Revamp complete!

chairsAfter many hours of elbow grease, painting, and waxing, I was delighted to finish revamping the interiors of two flats for a private landlord.  It was a first for us both.  As a rental flat, there were budget tight constraints for me, and for the landlord it was an experiment to furnish the flats with a lower impact, at a similar cost to the conventional alternative.

The landlord had some chairs from former tenants, an Italian restaurant that had closed, and another who was downsizing.  The chairs are in perfectly good condition, just a bit too country house kitchen for a city flat pitched at young professionals or couples.  You can find similar at secondhand furnitures shops, or at your local furniture reuse and recycling centre.  The Furniture Re-use Network is a national body supporting charitable re-use organisations across the UK.  Re-use enterprises combine social and environmental aims.  Typically, they collect unwanted furniture or domestic appliances that are then refurbished providing work opportunities and training for the socially excluded, and helping people in need turn a house into a home by providing affordable furnishings.  Every year the sector re-uses 2.6 million items of furniture and electrical equipment and diverts 90,000 tonnes of waste from landfill.  Anyone can donate or find furniture via the network.

Look for pieces that are solid, in good working order, and whose basic shape you like, then you make it your own.  I selected a set of chairs for each flat and set to work sanding where necessary, painting and waxing.  The chalk paint from Annie Sloan has a smooth, matt finish and can be used on almost any surface from wood to plastic, inside and outside without much preparation.  It is low odour and low VOC (volatile organic compound).  It dries fairly fast, so you can apply a second or third coat without too much delay, before sealing the paint with soft wax.  The Annie Sloan website has a series of short video tutorials, or you can contact your local stockist to ask about workshops.  We sourced a drop-leaf table and some bedside tables from Sunbury Antiques market.

cranhurstThe bedside tables were treated to a livery of Annie Sloan paint on the sides, sanding and clear Auro matt varnish on the front to accentuate the grain of the veneer, and decoupage.  The Auro varnish is environmentally-friendly and free of solvents.  It has a milky colour when you apply it, but dries clear.  I used an off cut of a favourite fabric to cover the top of the bedside table, using Auro universal adhesive, a natural latex milk adhesive, and then a few coats of the matt varnish to seal the fabric.  I used the same fabric, Carnival, from Christopher Farr,  to soften the black faux-leather headboard.  The fresh, exuberant print of pomegranates in blue and green on the fabric gave the room a focal point making economical use of an off cut and staple gun.

Beeld-handle-4Another trick to quick refresh a cupboard or set of drawers is to change the handles.  These leather handles (pictured left) from Nu Interiuer Ontwerp were featured in the March issue of Elle Decoration.  Simple, elegant and available in four colours.  Chloe Alberry, on Portobello Road and online, has an encyclopaedic range of handles in glass, wood, ceramic and other materials.

If you are daunted by the thought of DIY then look for a course in furniture painting or restoration at your local adult education college.  In London, the Goodlife Centre runs a range of courses in upholstery, furniture restoration and painting that are said to be “Suitable for absolute beginners. Enjoyable for everyone.”  Maybe a Mother’s Day treat for someone?

WWT-21_largeOr if you like the look, but not the effort, then three of my favourite up-cycling ventures in the south of England are Out of the Dark, Xylo Furniture and the Restoration Station.  The sleek monochrome matt finish of this drop-leaf table from Xylo Furniture (right, £280) highlights the craftsmanship of  the beautifully shaped legs, but brings it bang up to date.  As well as working on their own stock, Out of the Dark can also work on yours.  The OOTD team can refresh an heirloom so it sits more comfortably in a contemporary home, or repair wooden and upholstered furniture.  Restoration Station also take commissions. So bring a little spring zing into your home.

Photo credits:  Nu Interiuer, Xylo Furniture

A conversation with Unto this Last

Unto This Last Shop 1A conversation with Olivier Geoffroy, founder of Unto this Last, was a much anticipated treat.  Unto this Last is a contemporary workshop in London that makes furniture using digitally-controlled cutting tools.

As you walk in you are struck by the manifesto suspended from the ceiling.  The name, Unto this Last, comes from a book by John Ruskin (whose picture hangs on the adjacent wall), published in 1862, in which he advocated a return to local craftsmen and workshops in reaction to the monotony and conditions of the rapidly industrialised working class of his time.  For recent generations, this would have been a nostalgic process affordable to the few. Mass produced furniture was for the many, just as today, Olivier observes, Ikea make good value furniture on a global scale.  The efficiencies of repetition, high volumes and uniform products allow low industrial prices.  The flat-pack design of the products is dictated by the need to package and transport them easily.  Unto this Last is turning this economic model on its head with local craftsmen creating products that are made to measure, and hand-finished in a workshop, but at an affordable price. “Unto This Last’s purpose is to offer the convenience of the local craftsman’s workshop at mass-production prices.”

Unto This Last WorkshopDigital technologies can change the economics of small-scale manufacturing.  The Future is Here exhibition last year at the Design Museum, of which Unto this Last was a contributor, characterised the changing boundaries between designers, manufacturers and consumers and new distributed manufacturing techniques as a new industrial revolution.  In fact, Unto this Last was launched in 2001, and CNC (computer numerical controlled) routing is not a new technology, but perhaps the wider interest in micro-manufacturing reflects a confluence of trends: revisiting making things in Britain; a focus on provenance and who is making things; a concern for materials and how things are made.

Our conversation began with Olivier’s definition of the environment.  So often we are bombarded with global definitions, but at Unto this Last, the environment is the workshop, the immediate physical surroundings and conditions in which he and his team work.  Every aspect of design, material choice, production, and delivery is examined through this lens.  Perhaps because the enterprise is so closely connected to its environment, there is an imperative to tread lightly.

boardThe workshop is characterised by 3 principles.  The first is less mass generated by using more data.  Starting from software designed to make aircrafts, it took 6 or 7 years to develop a special biometric format able to adjust to the variations of the wood, and clients’ needs.  Tools that are easy to use, and flexible reduce waste.  Nearly every square centimetre of a standard 2metre plywood board plywood is utilised (see picture).  Small areas are used to make candlesticks, utensils or toys.  The remainder is used for heating, or recycled.

The second principle is optimising logistics.  Digital technology streamlines supply chain management and scheduling.   The local, made to order production process means that there is no overproduction, warehousing or packaging costs (or materials).  Everything is delivered wrapped in blankets within the range of the big electric-van.  And when your clients are local, you take great pride in the quality of your work and care over your choice of materials.  The Latvian birch plywood is from a man-planted forest, where plantation is growing at 10% a year, and certified FSC and PEFC.   To simplify the supply chain products are made with the same material, even down to the hinges, so easily recyclable.  The only metal parts are shelf-pins.

Underpinning both of these principles is a stringent focus on improving productivity and absolute precision.  Influenced by production methods developed in the car industry, assemblies are timed and analysed to ask ‘can we do it better’.  It is an iterative process with feedback revealing a more elegant and efficient dynamic.  So the team at Unto this Last are selected not only for their skill as designers and makers but also for an enquiring mind.   This spirit of enquiry and desire to do it better has relevance and merit far beyond this Brick Lane workshop.

Unto This Last TV Stand bespoke coloursThe third principle is that the workshop is the brand.  From the street, through the shop, the workshop is visible.  Everything is on display, and this literal transparency is integral to Unto this Last’s approach to micro-manufacturing.  Clients are buying the story, and involved in tailoring their piece with a wide choice of finishes.  As the workshop, and process is open, no solvent-based paints are used anywhere in the process (pictured right is a TV stand and colour chart).  The plywoods are laminated in the workshop with impregnated paper, cold-bonded with PVA glue.  The surfaces and edges are finished with hard wax oil from OSMO, a food safe mix of sunflower, soya, linseed and thistle oil with wax.

Unto This Last Kids ChairThe aesthetic is clean, contemporary and sensual.  When I mention Unto this Last, without prompting people remark how they just wanted to touch the furniture.  Servicing a local, loyal clientele necessitates a wide catalogue of products.  The design is inspired by the production process, the environment, and Olivier’s requirement to furnish the needs of a young family (kids table and chair, pictured left).  Every detail is considered.

Unto this Last does more than make joyful products, as they hope their “workshop contributes positively to the life of the city”.  It is an enterprise with a tangible and transparent integrity.  Olivier tells the story with a combination of passion and eloquence, I hope I hear it again in other cities and enterprises.

Photo credits: Unto this Last, except for photo of plywood board, which is mine!

At Liberty to salvage hunt for inspiration

dp2I am on the look out for some inspiration for a kitchen overhaul in a Victorian terrace in Northwest London.  I want to honour the building’s past, while reflecting the present way we live, and our character.  Last week, I was way out west in North Wales.   Having spent the morning admiring the Champion trees (those trees that are exceptional examples of their species) and snow drops at Bodnant Gardens, we made a beeline for Drew Pritchard’s Architectural Antiques.

Drew, well-known as the present of Quest TV’s Salvage Hunters, deals in garden, architectural and decorative antiques and lighting from his HQ just south of Llandudno in North Wales.  The warehouse, come restoration workshop, come showroom is clad in reclaimed boards, the perfect backdrop to the eclectic mix of finds.  The magical Art Nouveau mantelpiece I had been coveting over Christmas had sold, but  I swiftly fell for the huge drapers counter, pictured above, made from mahogany with pine drawers and shelves. The draper’s measure is still embedded in the countertop.  The perfect centrepiece for my new kitchen, if only it were not 3 metres wide!

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At the door, we are politely reminded antiques are green.  Buying antiques is much more than simply recycling.  Buying a piece of furniture with history, and character is continuing a story, and adding your own twist.  The materials and craftsmanship in many pieces of vintage and antique furniture are now in scarce supply.  The pieces have been made to last, and the wear and tear they have acquired on the way are testament to their function and often enhance their form.

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To my great delight, Drew Pritchard has just taken over the East gallery on the fourth floor of Liberty’s.  The gallery has a number of windowed alcoves that lend themselves as room sets.

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There is an Orkney chair calling you to rest a moment and take in the selection of for sale from the sublime set of Aesthetic Carved Oak Doors to the almost comic stone corgi.  I urge you to sneak a peek if you are in the West End. You never know what you might find.

As good as new drawers please!

prepMy eldest daughter is almost able to dress herself, and to incentivise her to put the clothes away as neatly as she puts them on, I gave this mid-century dressing table a facelift.

We bought the Uniflex dressing table, along with a couple of bedside tables at Sunbury Antiques Market.  The dressing table had been in the sun, and the varnish had turned a fairly unattractive yellow.  A through sanding revealed the  fantastic colour and grain of the walnut veneer.  It took an afternoon of elbow grease in the garden to sand the dressing table down.   Then all that was needed was a few of coats in a matt varnish in the kitchen (out of the rain)  once the kids were in bed.  I used the Auro matt varnish, which is water-thinned, free of solvents and wood preservatives and made of environmentally friendly raw materials such as linseed and rapeseed oils.  I shall spare you a full list of ingredients, but safe to say my daughter’s bedroom is not the place for VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

brushMy tool for the job was a professional quality Ecoezee 2 inch paint brush.  The brushes handles are made from bamboo, which is lighter than oak, highly durable and a fast growing, sustainable natural resource.  The brush filaments are a mix of recycled natural and synthetic bristle designed to work well with all paint types (I can vouch for varnish and chalk paint so far).  The ferrule (the band attaching the filament to the brush) is made from recycled stainless steel.  The packaging is recycled cardboard and a donation is made to rainforest conservation for every brush sold.  The brushes are widely available from Travis Perkins as well as other retailers, such as the Eco Home Centre.

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We are all impressed with the results.  The dressing table is now full of my 3 and 3/4 year old’s essentials, including cress seeds germinating in eggs shells in the cupboard before the rest of her t-shirts are moved in!

Clean lines and living at Lozi Designs

lozi1 From the old, to the new at Lozi Designs at their pop-up, 31-32 Alfred Place, WC1E,  just behind the furniture hub that is Tottenham Court Road.  If you are planning a trip to Habitat, Heals or new kid on the block, West Elm, in the coming weeks then spare a few minutes to pop round the corner and pop in to Lozi Designs’ pop up.  On show is their new range of furniture, handcrafted using traditional woodworking techniques and modern technology.

The furniture is made from sustainable materials such as birch plywood, organic glue and milk-based paints.  The pieces are created by bending and shaping the wood into organic and geometric shapes, reducing the need for joints in furniture with clean, contemporary lines.

lozi2I am a particular fan of the bedside table (pictured above, £360) with its offset drawers. The large table (150x200cm, £850) and bench (£340), both pictured right, are a great combination for kitchen, office or study, and mini versions are also available for kids.  The child in all of us will be charmed by the swing (£100), and smiley shelves (from £100) that bring a little joy to storage.

cinemaJust behind the Lozi Design’s pop-up is the current HQ of ADA Projects, a collaboration of artists, designers and architects who share their skills and knowledge through lectures, courses, public events and film screenings.  Enthusiasm and industry were hand in hand, a workshop to one side, and the pop-up cinema to the other.

Preloved at Restoration Station

RS1After a pit-stop at ‘Paper & Cup‘,  a coffee and secondhand book shop with a bright, fresh vibe that is a social enterprise from the New Hanbury Project, I headed to Restoration Station’s new shop at 118 Shoreditch High Street.  As the name suggests,this latest venture from the NHP restores vintage and designer furniture.

The furniture is carefully selected from pieces that have been donated, cleaned, thoroughly prepared and then hand finished.  A process that often requires a lot of elbow grease.  The chair being worked on in the picture was made of four different woods, oak, beech, pine and ash.  It was being meticulously hand sanded before being oiled, waxed and polished to reveal the different wood grains, all under the watchful eye of Bernard, a furniture specialist and volunteer at the NHP.

The small team have trained in furniture restoration at the NHP, a Drop-in, Rehab and Training Centre run by the the Spitalfields Crypt Trust to support local people recovering from addiction and homelessness.  Furniture restoration and carpentry are two of 20 different subjects taught at the NHP.  These skills are bolstered by specialist knowledge in design history, and finishing techniques from local craftspeople that volunteer, such as Bernard looking dapper in an Ally Capellino overall (her shop is around the corner).

restored-furniture-Restoration-Station2There are a few pieces available to buy, and they also work on bespoke pieces, such as making a cafe counter.  There was a real pride and purpose in the work, so if you have a piece that could do with a ‘make-over’ the Restoration Station would be delighted to help, and add another layer to the story.

 

Ikea’s secondhand campaign

As part of an eight week advertising campaign Ikea ran a ‘digital flea market’ for secondhand furniture on Sundays.  The Second Hand campaign encouraged people buying new Ikea furniture to sell their old furniture rather than letting it go to landfill.  Ikea’s agency shot ads of some customers’ old furniture which appeared with the seller’s phone number online, on posters, on TV ads, and on Ikea’s Facebook page on Sundays.  All the furniture used in the campaign found its way to a new home, and sales of Ikea’s new furniture increased.

I wonder if we will be seeing the Second Hand campaign running here?  At the very least it may boost awareness and appetite for secondhand furniture generally.  Ikea’s campaign is currently arms length, encouraging a secondary market.  I wonder if we will see other furniture retailers follow suit?  Some furniture retailers will remove furniture they are replacing, for a fee.

Elsewhere, in the clothing industry, Marks & Spencer have partnered with Oxfam to take unwanted M&S clothes, where as Monsoon, and Timberland have in-store recycling programmes in exchange for vouchers or discounts off new purchases.

Re-use is one way to extend a product’s life, but what about the beginning and end of a product’s life?  It would be great to see more furniture and other products whose design considers what happens when the product is no longer wanted, so that it can be readily dissembled, repaired or recycled.

Xylo Furniture with a story

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Check out the new website for Xylo Furniture which has just launched telling its story and showing its wares.  Xylo is a social enterprise, created by the Wlliam Wilberforce Trust, that sources pre-loved furniture that was created by master craftsmen and gives each piece a new lease of life.

The William Wilberforce Trust Employability, Enterprise and Re-Use programme is part of the national Furniture Re-Use Network, and the London Re-Use Network.  LRN and FRN will collect all sorts of things from your home and sell them on at a fair price.

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And it really works, each year the sector diverts 110,000 tonnes of furniture from landfill, re-uses 2.7 million items of furniture and electricals, and saves those on low incomes millions on essential goods, as those benefits are often entitled to a further discount.

For the Xylo trainee, facing significant barriers to employment, the 16 week Employability Programme, provides workplace experience, training and mentoring.  The Xylo trainees gain valuable skills and fuse their story into that of the restored Xylo piece.

Xylo pieces combine age-old craftsmanship with modern, hand-painted finishes. Items of furniture are selected because they have been made to a standard that is now rare; they have been built to last.  This eclectic set of six dining chairs (£400) spanning the 19th and 20th centuries are tied together in cobalt blue coat with the feet left bare to show their provenance.  Not only are they colourful pieces of upcycling, but the very essence of sustainability, with physical and emotional durability as they have been treasured for generations, and can be for many more!

Photo credits: Xylo Furniture

Ikea Hackers

 

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Welcome to an Ikea revival.  We took two Skoghall Ikea bedside tables or storage boxes, connected them together with a couple of 4x4x4cm struts, drilled down a plywood lid, and voila!  A new workbench, come desk, come toy or craft tidy for the kids.  We left it unpainted so years of crayon and paint abuse could be allowed to create a little personal character.

If you too have or find some unloved Ikea that could do with a bit of recycling va-va-voom, then have a look at IkeaHackers. The site is a mine of modifications on and repurposing of Ikea products, and an ode to human ingenuity.  Our amateur DIY moment pales in comparison to the multitude of the clever and creative hacks out there.

Early birds at the Sunbury Antiques Fair

 

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They say the early birds catches the best worm, and there was a flock of them at Sunbury Antiques Market when it opened at 6.30am this morning.  The antiques market takes place at Kempton Park twice a month, on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.   With free parking, and free admission, if you can brave an early start, you have your pick of over 700 stalls (350 indoor and 350 outdoor) selling a wide range of antiques including furniture, gold and silverware, jewellery, ceramics, vintage fashion, garden pieces, paintings, books and much more.  Later in the day there is plenty for the casual browser, but at dawn there was purpose in the air.  As well as trade dealers, we also sawprints general collectors, prop buyers, interior designers.  Our task for the day was to find some furniture to kit out carefully curated’s first project.  We struck a bit too early on a folding table, but made up for it with a hard bargain on a couple of bedside tables and matching dresser.  My favourite find of the morning was some botanical prints, a last flash of summer, before autumn arrives.