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German designers turn to recycled material

An old craterrefurbished into a coffee table
An old craterrefurbished into a coffee table

Furniture designer Oliver Schuebbe has built up a solid base of customers — a base that is built on garbage. Schuebbe recycles old materials and turns them into unique pieces of furniture that are nothing like their mass produced cousins. His shelf system, “Frank”, for example, is made from plywood and can be extended thanks to its modular design. It wouldn’t look out of place in a student bedsit. Neither would it look unusual in a hotel or bar.

Schuebbe’s Frank shelves often come with small scratches, which makes his work look all that more authentic. That also applies to his “Pixelstars” armchairs, sofas and beds made from leftover bits of wood. Each item of furniture has a small, colourful foam cushion to sit on. These Pixels can be easily removed or swapped around to allow you to change your furniture’s look every day. Naturally, the cushions’ covers are also made of recycled material.

Oliver Schuebbe is perhaps Germany’s best-known recycling designer but he has quite a few competitors to speak of. They include the company Bauholz, which uses old wooden scaffolding planks to make furniture. The managers behind Bauholz came upon the company’s concept by chance. They had been given the job of designing furniture to display luxury glass objects at a trade fair and decided to use scaffolding planks. Since then Bauholz has been making high-end furniture both for the homes and for shops. The planks they use are between 15 and 25 years old before they are turned into sofas, writing desks, wardrobes, benches and chairs. Each item of furniture bears the marks of the wood’s previous life.

“It’s important for our customers that their furniture says something about its earlier use,” says Bauholz manager Bernd Schuster. It also helps to know that no tree had to be felled to make the furniture. One trend in design right now is being able to see a piece of furniture’s past. “In times of crisis people feel drawn to authenticity,” says Peter Wippermann from the Trendbuero in Hamburg. It’s the polar opposite of standard industrially produced furniture. The same trend can be seen in fashion, where retro looks are enjoying a comeback.

Recycling used materials is also a sign of another trend towards creating your own things.

“Young people in particular are feeling the need to take things into their own hands and not just rely on industry,” says Wippermann. “They are removing things from a context which no longer functions, and are giving them a new life.” Oliver Schuebbe agrees with that assessment. “Our goal is to make useful things out of items that would normally be thrown away,” he says. Every year 7.5 million tons of garbage is burned or crushed in Germany. Schuebbe is against buying new furniture every season, but if he can’t stop that, at least he can make a contribution by giving disposed items a second chance by turning them into something useful. “We are selling people back their garbage. But it’s been upgraded and refined a lot,” says Schuebbe.DPA



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