Converting old furniture and industrial trash into beautiful new pieces has created a whole new industry known as upcycling. This ethical, environmentally-friendly endeavour reuses waste which would often end up in landfills, while also reducing our reliance on mass-produced throwaway goods often produced by questionable companies with questionable approaches to the their manufacturing and labour practices. It also affords many the chance to own a handcrafted piece of furniture which may have otherwise been economically out of reach. Verve caught up with a couple of these creative crafters of used wares.
Industrial Design NZ
Paul Roest founded Industrial Design NZ in Auckland five years ago. The concept first took shape while studying for his master’s in geography and environmental science and learning about Auckland council’s Zero Waste goal. “I thought that would be a good business,” he says, “stopping waste going to a landfill.”
Industrial Design NZ produces eco-freindly furniture and fitouts for residential and commercial buildings, crafted from the likes of pallets and reclaimed wood. “I grew up on a farm, so you have to develop the knack for thinking outside the box,” says Paul. “You have to improvise. So much of farming is actually upcycling — you cant’ just nip out to a shop to buy a part, you have to make it out of something else.”
Travelling, too, has helped him hone his craft. “That’s another passion of mine. I have family all over the world — I’m originally from Holland — and, though my wife is Kiwi, she has family in Stockholm and New York. I love checking out bars, cafés and furniture stores when we’re abroad. Instagram, too, is another great source of inspiration, where we can comment on each others’ bits and pieces and swap ideas.”
How does New Zealand compare internationally?
“We’re on par, we’re pretty good. Somewhere like the States obviously has much more material available, a lot more old timber and old barns. It’s a little harder to get here. A great chunk of my job nowadays involves sourcing material from around New Zealand, making contacts with demolition companies, as the business grows.”
Paul also uses a lot of American reclaimed wood. “So long as there hasn’t been too much damage during the removal process, the old timbers are generally far superior. I use lots of timber from Canada which is often from first-generation trees and the quality is phenomenal. The grain is so tight in those trees, some of which are a couple of hundred years old. The wood is much harder and stays straighter because as the tree ages, the knots disappear — they get pushed out.”
It’s a beautiful notion, I suggest, owning a piece of handmade furniture crafted from centuries-old trees.
“Absolutely. People love to know that things have a past life, a story, and we enjoy telling our customers about them. We recently had the timber from the Real Groovy demolition and many of our clients — especially the music fans — love the fact that it came from there. So the story sometimes becomes the big selling point. People just love unique and authentic stuff, not just things that are simply made to look old.”
Upcycled and Artful
Down in Christchurch, Kiki Mitchell (pictured) has been rejuvenating recycled wares since 1992. “When I first started way back then, nobody was doing it,” she says. “It began as a hobby job, with an eye on retirement. The last few years though, it’s gone mad.”
Why do you think that is?
“It has become very de rigueur to recycle everything now, even clothing. People who a few years ago wouldn’t have been seen dead in op shops now treat visiting them like a pastime. The fact that pieces are one-offs is attractive to people. There is the sentimental aspect such as when someone has inherited granny’s old dresser and they want to have it spruced up. Sometimes couples in a new, modern home will want something that looks a little tattered around the edges, they find it grounding. I hate the word ‘trendy’ but that’s part of it as well. People are, also, obviously more environmentally aware.”
Kiki specialises in fixing up old furniture. She was asked to save many pieces that were salvaged from the quake. “Generally speaking, I guess my style verges towards a French theme,” she tells me. “I was shown decoupage, which involves glueing paper or fabric onto furniture then varnishing over it. Recently, I recycled an old caravan. It’s beautiful. A real cool little number. We were invited to a wedding a few weeks ago in Arrowtown and we took it down. The bride and groom had their photos taken in and around it. It was done for a family member but I got a bit carried away and ended up spending about four times the original budget! But it was a real labour of love. We took it right back to the frame and rebuilt it.”
The idea of creating something out of nothing has always appealed to Kiki. And she has a real knack for it. Now she enjoys passing that knowledge on to others too. “I used to do classes, but now generally people just come round to see me,” she says. “I’ve always been into the home and garden thing. There’s just something so beautiful about taking an old piece of furniture and making it desirable again. It’s been very exciting, an amazing journey, and I’ve met some incredible people who showed me some wonderful things.”
Words by: Jamie Christian Desplaces