Category Archives: Reviews

Review : Recycled Home

I’ve been a fan of Baileys for some time – simple, well-made, well-designed home products that aren’t fussy or over-complicated, and an intriguing mix of old, recycled pieces and new, sustainable pieces that don’t compromise on style.

I’d been lusting after their book, Recycled Home, for a while, so I could barely wait to get the wrapper off before I dived into it …

Recycled Home  by Mark & Sarah Bailey

Visually, it’s gorgeous, with wonderful photos by Debi Treloar on every page …. the message, however, is less easy to absorb. I found it quite an extreme approach, the suggestion that we undecorate our home, stripping them back to their bones and concentrating on the underlying beauty in the materials used in construction of both the house itself, and the furnishings we use.

It’s an approach that is some degress north of ‘shabby chic’ – more extreme, less pretty, an almost wabi-sabi aesthetic in its insistence on allowing the materials used to speak for themselves, whilst insisting that they fulfil the function for which they were designed, with an emphasis on texture and tone.

The importance of balance in emphasised, and I can imagine that it’s a difficult look to pull off successfully – both in terms of liveability and aesthetics – it would be very easy to go too far, and feel as though you’re living in a building site, or not go far enough, and leave rooms looking half-finished and neither one thing nor another.

The insistence on leaving the materials used for construction unconcealed can make it look quite cold and industrial, I thought …. but the additional of recycled, upcycled textiles softens the look …

I liked the idea of avoiding new furnishings wherever possible – taking old, unwanted furniture, boxes, building materials and industrial fixings and re-purposing them for the home appealed to me – certainly flat-pack quick fixes are not an option with this look.

I wasn’t sure if this was a look that would work in every home. Sure, if you’ve got an old building with layers of character (and preferably soaring ceilings), revealing its history has a certain appeal and charm. Where I struggle to visualise it is in a modern home, where breezeblock and plasterboard are the underlying materials, or even in an early/mid-19th century home, where you don’t necessarily have the integrity in the materials or the desirable history to expose. Done badly, it could look harsh, minimalist and unfinished.

There is a place for the sleek and modern, juxtaposed against the worn and aged – again with the insistence on great design that fulfils function against the integrity and inherent beauty of the materials used.

It strikes me that it’s something worth thinking about …. it needn’t be a whole-house look, rather, an incorporation of elements.

Done well, it could be the the absence of flat-pack furniture, an insistence on natural materials left unpainted and unfinished, a reduction to only what was needed and loved, allowing the choices made in home decor to stand, unashamedly, as nothing more than what they are.

In my own home, a 1930’s cottage, there are places I can use the aesthetic, even though I wouldn’t want to live with a whole house like this. I could, for example, strip the paint from the mantle wall in the dining room and let the irregular, scarred plaster with the remnants of 80-odd years of paint speak for itself. Already, I’m planning on stripping back the stairs to reveal the wood underneath, and taking gloss off windowsills, doorframes and skirting boards as and when rooms need updating. And in terms of home furnishings and home accessories, I’m going to carry on with my mission of buying second-hand, vintage and antique and re-finishing and re-purposing as necessary rather than buying new.

It might make for a slower process, but I think that the slowing-down of the process will make it a more mindful one that links up naturally with my work.

It took a little while to move from the position of “oh my god, it’s all very well if you’ve got a character-laden 16th century farmhouse / georgian mansion” to “hmmm, I can see how elements of this might work in my house” that’s needed me to go back and re-read the book and actually absorb the words – rather than the pictures – to take in the message and understand it fully.

It’s not easy, and it’s not pretty, but it *is* beautiful.

Made By Hand – a review

I recently treated myself to a copy of Mark Frauenfelder’s “Made By Hand” – he’s the founder of Boing Boing and editor in chief of Make.

From his unique vantage point as editor in chief of Make magazine, Mark Frauenfelder takes readers on an inspiring and surprising tour of the vibrant world of do-it-yourself.
He spent a year trying a variety of offbeat projects such as keeping chickens and bees, tricking out his espresso machine, whittling wooden spoons, making guitars out of cigar boxes, and doing citizen science with his daughters in the garage. His whole family found that DIY helped them take control of their lives, offering deeply satisfying ways to spend time together.
Frauenfelder also reveals how DIY is changing our culture for the better. He profiles fascinating ‘alpha makers’ leading various DIY movements and grills them for their best tips and insights.

So goes the blurb … having read the book, I’m not sure it’s the best summary of what’s inside – I feel it is somewhat misleading in so far as it suggests he trialled some sort of experiment for a single year, and that was an end of it. In fact, his various adventures in DIY arose out of a conscious decision to change the way he lived and consumed, and how that in turn changed the way he lived.

What I enjoyed about this book most of all was how accessible it was – not only in the writing, but in terms of the ideas as well.

Recognising that there needs to be a change in the way you live in and relate to your environment can feel more than a little daunting, and I liked that this was recognised. And at a time when there is a ‘green’ pressure to take an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach to ethical consumption and sustainable living, it was refreshing to hear from someone who agrees with that, but also accepts that it’s not easy, and takes the position that it’s OK to do what you can, that small changes can make a big difference, and that we need to live in the world, not apart from it.

The mindfulness of making came across so clearly – how involvement in a project, or work that “engages hand, head, and heart” (to badly quote Bernard Leach) – allows us to be both fully present in the moment, allowing our minds to switch off from daily stresses and activities, and lets us engage – if only for a while – more fully with the living world around us. His approach is very much ‘you only learn by doing’, and that we stifle our creativity and ability to express ourselves by a fear of failure learnt at an early age and reinforced continually as we grow older – so we need to learn to let go, to try things, to make mistakes – and learn from them – and he is up front about the mistakes he has made, leading from the front.

The connections he makes with ‘alpha makers’ along the journey are fascinating and inspiring. I suspect most of them would flinch away from being called leaders – from what I’ve read I’d say pioneers, or perhaps, visionaries, might be more appropriate. Their shared experiences demonstrate that with a little determination, creativity, and courage, amazing things can be achieved by people who could otherwise be termed ‘ordinary’.

For me, it reinforced and affirmed my own feelings that we need to step away from the careless, disposable consumerist environment we live in towards something more grounded, where everything from the objects we surround ourself with to the food we eat has both meaning, utility and value – a more mindful way of living, if you like. It makes me feel as though I am on the right path with my own making – giving new life and meaning to textiles that would otherwise be unused or thrown away.

It’s a fabulous book – I think everyone should read it.