Words by Travis Blake
Designer, supplier and maker of unique furniture pieces breathing new life into used items by upcycling!
The concept of making old things new is not a recent one, we have attempted to preserve, restore and provide longevity too many items for centuries. We have all heard of the “Make do and Mend” slogan from the Second World War pamphlet of the same name, providing handy tips to the nation’s Housewives on ways to be frugal in the hard times of rationing. Of course for every action there is a reaction and as harsh and barren times pass and change to periods of growth the capitalist market driven system insists that we consumers consume with gusto! Out with the old and in with the new becomes the battle cry, give me the shiny and to hell with the consequences.
Once again we are considering our actions and quantifying our resources essentially there can only be so many things produced as we live in a finite world, with finite resources. Yes we can recycle and plastic is a good example of this given that every single piece of plastic ever made is still in existence today. Surely an audit of wants and needs would reveal that much of what we own fills a void which we perceived as a need, but as we become aware that such items were wanted we move on to the next thing to satiate our desires.
This may be sounding somewhat gloomy with a touch of foreboding but it isn’t supposed to as there is a sense of joy to this which is the art of upcycling. Upcycling, what is upcycling, I hear you ask? Well, it isn’t straight forward recycling and a definition would be something like this, reusing an item to produce one of greater use and value than the original through refurbishing and adding a high quality finish. Essentially, taking an old object and making it better. A smart concept indeed and something that has gathered steam since the start of the 21st Century and developed into a niche market that creates the opportunity to supply unique products that are using minimum resources to fulfil a new purpose and lifecycle without the need to start from scratch.
This month I’ve been talking to upcycling practitioner and master of the art Andrew Smith, founder and owner of UNIQ Furniture suppliers and creators of unique vintage, retro and modern upcycled furniture pieces. A man of Wales born in Swansea, Andrew managed to secure himself an Automotive Apprenticeship with Austin Rover when he left Secondary School learning the trade of toolmaker, additionally; he studied and gained qualifications in Mechanical and Production Engineering.
Qualifying as a teacher of Craft Design & Technology from what is now the University of Greenwich Andrew had not yet finished stringing his bow and obtained a further qualification from the Pershore College of Horticulture in Garden Design and Management. Not sure where he finds the time, that’s an impressive C.V by any standards.
Having established a long career teaching Design & Technology in schools in London, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire regrettably redundancy called, but always looking to reverse polarity and create a positive from a negative Andrew took the opportunity to start his own business and in 2014 Andrew founded UNIQ Furniture. UNIQ is a business that specialises in Vintage, Retro and Modern furniture but with an upcycling, recycled twist. The ethos of the business is to be sustainable, environmentally sound and to benefit both its suppliers, which are schools and businesses. Customers are able to buy, knowing that the items have been given a new lease of life; quality used pre-owned furniture that has been lovingly reimagined for the future and restyled and upcycled to beyond former glory.
The Upcycling industry in the UK has grown steadily this century, in fact an article in the Telegraph newspaper from 2015 suggests that the already lucrative craft industry had an annual value of three billion pounds, of which upcycling was calculated as being anywhere between five to forty per cent of the sector. However, the benefits of the upcycling sector are not solely financial, if done properly with diligence care and time, the repurposing of used products goes a long way to helping reduce our carbon footprint and also avoid the unfathomable amount of needless waste.
With UNIQ focussing on furniture their targeted suppliers are the education sector and small to medium business. Every day, globally, a huge amount of furniture is simply discarded as businesses and educational establishments refit and refurbish their premises and it is here that Andrew, with his understanding of the education sector, developed his niche. His aim through UNIQ is to stop this used furniture from finding its way to landfill sites to sit and slowly degrade for an eternity. This service enables UNIQ’s suppliers to find a greener, more environmentally and socially responsible way to dispose of their waste, which is a benefit to all involved. Once disposed of in a sustainable manner the magic begins and UNIQ set to work on restoring, reimagining and upcycling the pieces to their former glory and in many cases beyond the item’s original purely functional purpose and design.
Such environmentally friendly sustainable activity and industry has not gone unnoticed both locally and nationally and UNIQ have been the recipients of some well-deserved prestigious awards. Wychavon District Council in 2016 awarded Andrew and UNIQ the Small Business Award in their Intelligently Green category which recognises excellence in Businesses, Groups and individuals working to make the district a greener place to live and this award was presented by none other than TV’s top sports impersonator Alistair McGowan. Further awards have following including Worcestershire Business Awards and Theo Paphitis presented Andrew with his Twitter “Small Business Sunday” award in February 2019, which he collected at the SBS Live event at the ICC in Birmingham. It’s not just awards that UNIQ have been receiving they have also been featured on the small screen appearing in Gok Wan’s “Fill your House for Free” and Channel 4’s “The French Collection” in 2015. Andrew and UNIQ are also active on the show circuit attending “Grand Designs Live” “The Vintage Home Show” and “The London Upcycling Show” which made its debut in 2016.
As UNIQ continue to reuse, upcycle and repair a wide range of furniture items there is always a wide range of stock to choose from. Also there is a variety of items awaiting the upcycling treatment and Andrew offers a bespoke service so customers can always commission a particular piece of furniture that will be a truly unique item and of course a fascinating talking point.
Have a wander around in the UNIQ on line shop and you will find some unsurprisingly unique pieces which are both functional and stylish at the same time, which is the key to great design. The prices vary depending on the item and the amount of work involved in turning the furniture into its current incarnation for future use. A brightly coloured “Wellie Boot Rack” featuring what look to be painted old wooden chair legs will cost you £75, or a bespoke “Magnetic Key Rack” made from a reclaimed art desk top is available for as little as £20 and a very funky looking piece it is too!
Although the UNIQ Furniture business has been around for a short time in relative terms it is already an award winning enterprise with a bright future, to find out more and indeed to find the upcycled piece you’ve always been looking for see the website and contact details below.
Unit 3, Color Block, Racecourse Road, Pershore, WR10 2EY.