For a little bit of inspiration for you upcycling fans, we’ve interviewed the incredibly talented UNIQ Furniture about all things upcycling!
Can you tell us a little about UNIQ Furniture? How did you start out?
I started UNIQ in 2014 after I was made redundant from a 28-year career, teaching Design and Technology. I made the choice to turn a negative situation into a positive life choice by starting my own business with my redundancy money and with help from the Worcestershire Enterprise Scheme. The scheme helped with a start-up grant, a business mentor, courses in social media, business planning, and much more, all for free!
Having seen tons of furniture thrown away and destined for landfill throughout my career, I decided to try and do my bit for the environment by saving surplus school, office and industrial furniture to give it a new life by using my practical skills to repair, refurbish and Upcycle it!
Where do you find the materials for your creations?
Having taught in a number of local schools, I have a wide range of contacts who call me when they are having a clearout or doing a refurb and, being in my 3rd year of business, word is now spreading about the service I offer, which not only saves schools money (less skips, no paying for removals) but also improves their environmental credibility by sending less waste to landfill.
What is your must‐have tool for the workshop?
Working with 50s/60s/70s solid wood furniture mainly, my must-have tool has to be a sander! After the disgusting job of chewing gum removal, the surfaces usually need to be revived with one of my four sanders!
1. A belt sander for the heavy duty work.
2. A random orbital sander for the majority of work.
3. A ½ sheet sander for using ½ sheets of standard sized paper, surprisingly!
4. A detail/mouse sander for tricky shapes and corners.
Do you have an all-time favourite piece?
I have two favourite upcycles so far, although it is very difficult to choose as I’ve worked on so many great projects! Sometimes all the pieces of the salvage/commission/upcycle jigsaw come together perfectly and these two projects are examples of that!
The first is a curved bench which was commissioned by friends who were building a barn conversion with a curved wall in their hallway. The bench needed to follow the curve of the wall with two layers of shoe storage beneath the seat. I used solid Beech (hardwood) for the legs and framework from old school tables and softwood donated by a friend, which were originally shelves in his garage.
The finished result was painted with Farrow and Ball paint with the seat and shelves oiled. The project challenged both my patience and my practical skills to the limit, but now is something I am very proud of and that my customers love!
My second ‘all-time favourite’ project, was commissioned by a local couple in my hometown of Pershore to build a large desk/storage unit in their beautiful newly built conservatory. I was very lucky to meet customers who embraced the idea of upcycling and re-use!
The design was very roughly ‘mocked-up’ in my workshop and I must have done a good job as they have commissioned four other pieces to finish the look in their conservatory! This included two more tables, a third console table which I turned into a home for Stick Insects and a Gecko, and converting an aquarium into a home for their Guinea Pigs!
The two main parts of the project were both destined for landfill. Firstly, the drawers were donated by a local couple who found me via my website. The second, 10ft of solid Oak, ironically, came from the school that I was made redundant from! The school was refurbishing their gym changing rooms and I was called in to salvage some of the 50s/60s fittings. I arrived at the school just in time, having to climb into the demolishers skip to rescue rows of beautiful old brass hooks!
The project was a mammoth task but, luckily, the customers were super happy with the end result, which has to be my end goal! Plus, having tweeted images of the project, it was even picked up by Farrow and Ball, who featured it in a promotional tweet on their account, which made me very proud of it!
What would be your biggest piece of advice for someone first starting out?
My advice to anyone thinking of starting their own business would have to be to research, research and research some more! Speak to experienced business people who’ve ‘been there and done it’ if you can, aim to be ‘UNIQ’ and original, always aim for the highest standards in your work and service and finally, network with like-minded people which is where social media can play a big part with the likes of #PrelovedHour, #UpcycledHour and local twitter ‘hours’ like #WorcestershireHour and #BrumHour.
Finally, what is the best thing about upcycling furniture?
The very best thing about upcycling furniture for me, apart from doing my bit for the environment, has to be the creativity in every aspect of producing a finished product. Having spent my career teaching creativity and innovation to students, I now spend my days letting my own creativity run free!