Despite taking baby steps into popular culture in the ‘90s, the concept of upcycling only became mainstream part way into the new millennium, when it was adopted by a generation who identify the sharing economy, recycling, and bin scavengers with practical guile and common sense rather than post-war poverty.
Initially, it may seem that there is not much of a difference between recycling and upcycling, but there is a key factor that sets the two approaches apart. Rather than simply making something new out of an item, upcycling involves both transformation and added financial value. While turning stale bread into breadcrumbs is recycling, covering a cat-claw-shredded armchair with new material would render it upcycled.
The focus of modern upcycling
Although there are thousands of people upcycling all kinds of interesting things, the most popular and longest-standing category is furniture. Popularised by the craze for “shabby chic”, upcyling is an accessible and affordable way to create one-off pieces of furniture. This movement is growing, fueled by the modern desire for household items that are unique.
The yearning to fill your living space with bespoke furniture reflecting your personal taste and style in a way that Scandinavian flat-pack pieces, which were once the ultimate must-haves themselves, simply cannot motivates many modern upcyclers.
Is furniture upcycling here to stay?
For some committed upcyclers, this trend has become a career, aided by sites such as eBay and Etsy that provide a readymade global marketplace, along with Facebook buy and sell groups for the local area. It seems that the appreciation for furniture that is one-of-a-kind yet as affordable as mass-produced pieces is not likely to wane in the future.
Interested but lack the time or skill to upcycle furniture?
The less handy, uncreative or simply time-starved among us who really want unique pieces of furniture are free to buy from those who release their upcycled work for sale. If having some say in the design and materials used is important, checking out local providers such as Bristol bespoke furniture by Simon Kohn is another option.
There are no rules or limits on the ways furniture can be upcycled, so we can expect to enjoy this concept as it grows and transforms for many years to come.