Quick, what do you think of when you hear the word “upcycled”?
Most of us can’t think past something akin to grandma’s old mason jars that held her peach preserves but are now drinking glasses or a vase filled with flowers. Or that shabby chic dresser you did with chalk paint and sandpaper. That’s the old viewpoint; Upcycling has changed, and you’re gonna be surprised at how sophisticated it has become in the right design hands.
Upcycling, despite being a relatively new term isn’t a new concept. It’s taking consumer materials and refashioning it into newer items with a different purpose – oftentimes a better one than originally meant. A routine practice throughout the centuries, repurposing aka upcycling items into other useful things started to decline after the second world war when the disposable society was in its infancy. By the end of the 20th century the idea of upcycling was practically lost on most consumers, excluding the recycling of simple items like glass, paper and metal. Everything else became a “throw-away” because, well, it was just easier. The modern notion that nothing is really worth long term value is evident in the 13 million tons of furnishings we throw away every year in the USA alone oftentimes replacing those items with similar or inferior quality for yet, another short term run.
Now that the new millenia has many people looking simultaneously forward towards earth friendly products and back to the practice of repurposing items; a renewed expression has spread throughout the design industry in making truly “design worthy” items from older materials. This is the era of green, of eco-friendliness, it’s the playground on which we play on at Omforme.
Our goal with upcycling is to design an item so well that you’d never guess what the previous life of the materials were. Remnants of unused marble become designer tables, garden gazing globes become pendant lights, a tired wooden window screen becomes a sculptural table without so much of a trace as to its former life.
Upcycling ain’t Recycling
Changing the paradigm of how consumers think about upcycling isn’t an easy task. For one, consumers are assuming it’s the same as recycling but it is not. Recycling breaks down materials in order to make the same or lesser material from it. Upcycling is reinventing the usage of an object, bringing up the value more often than not. The chic little side tables shown above made from marble remnants with liquid silver/ gold trim perched ontop of art deco bases are a prime example of how upcycling can be more design savvy than most of us realize. Or the recycled garden globes that your granny used to have, pictured below, now reused as chic pendant lighting that truly makes an impact surpassing that of mass marketed fixtures of the same style.
By elevating humble materials to drool worthy designer status or offering reimagined older furnishings that look every bit as good as their newer, more expensive counterparts makes the case for stunning use of upcycling as a medium that can hold it’s own against brand new goods.
Our current collaboration with Circa Gallery shows off the inventiveness bred at Omforme by pairing our upcycled furniture offerings with one of the Twin Cities best galleries for modern and abstract art. On first take, all the items looked newly made. Most people were hard pressed to believe these furnishings were created from up cycled material. It was only when we showed them original photos of the materials in their former state that we were believed. This exhibition opened the mind to many that we have to start thinking smarter about how we consume, and how we can repurpose items in clever ways that work for today’s aesthetic.