a series of objects using various types of discarded leathers from the maison. Named Craftica, the project saw Trimarchi and Farresin fusing leather scraps with a variety of natural remnants. The Salmon stool, for example, was crafted with vegetal-tanned salmon skin, wood and a sea sponge. Meanwhile, the Scallop spoons used vegetal-tanned trout and salmon skin, and scallop shells with discarded leather.
Elsewhere, Fallen Furniture turns recycled aircraft parts into clocks, tables, lights and wall art. One of their latest creations is the Bomb drinks cabinet, crafted from the shell of a 272kg, 2.4-metre-tall cluster bomb.
On the other end of the spectrum, Law and Lung of One Plus chose to design their studio based on the theme of luxury upcycling. The mish-mash of upcycled chairs – made of materials such as sunshades, rubbish-bin liners and bubble wrap – adds to the urban-chic ambience that the designers created throughout the space.
Whether small- or large-scale, the benefits of upcycling are clear. Most obviously, it helps reduce waste.
“Interior design [as an form of art and design] is not very environmentally-friendly,” Law says. More often than not, old furniture is simply tossed aside. In the case of renovations, the amount of waste is enormous.
That said, there is a fine line between upcycling and simply recycling. “With recycling, in most cases, the original object is unrecognisable,” Lung says. “But for luxury upcycling, you can still see where the product came from.”The future is looking bright, though. “The idea of luxury is changing,” Trimarchi says.
In interior design, as with other areas, the idea of luxury has gone beyond aesthetics and rarity. “Users are starting to understand how luxury should correspond to an ethical production process,” Farresin adds.
Beyond sustainability, luxury upcycling is also fun. In Law and Lung’s office, a statue of a dog made from twisted newspapers greets guests. Their conference room, meanwhile, is filled with around 10 upcycled chairs – each with its own story. From the design concept to the materials used and the designer’s rationale for the look, each piece is worth inspecting and discussed.
“They are conversation starters,” Lung says.
It should come as no surprise that Hermès, Formafantasma and Fallen Furniture’s projects share the same sentiment. Love it or hate it, the products are bound to spark interest and debate.
However, because the concept of upcycling is rather new, there are obstacles, such as material sourcing. For Hermès and Fendi, which craft products from what would otherwise be discarded scraps, this is not a big problem.
But it’s not always as easy for others. Fallen Furniture’s Tucker works with a partner from the aviation industry who helps with sourcing the materials.
Law and Lung, meanwhile, took to the streets to find their materials when they refurbished furniture from their old studio.
Sometimes there is a serendipitous find, but in other instances, the search can severely lengthen a project.
Slightly more discouragingly, there may often be a misconception that upcycled products are by nature not luxurious. The word itself can have negative connotations for those who are not aware of the nature of the art, and the time, effort and techniques used to create the pieces, Tucker says.
The duo from Formafantasma agree. “When it comes to luxury, there are still a lot of clichés,” Trimarchi says. “With Craftica, we wanted to discard some of this prejudice.”
Similarly, the goal for One Plus, Law says, is to “push boundaries and change the way how upcycled objects are perceived”.
After all, as these innovative designers have certainly proved, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.