Clever upcycling is the new mantra from fashion to interior design and it’s a trend that is here to stay. Instead of the rather appalling idea of a throwaway, seasonal culture, which really started in the consumer credit boom of the ‘We have never had it so good swinging sixties’ – now we have finally come full circle. Creativity rules the roost and reinvention is the name of the game. So what is upcycling? It’s where you take an item that’s been discarded or thrown out and turn it into something beautiful, or you repurpose something that you already own and give it a rather exciting makeover.
Clio Wood is definitely the girl to know. Clio is the founder of Clio The Muse – a new and exciting upcycled furniture label based in Peckham. Clio is the Crown Princess of recyclers – an East Londoner, Francophile and canal boat-dweller with a flair for transformation. She is part of this exciting and growing scene – her unique pieces reflecting the trend towards cool, inspiring sustainability as an integral part of style and design. She also offers a bespoke upcycling service – where she will take a piece you can’t bare to part with, directly from you and turn it into something you will fall in love with again. Or she can help build your entire interior design scheme around this process, giving you a perfect home with a lower environmental footprint.
But if you think that upcycling sounds rather worthy and that the pieces produced are a bit hotch-potch or Blue Peter-esq, you’re in for a shock. Compelling design and style as well as functionality are at the core of what the new breed upcyclers are producing. Sustainable ideas are setting the design agenda and giving way to the idea of modern vintage – a perfect marriage of old and new.
Clio The Muse specialises in transforming unloved and unwanted classic pieces of the past into stylish contemporary treasures. Clio handcrafts each item in her Peckham Rye studio – where she also runs various upcycling workshops, to show others how they too can get involved.
From a young age Clio loved seeking out unwanted items and turning them into fun and useful objects. Her love of art was cemented at art school during her gap year. A languages and literature degree from Cambridge – which included a year in Paris – really ignited her love of architecture and design although it took a further five years stuck in a London headhunter’s dreary office to see her break free and pursue her real passion in life – designing beautiful recycled furniture and items for the home.
To create her quirky collectables, Clio sources items from salvage yards, charity shops, skips, jumble sales and car boot sales. It might not sound glamorous, but after Clio has woven her magic, new and unique design pieces are born. The process is a long one. All the surfaces of the salvaged item must be scrupulously cleaned, before Clio can embark on the true upclycing process. This can include painting, collage, stencilling and hand-drawn design. Pieces are also re-purposed by ‘cutting & pasting’ together parts from various different sources. Creating, for example, coffee tables from antique drawers, side tables from giant drums, drawer tidies from seed trays and seating from wooden waste and offcuts. The end result is always something chic, but very unique – and that comes with a story.
Clio explains what she looks for when she searches for the ideal piece to upcycle:
“One of my favourite weekend activities is trawling through car boot sales. They can be a bit boom or bust – one week you might not find anything, the next you’ll be struggling to carry all your treasure home – but for me the joy is in the hunt! I found this classically shaped wooden tray at a sale in Stoke Newington, London, last winter. It was part of a big house clearance lot, so hadn’t been particularly well-looked after. In fact with the wintry damp, there was even a little bit of mould on it! Fortunately this was only light and had not rotted the wood, which meant it was a prime upcycling candidate.
“I love the tray because it’s a simple and timeless design and the wood was in good condition. Wood is a wonderful surface to upcycle, as it’s hard-wearing and responds well to new finishes. The tray design also leaves a nice space to use a bold motif.
“The beading on the edges is integral to the more classic design, a simple feature which is not often included in more modern homeware. You’d really notice the difference if it weren’t there. It also acts as a frame to the new ‘fish’ motif. As the handles are good quality I decided to keep them – they were a little rusty and dirty, but simple to fix.
“It is important to prepare wood properly in order for the new finish and design to ‘take’ properly. So after I had removed the handles, I cleaned the surface thoroughly with sugar soap and let it dry, then sanded it down to remove varnish and paint residue. This also makes the surface smooth in preparation for the new paint. I applied the paint, after cleaning off the sanding dust, in three light coats and then applied the vintage prints onto the surface with strong PVA glue which is ideal for paper and wood. I chose the vintage fish prints, because their size and shape was perfect for the space on the tray, and I love the juxtaposition of the intricate lines of the print and the smooth classical lines of the tray. When cutting vintage prints I always make sure to use a sharp paper scalpel, which makes the cut much cleaner and also saves damaging the
celebration of all things throwaway that once again, when it comes to creating a beautiful home it is now once again possible to choose unique design with a sustainable heart.
Visit Clio the Muse – www.cliothemuse.co.uk – to see her latest upcycled work as well as learn where and when she will be running her upcycling classes.