Upcycling is different from recycling; while the later refers to creating a new product of lower quality than the original, upcycling creatively uses discarded objects to create a product that’s superior in quality or value than the original
When we look at design magazines, or suppliers’ websites, or when we think of a new kitchen and bathroom space, we see crispy, brand new materials from floor to ceiling. We are wired to think that creating a new environment means providing ‘brand-new’ everything. We consider suppliers, manufacturers for their design and price point offerings, and based on style and budget restrictions we almost always provide brand new for our client’s living space.
“Design means being good, not just looking good” – Clement Mok
Our design intelligence rests in our expertise in customising the new products to suit to our client’s specific needs. It also depends on our talent in mixing colours, shapes, sizes and art-decor pieces to create a unique space that is different from the many other projects that source products from the very same suppliers.
The above mentioned intelligence level contributes to as well as differentiates our work scope and success level within the designer community. The intelligence level is a general requirement with focus on profit alone. However, design intelligence must include the understanding and practicing of sustainable design. I had written many blogs and articles in the past about this subject, and I specifically wrote about designing for profit only – “Avantgarde Kitchen Designers” – therefore I will not go into much detail here again; rather I will touch on the power of upcycling, and why I think upcycling should be the designers’ best friend.
But first, what is Upcycling?
Upcycle means creative reuse of discarded objects or materials in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original. Quite often people, including designers, mistake upcycling with recycling. There is a significant difference between the two, and design intelligence requires this knowledge.
Recycling breaks down consumer materials and these base materials are re-made into a new product, often of lesser quality. Recycling also requires energy or water to break down materials. When we upcycle an item, there is no break-down of materials; rather we have the opportunity to create a new life and purpose for that item undisturbed, or at the maximum adding some cosmetic touch. This gives the upcycled material a better, or at least the same quality position as was the original.
“The designer today should not help to produce more – he has to help produce fewer and better things”
- Phillipe Starck
Upcycling saves on raw materials (that are expensive), therefore has a positive impact on the environment. Upcycling makes use of already existing pieces, not to mention, upcycling helps reduce the global garbage stream too, as it protects ‘unwanted’ items from the landfill. It saves on energy and water, since upcycling doesn’t require those to break down materials. The material stays in its original form, except in its new life serves in a new purpose.
The only thing upcycling requires is the designer’s intelligence and creativity in an innovative way. Upcycling an item gives the designers an amazing opportunity to create a truly one-of-a-kind new item. When visiting the job site first time, take an inventory of all the items your clients don’t want to keep and remember them when you are designing the new space. Unleash your creativity!
“There is no such thing as waste, just stuffed in the wrong place”
“Design intelligence made visible” – Wheeler
Upcycling an old cabinetry, or some old wood pieces that are now part of an old furniture etc, are an intelligent way for designers to be more efficient with left over materials and give a new life and a truly unique design. In addition upcycling is an excellent combination of nostalgia and sentimentality, seizing the opportunity to honour the past and create memorable objects.
The “queen” of upcycling, Osola de Castro’s tips for emerging fashion designers include:
1. Always know what is on offer before you start designing
2. Follow your own waste stream
3. No scrap is too small
4. Ugly can be beautiful again
5. Finishing is the key to good design
“The best things in life are free. The second best are very expensive”
- Coco Chanel
Consumers are more and more aware of the devastating effects of consumerism. In fact they are always looking forward to innovative designers to save them on costs and help them smartly incorporate what they already have to create a stunning new. Upcycling is a design solution to an environmental problem.
It is time to design responsibly, and time to shine and proudly promote your design services accordingly. Happy Upcycling!