For many of us, the new year is a chance to revamp our routines, our wardrobes and even our homes. But what if we could do this using things we already have?
“Upcycling” is a buzzword of recent years, having grown beyond its origins in environmental consciousness to become a design and lifestyle trend. It can range from being a simple, practical “hack” to a long labour of love.
While recycling focuses on reusing the materials of a product, upcycling takes the same product and gives it a new lease of life with a bit of creativity. It’s the idea of taking something old and making it into something new – and it’s catching on in Malaysia.
Adeline Chong, self-declared “curator of happy things” and founder of vintage store I Love Snackfood sees upcycling as “the modernisation of nostalgia”.
“It is the styling and positioning of a vintage item in a modern environment that gives it a new meaning,” says Adeline, explaining the recent appreciation for all things retro. “The stories, nostalgia and history of old things come together as a whole set.”
Upcycling seems to be a growing trend, both for hobbyists and professionals. “Most objects can be given a secondary function or second life by redefining its purpose, says CJ Gan, one half of upcycling duo Baconroll Handmade. “Nothing is wasted unless we want it to be.”
Whether it’s just a new coat of paint or it’s a restoration of an old mechanism, upcycling can be both a practical and aesthetic choice. To give you some inspiration, we speak to four groups in Malaysia that really know the meaning of the phrase “old but gold”.
Moonlighting from their day jobs as an art director and publicist, husband and wife team CJ Gan and Julia Taslim run Baconroll Handmade, upcycling a variety of bric-a-brac into furniture. This includes vintage suitcases made into chairs, crates made into side tables and a G-clamp inspired desk lamp made out of papier mache and recycled wood.
What started as a penchant for DIY projects and handmade goods grew into a side project that involved sketching, woodworking and furniture design. A word of advice from the couple: “Design your lifestyle so that it leaves a positive impact for the community and self.”
Taking it one step further with sustainable living, upcycling is just a portion of what the Biji-Biji Initiative is about. Founded in 2012 by four individuals with different backgrounds – from finance, communication, technology and design – the initiative aims to instil awareness of the waste that we produce.
Some of Biji-Biji’s upcycled projects include bags made out of discarded banner materials and customised furniture made out of seat belts, bottles and wood pallets. The group also work as consultants, advising corporations and the public on waste management, green technology and reusing an unassuming unused item into something new and handy. You may have seen their work at recent festivals like Urbanscapes.
Founder Adeline Chong has curated I Love Snackfood to house a collection of restored vintage items and other modern products and designs. While they also do upcycle (and also sell the suitcase chairs by Baconroll Handmade), most of their vintage items include restored old writing desks and furniture, typewriters, record players and globes.
I Love Snackfood repairs and restores these items, for example sanding down an old writing desk and giving it a fresh coat of lacquer, or sourcing the parts to fix an old typewriter or record player. With the typewriters, an additional printed sticker makes it look fresh and modern, and the antique globes remind us of how some country border lines have changed over time.
Back in 2006, Jules Yap started a blog that showed all the ways that IKEA designs to be customised and turned into something different. The idea lightbulb first went off when she saw that the Pax sliding doors could be made into a room divider. The blog soon became a global phenomenon and is now known as IKEA Hackers.
With so many pieces of IKEA furniture in rotation among Gen Y, upcycling can be a means to refresh the familiar look of flat-pack furniture, rather than discarding it. A tip from Jules, specifically for those who aren’t DIY savvy at all: adding fabric or wallpaper to the backing of the Billy bookshelf gives a personal look to a bookshelf that might otherwise appear bland. It’s so easy that the tutorial material comprises just double-sided tape and some fabric or wallpaper. Check out Jules’ tutorial here.
Photos courtesy of Baconroll Handmade, Biji-biji Initiative, I Love Snackfood and IKEA Hackers.