Upcycled furniture is so-called, either because it’s built from waste materials, or because the furniture itself has been repaired and revived. In this post, we explore the former definition – specifically, reclaimed wood furniture.
Reclaimed or ‘salvaged’ wood may have already led one life as something else; the walls of a barn, a wooden pallet, an outdoor chair or a railway sleeper. Some designers reclaim waste offcuts from factories that manufacture wood products, while others make use of fallen trees and branches, collected from the forest floor.
A multitude of makers are selling furniture made from repurposed wood (an online search will offer up cable spool tables galore), but there is much more to the process than meets the eye. Using recycled wood rather than virgin wood can be a more eco friendly option, but before being reused, old wood has to be dried out, checked for infestations and be free of toxic chemicals that might have been added in its previous life.
With their creative approach to lengthening the life of aged, forgotten and ‘imperfect’ wood, here are some of the leading artists, makers and designers, who have mastered the art of reclaimed wood furniture.
Canal Gate Table
Jan Hendzel Studio, UK
Jan Hendzel is a London designer who specialises in working with reclaimed and British timber. Canal Gate Table is crafted from reclaimed oak that was salvaged from a lock gate in the Avon and Kennet canal. As the wood was saturated with canal water, it had to be dried out for 14 months before being kiln dried. The whole project took 18 months to complete.
Kieran Ball, Australia
Melbourne-based industrial designer Kieran Ball created this elegant lounger from the oak slats of locally sourced wine barrels. Evidence of its previous life linger on the dark edges of the slats which were long soaked in wine. The design won a Gold Award in 2010 from the Design Institute of Australia.
Piet Hein Eek, Netherlands
Piet Hein Eek, is one of the pioneers of reclaimed wood furniture. Studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven in 1989, he became renowned for using scrap materials which celebrated imperfection over uniformity. His work was brought to international attention in Milan in 1993 by Droog.
All of Piet Hein Eek’s collections are manufactured in a former Philips factory in Eindhoven. The building has evolved into a cultural centre, housing a workshop, restaurant, art gallery, hairdressers and since 2020, a hotel. Scrap wood and other salvaged materials still form a key part of Piet Hein Eek’s signature aesthetic. His collection also includes a series of upcycled lighting made from vintage lamp shades. The Classic Cabinet in Scrapwood above is an edition held by Rossana Orlandi gallery in Milan.
greg klassen, USA
Taking inspiration from the trees, rivers and lakes from his surroundings in the Pacific Northwest, Greg Klassen makes handmade wooden tables using jagged edge pieces from discarded or rotting trees sourced from construction sites.
The River Series combines wood with hand cut glass pieces, so that the tables appear to have meandering rivers and lakes running through them.
What Lies Beneath collection
Jan Hendzel Studio, UK
Jan Hendzel‘s furniture collection What Lies Beneath is made from reclaimed timbers collected around London. The collection was launched at Design Junction at London Design Week 2017.
The Harrington wardrobe and side cabinet boast intricate abstract decorative inlay and marquetry, resulting in contrasting textures and woodgrains. They also feature hexagonal profiled legs, mitred and finger jointed carcasses, hand carved drawer fronts, custom made knife hinges and hidden handles.
Ymer&malta / Benjamin Graindorge, France
Conceived by French artist Benjamin Graindorge and Ymer & Malta, fallenTree (2011) is a series of 12 limited edition oak benches. Carved oak trees are paired with a slab of glass that creates a sense of weightlessness. The benches have been exhibited in museums globally with fallenTree 5/12 acquired by Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.
Series 45 furniture collection
Daniel Becker Studio, germany
Series 45 is a collection of reclaimed wood furniture by Berlin-based Daniel Becker Studio, made exclusively from used pallet wood. Inspiration for the design came from the decoration found on wooden houses, doors and panelling, popular in northern and eastern Europe for centuries.
The pallet wood was disassembled and arranged in geometric patterns that are 45 and 90 degrees to each other, resulting in a refined finish.
Viewport studio, UK/SINGAPORE
Viewport Studio created the award-winning Essential furniture collection, a series of coffee tables and side tables made from wood offcuts. These uneven pieces would usually be perceived as not having the optimum shape, size and finish. As a result, they’d be rejected by the constructed industry.
The tables were sourced, developed, and manufactured from discarded timber within a 10 mile radius of its production location. A key feature of the design are the slotted joints which allow the pieces to simply slot together, which minimises waste.
Talking to Dezeen, they say “Rather than imposing a predetermined form onto the material, this process of form-giving results in a considered design that removes material that is unnecessary to perform the piece’s intended function.”
Joining Bottles stool
Micaella Pedros, uk
RCA graduate Micaella Pedros created a method for joining pieces of scrap wood together by heating plastic drinks bottles to create one of a kind furniture. Her aim was to utilise materials that were widely available, using an adaptable technique that could be taught to individuals and communities. Read more about it here.
DecksPad™ coffee table
Focused are a Dutch design studio specialising in ‘skateboard woodworks’. Skateboards are traditionally made with seven ply – seven layers of Canadian maple wood veneer, chosen for its strength and light weight. Focused collects recycled skate decks from local skate stores and factories around Europe and turns them into homeware.
For this DecksPad™ coffee table, the top front and back panel are made from 48-90 salvaged skateboard decks. The remaining is constructed from sustainably sourced wood.
Bolster Furniture, USA
Jamieson Sellers is a furniture maker and founder of Bolster Furniture, based in Portland, Oregan. This sideboard is made from urban salvaged black walnut, reclaimed pallet wood and FSC Western Maple. Its mitred casework (joined with a mitre joint) is made up of a variety of woods which lends to a beautiful patterned appearance.
Maarten Baas, netherlands
Maarten Baas is a prolific and influential Dutch designer whose works can be found in major museum collections around the world. His Treasure furniture range was designed in 2005. Fifty-eight dining chairs and twenty-eight armchairs were constructed from powder-coated waste MDF offcuts, sourced from a furniture factory.
He says, “With Treasure, I used my childhood method of building huts and applied it into designing a chair: with a hammer, nails and found boards. When the boards were too long or short, I improvised, resulting in a chair with naïve spontaneity.”
New York designer Daniel Michalik has a specialist interest in overlooked materials and has recently been working on designs made from recycled cork. Cork is considered a sustainable material as it not only doesn’t require pesticides or irrigation, the cork tree is harvested by stripping the bark away. As the tree isn’t chopped down, the tree can stay alive for centuries regenerating bark, which after the first 25 years, is harvested every 9 years.
This curvaceous Cortiça Chaise Longue made from recycled cork gently rocks back and forth, creating a floating sensation. It can be made to order here.
Interested to see more eco furniture designs? Take a look at 13 of the wildest upcycled chairs made from repurposed materials and 10 sustainable furniture brands in the UK and Europe