Upcycle Your Way to a Stylishly Sustainable Garden in 2021

‘Upcycling’ is a popular trend that combines two major modern preoccupations – maximising use in order to minimise waste, while also striving for better than you already have. You can think of it as a form of creative recycling.

For many people, upcycling is a fun, craft-oriented hobby where they challenge themselves to make unwanted items that would otherwise end up in the bin (or the recycling plant) useful again. For others, it’s a full-time profession.

They don’t always go under the name, but the garden furniture trade has more than its fair share of creative, innovative upcyclers producing beautiful products that you may well have admired in your local garden centre.

These are the garden furniture makers who, for example, eschew new timber for reclaimed wood, doing their bit to reduce demand for logging. They are the artisans who focus their time and energy on taking old, tired pieces and revamping them into something vibrant, new and exciting.

They are the collectors who scour international markets for interesting and overlooked items that they can repurpose as a piece of garden decor.

Reclaimed and recycled garden furniture therefore serves two purposes. On the one hand, it’s a great way to make a sustainable choice when buying new items for your garden. On the other, ‘upcycled’ products offer a great way to source something truly original and unique for your garden, providing a refreshing alternative to mass-produced furniture.

Here are three great options for adding upcycled chic to your outdoor spaces in 2021.

Reclaimed teak garden furniture

Reclaimed teak has to rank as king of garden upcycling. Teak is a tropical hardwood that is very popular as garden furniture material because it is incredibly strong, hard wearing and water resistant.

That means that a teak garden table or chair is going to outlast furniture made from virtually any other timber, no matter how long it is left outside for or what the weather conditions are.

Unfortunately, teak’s amazing natural properties have led to considerable deforestation in its natural rainforest habitats. Today, most teak used for commercial purposes is sourced from carefully controlled plantations, with tight certification and regulatory systems to discourage illicit trade in timber cut down in rainforests. But still, illegal logging is far from a problem consigned to the past.

Another way to discourage the trade in ‘natural’ teak is using reclaimed timber. Across the Indian sub-continent and south-east Asia, teak was in the past prized as a building material, and used extensively in construction. As we have said, teak is an incredibly durable and long lasting wood. When old buildings with teak frames, floorboards, doors and so on get pulled down, that leaves a lot of old but still perfectly serviceable timber lying around.

The availability of all this old teak in parts of south and south east Asia in particular has inspired a thriving market among artisan furniture makers who now import the wood to make products from. For garden furniture, it really is the best of both worlds – beautiful, tough, long-lasting wood to make beautiful furniture with, without the need for any trees to be chopped down.

Recycled Kadai fire bowls

Kadais are traditional Indian open fire cooking stands made from cast iron. They serve as a super versatile BBQ+, allowing, with the right accessories, for a wide range of cooking styles apart from the standard charcoal grill, and also doubling up as a convenient place to light a good old fashioned fire.

While cast iron is the traditional material used to make Kadai bowls, recycled steel from old oil drums serves as an equally good substitute. As well as making for an excellent way to put old waste materials to good use, recycled Kadai bowls also make for an attractive centrepiece in any garden.

Upcycled accessories

Finally, another great way to add a more sustainable touch to your garden is to limit yourself to upcycled accessories only. In truth, this is hardly placing any limitation on your decorative plans at all. There are so many fantastic, high-quality recycled and upcycled items available these days, and a lot of the time you will be getting something just that little bit out of the ordinary that adds character to your outdoor spaces.

For example, we love these authentic wooden brick moulds, sourced from India and genuinely used to bake bricks in a former life. With a bit of a sand down and a lick of varnish, they are now available as a brilliantly rustic storage holder for your garden dining table – what better place to put candles, cutlery, condiments, or anything else you can think of?

In addition, these patterned Chapati boards, handmade from reclaimed wood, could once have been part of a beam or floor in a building somewhere on the Indian subcontinent, but now serve as a unique ornament holder for your home or garden.