Move over recycling, upcycling is here. Lakshmi Krupa looks at a growing trend in home decor

They aren’t holding placards and marching or admonishing people for not recycling. Instead, they are at the helm of a quiet revolution that seeks to turn trash and otherwise harmful products into charming, witty and fun home décor products. Meet the new urban designer who isn’t just recycling but is upcycling all things old and turning them into décor gold.

Plastic bottles have been painted over in spunky colours, old furniture’s been given new purpose (like an old wooden cradle converted into a centre table), construction waste and e-waste has been turned into high art by a talented sculptor... Upcycled products can be functional or aesthetic or both and they are free from the sanctimonious fuss that usually surrounds the concept of recycling. Upcycling is a fun, new alternative.

City-based Adeela Abdul Razak whose Madras Mambalam is all about upcycling says, “I use old plastic bottles and glass jars and give them a fresh coat of paint so they can be used as beautiful vases. I also go to little stores in Parry’s Corner and find things like old chai glasses and aluminum kettles and add my own print and paint designs to them.” Madras Mambalam’s catalogue features coasters, cookie jars, storage boxes, wall hangings and more. For Razak, it is also a way to turn something everyday and mundane into kitschy cool ware, adding value to an otherwise discarded product, and thereby increase its artistic appeal.

Shylaja Chetlur, creative director of Art and Soul, a city-based art gallery that was among the first to host a full-fledged upcycled art exhibit says, “As women, I think from when we are young we are trained to find better use for waste. My mother-in-law would use the refill sachet of Complan to pack papads to school. And I think it’s about time this thinking became more popular. We must teach children that there is an artistic way to reuse things and not just use and throw. Our art show aimed at raising awareness about this.”

As part of the exhibit, the gallery also conducted a competition looking for the best use of waste. “One of the contestants who runs an ad agency came up with the brilliant idea of curtains made from newspapers. Not only are these artsy, they also reflect a certain attitude towards the planet and our surroundings,” she says.

But if you think upcycling is small scale and restricted to little trinkets for the home, think again. Bringing out the big guns for upcycling in a world-class manner is an online bespoke furniture store, www.homehero.in, which primarily uses reclaimed material, which according to founder Wolf Zach “produces wonderful designs with unexpected patterns and organic textures”. The store has dedicated carpenters working out of Jodhpur from where products are shipped directly to customer’s homes. The range at this store includes several upcycled and shabby chic products such as the jute ottoman cheekily named ‘Hangover Jute Sack’ and other products picked up at auctions. In Jodhpur, which sees a lot of auctions, the Homehero team purchases old but solid material, a lot of it from the Railways for instance, and works on them to produce interesting new home products. The Indian Railways Sleepers Table and Stool are made from recycled railway sleepers. Old steel filing cabinets become colourful chest of drawers.

Glass artiste Anjali Venkat turns old glass into 'functional art'. "I work with old glass bottles and glass pieces to create new products," she says. Glass wine bottles in different colours turn into trays, vases, planters and wind dancers too. Glass pieces come together to form lamp shades and even idols of god. Venkat has managed to carve a niche for herself in the world of upcycling, working with all things glass.

Not just inside the home, but outside too, in the form of art installations, upcyling is gaining momentum. Chennai-based artist Jacob Jebaraj who works out of Cholamandal Artists’ Village created a large art installation made from used and discarded wheelbarrows from construction sites. Today, the installation sits in Marg Swarnabhoomi. “I think used material that comes from different industries such as construction and electronics has a character of its own.”

Another new entrant in the market that’s making waves is Green the Gap, a store with branches in Delhi and Mumbai and an online portal - www.greenthegap.com. Set up by the NGO Swechha in Delhi as a way of raising awareness on environmental issues and to provide employment for disadvantaged people, Green the Gap uses juice cartons, vehicle tyres, and waste fabric to create new products. They also source ‘green’ products from different brands around the world.

Be it tea coasters made from the parts of an old computer, lampshades fashioned from bottlecaps or bicycle wheels that have been turned into sleek wallclocks, adding an upcycled product could not just spruce up a dull corner but also add to the ‘good karma’ vibes of your home.

FIND IT AT:

Madras Mambalam: www.facebook.com/Madrasmambalam

Homehero: www.homehero.in

Green the Gap: www.greenthegap.com

Anjali Venkat: www.anjalidesign.com

WorkshopQ: www.workshopq.com

E-coexist: www.ecoexist.com