UPCYCLING STORIES I: Furnishing the house from the street

There is a great habit in England to leave old furniture, clothes or even electrical devices in front of the house so passerbys get a chance to have something they might need for free. When my husband and I moved to unfurnished victorian house in St Pauls we decided on an interesting venture: to try to furnish our place predominantly with things we found on the street. Our motivation was not just to save money but also to save the environment. And have playful time!

The possibility of using waste things from the street opened us up to percieving the environment differently. So while walking through not very attractive parts of the city we stopped “switching off” our perception. Uninviting recesses covered with waste from construction, untidy frontgardens where old appliances are lying around, squalid pieces of furniture; all become a great playing field. What we would earlier consider as junk disturbing the environment is changing into potentional material for something useful. We started to ask questions like: What could this be useful for? How could we transform it? Who else could find it handy? Old things become alive again. Hands are touching, redoing. One is satisfied – we are not spending money, we are discovering our own abilities and skills, we are revitilising something that was supposed to become rubbish.

To search for valuable things on the street is kind of hunting experience for a modern person. It is physical – what you find you have to somehow transport to your place (in my memories a metal bath that we found in St Werburghs and were carring back late in the evening in strong rain to our place where it later turned into a hot tub). It is an adventure – you never know what you will find and for what use it will be. It is a school of improvization and creative thinking. Some things require just a decent clean, while others need sand paper, paints and screws to be transformed in something completely different. The courage to breathe life into old things together with healthy effort are the essential ingredieces for originality; something one can‘t buy in uniform Ikea. Should be noted that also local Ikea tries to keep pace with the spirit of Green Capital so there is a corner on the park with damaged furniture, pieces of wood etc. with a sign: we care about the environment.

The wardrobes from found material.

Our first effort was a boring cabinet made from laminate with mirror on the door that broke when we were transporting it. My husband came up with an idea to cover this broken part with pieces of old wood. We also took off the original handles and replaced with sqiggly tree branches collected from a park. Similar style of handles was used for our warderobe the second project, this time built from scratch by my husband in the niche of our bedroom with pieces of wood of different colours and shapes found on the street.

A wooden table by the window only needed little work – sanding and oiling. An easel on the table is also perfect catch from the street. Same with the white metal bed. Its previous owner was in front of her house when we were looking at it separated into pieces. „Please take it!“ she told us with a smile.

Our bedroom/studio – the bed, the table and chairs were found on the street.

With the dining chairs we found there was more work. Those we liked often had the seats missing. Thus chairs extended our experience with other materials – leather, fabric and molitan. It was neccesary to create a skeleton of the seat from wood, cut the shape of it out of the molitan and cover it with leather or fabric. We used leather from old sofas and armchairs.

Chairs in the process.
The livingroom in the process.
Completed living/dining room – remade chairs, table and cabinet.

The kitchen had basic units and appliances already installed. The walls were completely empty and gave us the opportunity to play with the space more. We created a simple system of shelves from pieces of sanded and oiled thick cut timber made even more special with old wooden box centre piece. This box we attached to the wall from its bottom so it became an open cabinet for glasses and cups. Most of our kitchen tools are also gifts from the street – mainly from one lady who was moving and gave us the whole box full of her oriental spices too.

The kitchen – shelving system, open cabinet from a box, knife holder.

Our biggest realized project to date is a sauna for 2-3 people with an outside bath built in our garden. We gathered the material for it over several months. In total the project resulted in approximately 70% recycled materials including the tiles on the floor and a chimney. A wood burner was made from an empty gas bottle with the help of a welder. Four massive columns supporting the whole build we bought from new for sure as with the flame-proof insulation that fills the space between internal and external cladding. For the internal cladding we chose for hygienic reasons new decking. The bench is from found material.

Most of the sauna was made from recycled materials.

You may want to be asking: are not disgusted by things that have been used by people we don‘t know? Are we not scared of them? Actually we are coming from the space of being more concerned about the greediness of western culture: throwing away things because they are out of fashion without thinking; producing more and more without true need. We want to develop the basic skills and crafts that will free us of having a strong dependancy on specialized im-personilazed systems. We are scared of uniformity and commercialism. There are other approaches outside of the economic system. To offer and reuse old things is good evidence of this in our experience.

The outdoor bath in use.


Photos by Živa Žena.

This article was first published in Czech language in the online magazine MaterialTimes in March 2017: https://www.materialtimes.com/jak-to-vidi/eva-blazkova-vybavili-jsme-si-dum-vecmi-z-ulice-je-to-druh-lovu.html

Its shorten version appeared in the Autumn/Winter2017 Edition of the Vocalise magazine.


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