Tag Archives: book review

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.

To Die For

Straggling back in after a lovely lazy holiday – a glorious combination of beach-time with the family in Spain, camping with friends, and just loafing around the house with the children. Some sewing happened, some reading got done, but I spent a huge amount of time doing really very little and recharging my batteries (I’m convinced I’m solar powered).

My best (non-fiction!) read of the holidays was Lucy Siegle’s “To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?”

It’s one of the books I picked up at the Ways with Words literature festival I went to in Dartington, Devon, back in July, and as an eco-worrier of the first order, its promise to pull together and address all the various concern I have about the fashion industry appealed to me.

It didn’t disappoint.

The first half of the book is an unflinching and often uncomfortable scrutiny of the fashion industry as a whole, in terms of its environmental and social cost to the world. It examines the effect of increasing demand for ‘fast fashion’ on the supply chains feeding that demand, looking at every element in that chain – from the production, harvesting, processing of the fibres we use, through the dyeing process, into the production of the clothes themselves and the transportation of those clothes to the store, and through to the end of their lives. It’s a pretty damning indictment of the entire system, and doesn’t just call the ‘usual suspects’ at the fast-and-furious value end of the fashion spectrum – luxury goods, fur, and leather are all brought under the microscope. From slave labour harvesting cotton in Ukraine, to sweatshops in Bangladesh and elsewhere across the far east, to the poisonous pollution of the Ganges, it’s all laid bare, and it’s not easy or comfortable reading – we are all complicit in this. I think what shocked me most of all was that the fashion/garment industry as a whole includes two of the five most polluting activities on the planet – I’d no idea that it was causing such harm.

But what I liked most was the second half of the book, which offered real hope for the future. Lucy Siegle acknowledges that she is as complicit in this as any one of us, and rather than making us feel horribly guilty about the contents of our wardrobe, offers alternatives and hope for the future. Naturally, buying less fashion comes pretty much top of the list, but she advocates spending MORE on fewer pieces of good-quality, ethical clothing, and building a wardrobe that reflects both our ethics and our individuality without compromising on style. There’s an excellent section on ‘wardrobe maintenance’ – proper care and repair of existing items in the wardrobe, and whilst second-hand and vintage have a place in the wardrobe, they are not the be-all and end-all of having a ‘green’ wardrobe.

I can buy into that. I’ve been a wardrobe-refashioner for some years now, and when I’ve needed to buy new clothes I’ve avoided the value end of the high street, but had assumed that higher-end brands had better ethical credentials – now I know that’s not the case, I’ll be asking more questions and making sure that my purchases reflect my values a little more closely.

Read it for yourself, and be inspired to make some simple changes that might just end up making a real difference, both to the planet, and to social justice.