3 amazing upcycling ideas that will transform your home

PUBLISHED: 11:57 23 September 2020 | UPDATED: 14:36 07 October 2020

Almost anything can be upcycled. Picture: PA Photo/Max McMurdo

Almost anything can be upcycled. Picture: PA Photo/Max McMurdo

PA Features Archive/Press Association Images

Expert upcycler Max McMurdo tells Sam Wylie-Harris why savvy crafters will love beautifying these binned items.

Upcycling expert Max McMurdo. Picture: PA Photo/Daniel Colin HallUpcycling expert Max McMurdo. Picture: PA Photo/Daniel Colin Hall

In these environmentally-aware times, reusing and upcycling is more of a priority than ever - but creating a new piece of furniture from something you might otherwise have thrown away can be challenging.

Expert upcycler Max McMurdo thinks that’s all part of the fun, however.

“I started upcycling 18 years ago and people didn’t understand what I was doing, they thought I was a mad hippy!” says the eco-designer and TV presenter.

“Just because an item can no longer fulfil its original purpose, doesn’t mean it can’t work really well as something else.”

Empty cans have many uses. Picture: PA Photo/Max McMurdoEmpty cans have many uses. Picture: PA Photo/Max McMurdo

Max lives in a 40ft upcycled shipping container, which he converted into a floating home – and admits it’s the most ambitious thing he’s ever upcycled.

“It’s fantastic and I love it. I had the bright idea that if I’m telling people what to do, I must do it on the biggest scale of all and upcycle a home. My lampshades are old jelly moulds and my table’s a washing machine drum.”

Upcycled old pallets make ideal garden furniture. Picture: PA Photo/PX FuelUpcycled old pallets make ideal garden furniture. Picture: PA Photo/PX Fuel

If you take a look on Pinterest, it seems a lot of people stick to one material (which they’re comfortable with) when upcycling. But for Max, successful product design and upcycling is all about mixing materials, like wood and glass or metal and leather. “So with something like a wash drum table, I put a light bulb inside that streams out of the holes, with a piece of glass on top.”

Working with reclaimed materials takes creativity and a little bit of effort. But as Max points out, just because you’re upcyling, doesn’t mean it should be any less beautiful in terms of design and aesthetic. “You’ll be amazed how many things you can reuse in a really cool way!”

This upcycled wooden ladder makes a cool shelf. Picture: PA Photo/Max McMurdoThis upcycled wooden ladder makes a cool shelf. Picture: PA Photo/Max McMurdo

Max has partnered with Heinz for their ‘Handmade with Heinz’ campaign, which aims to inspire people to upcycle household items and waste – like used tins, for example.

Wondering where to start? Here’s how to get a foot on the crafting ladder…

Upcycled books can make a perfect knife block. Picture: PA Photo/Max McMurdoUpcycled books can make a perfect knife block. Picture: PA Photo/Max McMurdo

1. Upcycle old pallets into cool garden furniture

You’ll need: Some used wood pallets, castor wheels (available in sets of four), selection of ready-made cushions.

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Steps: Pick up some free wood pallets from a local shop, farm or industrial estate – don’t be afraid to ask! Screw castor wheels to each corner of the bottoms of the pallets to make them manoeuvrable (they come with holes and are easy to affix). Double stack the pallets for the right height. Sand the pallets down lightly to avoid splinters, then wax to seal and make them weather resistant. Add some cushions.

Top Tip: Amazon sells Cuprinol Garden Furniture Stain Exterior Wood Care, priced £15, to seal your pallets from bad weather and keep them looking nicer for longer.

2. Upcycle a wooden ladder into a cool shelf

You’ll need: An old wooden ladder, some knick-knacks and anything you want to hang on it.

Steps: Find an old wood ladder – the more paint spattered the better. If you don’t have one, ask neighbours and friends. Prop it securely against a wall and use as a quirky shelf. You can hang it with anything you like, including clip-on lights or fairy lights. This also works as a towel rack in bathrooms.

Top tip: This one works especially well for rental properties, as you don’t need to attach anything to walls.

3. Upcycle some old books into a knife block

You’ll need: 4-5 old books (buy these from a charity shop if you don’t have any at home), strong string.

Steps: Prop your old books upright, next to each other. Wind an old piece of strong string around the books a couple of times and tie it tightly. Pop your knives in it and place on your kitchen top.

Top tip: You can also create some great artwork with old books, by folding the pages into a certain pattern, or into words like ‘love’ and ‘home’.

For more information on the #handmadewithheinz campaign, check out Heinz UK and Max McMurdo on Instagram.


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