Recycled furniture comes to the rescue whether you’re focused on reducing your environmental impact, saving money, or upping your design game. In past years the phrase may have conjured up images of student housing and “furniture” made of cardboard boxes and duct tape, but no longer. Be it plastic, wood, metal, or composite materials, recycled furniture has come a long way in the last decade.
However you choose to approach this topic, there is an impact you can make. Our world is in dire need of intentional design and conscientious use of previously manufactured goods. The great news is that this might sound complicated, but it’s not. Whether you research sustainable manufacturers or grab an old armchair and give it a new look, you participate in a better future for our environment. Recycling, upcycling, and using sustainable materials is a win for everyone, no matter what your initial motivation is—and that’s the great part. If you’re focusing on cost savings, you’ll still be reducing your environmental impact and supporting sustainability by upcycling. If your focus is creativity via recycling furniture and you can envision a new table made from pieces of three other items that would have hit the landfill—amazing. If your main goal is to promote sustainable products, you’re hitting the heart of the matter and reducing the possible amount of consumer products destined for the landfill if they’re not recycled or upcycled. In this model, where we are all conscious and intentional about what we buy and use, we all win. Let’s talk more about what each of these categories looks like.
Recycled, Upcycled, and Sustainable Furniture—What’s What?
To clarify the terminology, recycled furniture is a new piece of furniture made from parts of other items that have not been processed into a new type of material. For example, if you purchased a new dining room table that was made from salvaged barn wood, that is a recycled piece. This type of recycled furniture is also considered to be sustainable furniture because it is not using new material made from non-renewable or environmentally damaging practices. Still, it is not the same as furniture made from sustainable materials (more on that below).
Upcycled furniture is a piece that has been kept in essentially its original form and had modifications made to it to update the style of the piece. If you were to take your old dining room table, refinish it and recover the chairs, that’s upcycling. Think Pinterest DIYs when you think upcycling – there are tons of creative and easy tutorials available that can guide you through upcycling your current furniture. This saves you money and gives you fun weekend projects. Additionally, finding local business owners that upcycle furniture is a great way to support your local economy and keep your costs down compared to purchasing new.
Sustainable furniture includes pieces made from materials considered sustainable for one of two reasons: first, if the product is made from a resource like bamboo, which grows quickly compared to something like cotton, it is considered sustainable. Second, it is also regarded as sustainable if the product is made from something that we have in abundance and would typically end up in a landfill, like plastic bottles. An example of sustainable furniture would be a garden bench using material made from recycled plastic bottles or a chair made from bamboo.
Recycled furniture is as varied as our imaginations. You can find almost any style, color, and function, from minimal Nordic-style designs to colorful and playful bohemian pieces. Typically, recycled furniture is made from wood products (including paper), plastic, or metal. Do some inspiration gathering and see how your vision of what you see lying around the world changes!
Getting your DIY hat on is definitely one way to jump on the recycled furniture trend, but if you’re not feeling overly crafty or don’t have the space to dedicate to making a new coffee table in your apartment (understandable), cast your eye to local businesses or online marketplaces that support small retailers, like Etsy, for this type of furniture. Here you’ll find nearly anything from wood pallet patio sets to headboards made from salvaged antique floorboards, tractor seat bar stools and professionally-made upholstered furniture.
If you want to personally be a part of your recycled furniture journey but have an idea that includes elements outside of your skillset, you can source local companies that do things like welding or upholstering. You design and make the parts that you can at home and have them create the more specific parts like metal legs for a side table or an upholstered seat for a bench. It’s the best of both worlds – you’ll be expanding your skills and supporting your local economy at the same time.
Upcycling is a crafty person’s paradise. The options are endless, and the budget is whatever you make it. You can look locally for secondhand or free pieces of furniture, or start with something you already have and sand, saw, stain and paint your way to a whole new piece.
Upcycling doesn’t just mean throwing a new coat of paint on something old and ending up with the same thing in a different color (although it can if that’s what you want). Sometimes simple modifications that can be done without expensive power tools are well within your reach. For example, if you have a 90’s-era wood dresser with rounded wooden feet and curly moldings that aren’t your style, you’re not limited to that! Take a hand saw, chop those clunky feet off (or check to see if they screw off, they often do) and replace them with something slimmer or more minimalistic that suits your style. Often those decorative wood moldings that we see on the ’80s and ‘90s bedroom sets are not carved into the wood, but rather something added on and can be popped off and the adhesive sanded down. A little vision and some elbow grease, and you’ll have a solid wood dresser that’s an entirely different style from what you started with. Not to mention that it will be much better quality than something made of pressboard and veneer, you’ll have saved money and reduced your overall impact on the environment. It’s a win-win-win!
If you’re looking for a place to get inspired and see some amazing furniture transformations, Pinterest is a great place to go. Start by searching ‘DIY furniture project’ or ‘upcycled furniture ideas’ and just try not to be inspired.
Sustainability is a big topic that’s on the front burner these days, and manufacturing shares a large part of the conversational pie. Materials used to create new furniture traditionally include non-sustainable resources and products manufactured using processes that are harsh on the environment. Non-recycled plastics and synthetic foam, for example, are often used in mass-produced furniture and are not sustainably made. Recycling the main components of furniture and the associated plastic pieces is one step towards more sustainable practices, but excluding them from the initial manufacturing process altogether is even better. There are examples of sustainable furniture for almost any area of your home; here are some exciting areas where you can incorporate this innovative practice into your life.
Recycled plastic dining chairs and bar chairs are perfect places to work in sustainably made products to your home design. Not always, but predominantly minimalist in their design mainly due to the countries pioneering this type of product like Denmark and Norway. This style can be consistent with yours or a notable standout point in your interior design. If you have a more luxurious style with rich design elements, consider using this type of design as a counterpoint to your more dominant style. This might not work for everyone, but it can be a way to incorporate pieces into your home that are available more commonly in a minimalist style.
Perhaps the interior of your home is not the best place to work in sustainably designed pieces with a Nordic influence, but your patio or garden might be. Consider patio dining furniture or garden benches made of recycled plastics. Not only that, but outdoor furniture is the perfect place to showcase a more quirky and bohemian or rustic style. Explore, get creative, and see where you can positively impact sustainably produced furniture with your outdoor pieces next season.
The moral of this story is that there are many ways that you can participate in this vitally important cause. Whether your staunch minimalist and Danish sustainability design fit perfectly into your home, or your style is more playful and whimsical and upcycling vintage pieces are more your style—there’s a way for you to make an impact. Also, si really important that after you create your perfect home with recycled furniture you know the process of how to apply an amazing rubbish clearance and set up perfectly your rubbish. All while saving money, keeping unnecessary (and useful) products out of landfills and reducing your environmental impact. Like we said, win-win-win!