From junk to jewels

PUBLISHED: 08:02 10 February 2015 | UPDATED: 13:40 22 January 2018

Slate Furniture Works dining room table

Slate Furniture Works dining room table

Martyn Rayner

We may be living in an era of designer labels and flourishing boutiques and upmarket stores, but the reinvention of old objects has never been so popular. From fabric and furniture to wood and wheels, there’s the potential for new life in many things. So before you’re tempted to throw out that ‘old junk’, take a look at how creative people in Hertfordshire are making reinvention chic. By Sandra Smith

Banksy cross-stitch chair by Kelly SwallowBanksy cross-stitch chair by Kelly Swallow

Cue a change

The link between furniture and snooker may seem obscure but Tom Parker and Ben Rayner have formed a business that uses slate from unwanted snooker tables to create dining room tables (such as pictured right), fireplace surrounds and even table-tennis tables.

The Letchworth business produces items tailored to individual customers in a range of sizes, colours and finishes. ‘Welsh slate has a look and feel that suits both period and contemporary environments and, because it doesn’t rot, maintains its original appearance almost indefinitely. It is also suitable for outdoor use or in conservatories,’ explains Parker.

The slate used is from 19th- and early 20th-century snooker tables sourced from across the country. And it isn’t just the slate that is given a new lease of life. The oak and mahogany parts are also crafted into one-off pieces of beautiful and durable furniture.

Scaffold coffee table by Vicki BrandScaffold coffee table by Vicki Brand


Rise of the rag rug

For anyone planning to venture into the world of upcycling, a rag rug is a great place to start. The craft, which originated in mining areas in England, is simple to learn according to Elspeth Jackson who runs workshops at Great Wymondley. She says, ‘A make-do-and-mend attitude is coming back into fashion and rag rugging is easy to do at home. There’s no limit on size or shape and different types of fabric create an appealing texture.’

One of Andrew Fitzgerald's upcycled 1950s record playersOne of Andrew Fitzgerald's upcycled 1950s record players

Unwanted material is cut into strips and weaved through a hessian backing via one of two techniques: ‘‘Shaggy’ is more traditional and what you would associate with a rag rug. The ‘loopy style’ enables you to design more patterns like landscapes and flowers.’ Any unwanted fabric or old clothes can be used, so rugs can even offer a sentimental way of upcycling clothing which is no longer used but too precious to discard.


Individual and economic

Cushions and rug by Ragged LifeCushions and rug by Ragged Life

‘My style is shabby chic and I make furniture I would have in my own home.’ From her cottage in Bushey, Louise Lingwood believes the success of her creations is due to their attractiveness, but also their usability: ‘Upycled furniture must be useful. Typically what sells is something with storage.’

Furniture is sourced from car boot sales, flea markets and even skips, before being reinvented. ‘When painting, you can age things by distressing them to give more interest. I generally use chalk paint. A year or two ago people were timid about colour but now it’s enjoying a resurgence. You have to break a few rules about colours but upcycling gives people courage, more so than going into a local furniture store.’

Self-taught, Louise says the benefits of furnishing a house in this way create ‘something individual as well as economic.’

A Louise Lingwood recreationA Louise Lingwood recreation


Reinventing the wheel

‘I get things to work in a way they weren’t originally meant to.’ Such a modest statement from Hertford artist and designer Andrew Fitzgerald hardly credits the innovative timepieces he makes using eBay-sourced retro record players along with bicycle wheels and LPs. ‘I inherited some records and thought they would make free canvasses, so I painted portraits on them. This angle started me off on clocks. Now I create showpieces that tell the time. My record player clocks are popular with musicians, producers and DJs.’ Along with his bestselling range on, Andrew takes on commissions of any object which lends itself to being converted into a clock.

Not stopping there, in his workshop (originally a garden shed) he also reinvents old stereo systems: ‘I take out all the old electronics and fit blue tooth. It’s retro styling with cutting edge stereo system – the best of both worlds.’


Chairs with personality

When Kelly Swallow was given an old chaise longue, she decided to use her passion for fabrics to restore it, and so ignited a career in upcycling. ‘Now I’m always on the lookout for chairs,’ she says. ‘Shape and style is what I go for. I want them to be old but I don’t restrict myself to an era.’

The reupholstery Kelly produces is a diverse mix of patterns and textures. ‘My chairs tell something about someone’s life or personality. I source fabrics that reflect their interests and include little details that are not obvious to everyone else.’ 
Velvet and heavy cottons are favoured by this Hertford creative who also applies her salvaging skills to acquire sample fabrics from design houses that would otherwise be discarded.

With a customer base that stretches to Australia, Kelly’s designs are tailor made to suit each client, making them the perfect mix of traditional seating with a modern twist.


Scaffold to bespoke furniture

Vicki Brand is passionate about reinventing wood which has come to the end of its existence as one thing and recreating it as unique furniture. ‘I am ridiculously precious about making things people love that will last in their family for years to come and then be passed down,’ she explains. ‘I use any type of wood I can lay my hands on but mostly wood that has been used as scaffold planks. I have a good relationship with farmers, workshops and scaffolders.’

Taught by her inspiring jack-of-all-trades father, Vicki’s interest first began out of necessity. ‘I live in a small cottage and needed a trunk but everything was too big. I thought other people must have similar trouble and decided I’d rather renew something old than let it go to waste.’

Each new piece is designed from scratch and this Hertford upcycler is intent on continuing the history of salvaged materials with every bespoke cupboard, table and shelving she makes.

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