Sunday, 25 November 2012

Why I hate upcycling

I love old stuff. Not all old stuff - I do have personal taste, even if it’s not good taste - but even the stuff I don’t love, I appreciate that someone else might adore. The fact that things have survived for fifty, sixty or a hundred years, through wars, relocations and even just everyday wear and tear is pretty amazing when you think about it. If something’s ‘not for me’, I leave it where it is for someone who will love it to buy. I love old stuff, and I hate upcycling.

 Don’t confuse upcycling with recycling. I think it’s fantastic when someone takes an old thing that’s partly worn out and salvages the good bits. My friend Andy recently dug a broken 1930s cabinet out of a skip, and while most of it is irreperable, he’s turning what’s left into a corner cabinet. Some people take vintage dresses with the armpits worn out or the skirt torn and make a blouse or skirt with what remains. An embroidered tablecloth with a torn corner can become napkins or a cushion. Steampunks, in particular, are brilliant at repairing the broken and recycling what’s beyond repair. I love seeing damaged stuff, even little bits of it, saved from landfill.

 I also don’t think every single thing should be preserved in a glass cabinet: things are made to be used, so wear your clothes, eat off your tea plates, drink from your pretty vintage glasses. If they break, or wear out, well, they’ve served their purpose and you’ve enjoyed them. (And you can see if someone wants the bits for an art and craft project; lots of people can make use of attractive vintage fabric or bits of china.)

 What I hate is when someone takes something that’s lasted decades, is still whole and usable, and ‘upcycles’ it. I WISH THEY’D JUST LEAVE IT ALONE. I’m thinking of the instances when someone chops a beautiful 50s dress or groovy 70s maxi into a minidress, bashes up a teaset to make a mosaic they’ll keep for a year or two, or pulls apart a 70-year-old-film annual to make a decoupage card that’ll go in the bin a week after they give it to someone. And don’t get me started on painting perfectly good early-to-mid century wooden furniture. If people want something that looks like bloody plastic, why can’t they go out and buy a plastic wardrobe instead of wrecking a vintage wooden one? (Twee-Be-Gone has some excellently appalling items of that sort of vandalism.) And that’s why I hate ‘upcycling’. Very little of it seems designed to last another 50 years, and it’s done using stuff that has, somehow, made it through time to us now. As far as I’m concerned, ‘upcyclers’ don’t really love vintage. In fact, they spoil it for the rest of us.

12 comments :

  1. Gah, painting perfectly lovely furniture is one of my bugbears. Sure, if it was covered in stickers or felt tip pen or water stains, then sand it down and refinish it in any way you like. (See: a lovely 1930s chest of drawers that I ruined as a kid and re-painted as a teenager.) But for goodness' sake, don't repurpose something until it's actually broken or worn out!!

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  2. Excellent blog post - and I agree with Claire too. Years back if furniture got painted or varnished it was in order to protect and prolong. I was unfortunate enough to see a thing on tv this week where they painted some nice chairs - almost as offensive as the finished result was the way they threw the paint on. Terrible.

    I'm all for salvaging and re-using, I just hate this trend for mangling nice old things. I'm looking with great affection at my two pieces of 1960's furniture - they're as varnished as they ever were - and they're staying that way!

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  3. I agree with you. I had to stop following the blog of a woman who kept cutting up large pieces of old material, or 1970s dresses, and making it all into make-up purses. It made me feel so bad to witness this.

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  4. I think I saw the 'chair' programme too, they also painted what seemed to be an art deco dressing table very similar to the one I had in my shop. Criminal. If you want to paint something get a cheap one from Ikea! X

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  5. i agree and disagree tbh. My main concern is that many pieces of decent brown furniture are just being thrown away- if you ever go to your local tip you'll see the terrible waste of good furniture(plus tons of others stuff) that occurs on a daily basis. So i think, if people want to paint furniture because they will actually use it, then that's less wasteful. And in the long run, the paint can be stripped off. Yes, that damages any patina the furniture may have gotten over the years-but at least that piece of furniture still exists.
    I personally wouldn't paint furnture though! I like brown furniture!

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  6. Good post! I've been in vintage shops where every single dress has been hacked off to be a mini skirt. You can always tell when it's been done because it always looks so wrong - the top looks like it's going to be one thing and you follow down to a completely unnatural and stunted hem. It enrages me!

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  7. Stop watching Kirstie! She's bloody awful. I'm extremely loathe to hack up old magazines and books unless previously vandalised and not worth much, most are too precious. I don't mind occasionally adjusting vintage clothes but generally I leave them as they were, especially the older ones

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  8. Yep - I'm with you and the other commenters. Mostly I hate the (Kirstie?) term "upcycling" - and not because I am a language pedant - it has some implication of what you describe and some other stuff too. And it's not a trendy new thing - we were all destroying bits of worthy furniture in the 1960s, which then in the 1980s people were frantically trying to restore for their reconstructed Victorian interiors.
    Problem with all this is vintage worthiness is in the eye of the beholder and we each have out own line over which we will not go. Currently there is a lot of old furniture from certain eras that is freely available and definitely unwanted. Better reused than in a skip.

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  9. Perhaps you could start a 'ban Kirstie' petition?!

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  10. So many levels of agreement and I need twenty different ways to say 'amen'. And you've inspired me to start tweebegone-ing again, I've left it alone for too long. xx

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