A new life for odds and ends
Turning throwaway items into bespoke furniture is here to stay, says Anna White
ake do and mend” was a Government slogan in the Second World War encouraging people left at home to repair clothes, recycle waste and collect scrap metal as part of the war effort. Some 75 years later, this national obsession has turned from necessity to fashion. Hobbyists, high street stores and even luxury interior designers are upcycling what appears to be junk into one-of-a-kind products and reworking reclaimed materials into bespoke furniture. But this is not shabby chic for the sake of it; it is the telling of stories through household items.
A new Channel 4 show, Find It, Fix It, Flog It, is dedicated to turning tables into talking points and creating value out of vintage. Presenters Henry Cole, a television producer and motorbike fanatic, and Simon O’Brien, a restoration specialist and actor, tour the country rummaging through old farm buildings and people’s sheds to find abandoned treasures that can be transformed into sellable goods.
The first episode takes them to a vintage car yard in Buckinghamshire where Cole unearths a Hudson autocycle – a very early motorbike with both engine and pedals, built between 1903 and 1930 – and a petrol dispenser, once owned by the British racing driver St John Horsfall. O’Brien chooses a collection of old dynamite boxes, two elm cartwheel hubs and a cartwheel.
With the help of mechanic Guy Willison and artist and “crafty homemaker” Gemma Longworth, the team of four restore these items. The bike is made roadworthy and the cleaned-up Aston Martin fuel can is valued as a collectable worth £5,000. Longworth creates a mobile shelving unit from the boxes, while the abandoned cartwheel parts become a table with a glass top.
O’Brien believes that reclaiming rubbish is not a fad but a lasting trend. “The whole craft and upcycling movement is here to stay,” he says. “Our virtual, electronic world with throwaway flat-pack goods leaves many people unfulfilled. To do something creative, individual and practical satisfies a human desire to make and sustain.”
Longworth agrees: “Upcycling is becoming increasingly popular. It makes for a very rewarding hobby, transforming something unloved into a unique and desirable item.”
It’s certainly of the moment. Designer Max McMurdo, who has appeared in George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces on Channel 4, is publishing a book called Upcycling: 20 Creative Projects Made from Reclaimed Material on September 22. BBC Two is running
Fixer-uppers: the presenters of Find It, Fix It, Flog It, which starts later this month on Channel 4