Tribune Magazine November 2010

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Time to Upcycle

November 2010

DOWNSIZING may be the buzzword for companies shedding employees, but it’s opposite number could be upcycling. It’s the ‘new old’ in interior design and furniture circles in particular, used when something well worn and redundant is transformed into something fresh – and as such, might apply to careers in those professions too. When the recession put an end to Joanne Kelly and Anthony Buggy’s positions with a long-established architecture and furniture design company last year, they decided to set up their own business.

Think Contemporary is the name, with the interior design duo showing that there is nothing like redundancy to prompt a career makeover.

They have just introduced a small range of accessories (cushions and kitchenware) to complement their bespoke furniture. But it’s their upcycled furniture which gives their interior design projects a signature style, says Kelly.

“We wanted to be able to complement our interior design with one-off, key pieces of furniture that would stand alone. They are not designed specifically to blend in – quite the opposite in fact.” That move towards a decidedly less contrived, coordinated type of home goes hand in hand with a more ethical, sustainable approach in choosing furniture, she adds.

“During the boom, people spent money, but were very conservative in their choices. It was all very beige, very safe. Now, despite the fact that people have less to spend, they are going for bolder use of colour because we all need cheering up. And individual pieces of furniture, whether vintage or upcycled, are not only more sustainable, and more interesting, they also look great with that more experimental colour. Plus, people are also just as likely now to spend their weekend browsing street markets and the smaller, quirkier furniture stores that are springing up, rather than wandering around vast furniture        warehouses where everything looks the same.”

Suitable pieces for upcycling are sourced from auction rooms, car boot sales and various online recycling sites such as Dublin Kelly and Buggy can spot items with the X-Factor. Ideal pieces tend to be chests of drawers, coffee and small dining tables, and sideboards. “Upcycling is quite a thoughtful process, and we put a lot into the restoration and transformation of it,” says Buggy. “We work with hard furniture – as in solid woods – repairing where needed, stripping back, and then painting.” As well as the new cushions and kitchenware, they’ve also added a wallpaper, all with that hint of ’60s design to dovetail with the retro furniture. Along with the brightly coloured cushions with patterns reminiscent of the days of black and white telly, the kitchen delph and dinnerware will easily sit on the sideboard and those formica tables back in vogue.

The ‘Carried Away’ tea tray has a black and white print of a ’60s pub interior, surrounded by a bright orange frame. For fans of retro style though, it’s the painting and the finish that makes Think Contemporary pieces stand out in this growing market. Their individual cabinets, tables and sideboards could be on the level of collectable art works, with painted imagery inspired by graffiti and street art. For this creative duo, the only way is up.


»Sourcing pieces. Happy hunting grounds for good pieces to upcycle include websites such as Jumbletown – “This is a great site if you are looking for a restoration piece.” »Think ahead.“You need to have a vision for the piece you have sourced – don’t just buy something without any idea of what you plan to do with it.” »Check. Then check again.“Check the entire piece over for traces of woodworm. Some pieces may be veneered and have a degree of damage which can be repaired to a degree. But be realistic about whether or not something is really worth the work.” »Upcycling is tough.“You do need some knowledge of DIY, plus a creative streak that allows you to visualise the final product.” »Be prepared to get your hands dirty. “You don’t need a lot of space to work in, just make sure it’s well ventilated. Upcycling a piece is not the cleanest job in the world either, so be prepared for a lot of dirt and grime.” »You’ll need elbow grease. “It’s hard work. Most pieces of wood have a lacquer or varnish coating – this has to be broken down and removed first. We use methylated spirits and steel wool to get a piece back to basic wood.” »Choose water-based paints.“The big manufacturers such as Colourtrend now have water based satin paints for wood and metal. This cuts down on the chemicals and the brushes can be simply rinsed out in water afterwards.

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