There are many ways to seek out treasures. Mudlarking or beachcombing. Foraging or thrifting. Wading through antique markets or simply watching the sidewalk below your feet.
Thinking back to my own childhood I can remember the sense of joy in finding a lost coin or unearthing a small car left behind in the sandbox. Growing older, I felt the same spark when I roamed through flea markets, in search of nothing in particular, but overjoyed in finding a silk scarf I never knew I needed. One that is still tucked away in my drawer, by the way. The perfect shade of green sea glass to add to your collection, a strong two-pronged stick formed into a slingshot, well-worn bell-bottoms, pebbles, lace or vases. We’ve all felt the joy, the thrill, the curiosity of finding something we wish to cherish as our own.
How does the old saying go? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure…
What we would like to explore through today’s edit, is the special kind of magic that happens when artists and designers use their own found treasures to recreate new products for us to love.
Some, like Studio Kakao, La Gadoue, Emma Cassie or Hul le Kes are upcycling discarded products to create a new form.
Then there are those repurposing discarded objects. Liz Willis, for example, who dutifully collects the bits and bobs thrown away years ago to create modern, functional jewellery. Or Corrie Williamson who creates beautiful, floating mobiles from retired musical instruments.
Kirstie van Noort, Katie Rose and Aurore Piette, on the other hand, are all experimenting with raw materials to rethink traditional manufacturing processes.
All of these designers are creatively rethinking, reusing, repurposing and remodeling materials in order to create products with a longer life cycle — handmade objects, to be more precise, to last a lifetime.
We are completely in awe of their innovative approaches to common products, and lucky for you, many of them are holding workshops and courses so that you too can learn more about their processes, their inspiration and their craft.
Read on to learn more about 9 European artisans using waste, discarded materials and natural resources to create functional designs to last a lifetime.
“Every good project starts in the parents garage,” say the creative minds behind Prague-based Studio Kakao. Working out of their mother’s garage, brother and sister have found a new and exciting way to use one of the most cherished Czech artistic commodities. Of course we are talking about glass. But though the glass industry is strong in the Czech Republic, and local glass blowers are lauded around the world for their skills, Studio Kakao is taking a new approach. Rather than blowing new glass for their designs, they are scouring antique markets and glass factory discards for the perfect vintage and second-hand pieces. They then give their salvaged glass, usually lamps, a new life. As their motto says, “The best things already exist. Just look around.” Then, working together, they file and shape the glass and solder a custom-made metal base to fit just so. The result is a perfectly elevated and elegant vase. “My main goal is to offer contemporary and unique designs that will not only add value to the aesthetics of your space but will prolong the life of traditional materials,” says founder Monika Novakova.
Growing up in a village near Dijon, Emma Cassi has memories of playing in her grandfather’s sawmill and her dad’s metal scrap yard. She searched for treasures in the piles of crushed cars, and time-traveled in a centuries-old horse carriage. Surrounded by forests and mountains, she was a child of nature. She eventually went to art college and learned to express her creativity through multiple practices and mixed media. She started out as a jewelry designer and interior stylist, but subsequently began experimenting with fiber art through embroidery and weaving, then broadened her interests to include natural dyes and photography. After moving to the English countryside, Emma’s passion went in a different direction. “I spent a year learning herbalism and aromatherapy,” she says. Today she uses a coil technique to shape recycled and vintage French linen, velvets and silks into bowls, pots and baskets. All are hand-dyed with fruits, flowers and plants from her garden, and spices from her kitchen.
MANIFESTO by Katie Rose
Working from her garden studio in South Glasgow, Katie Rose Johnston crafts small-batch, sculptural ceramics that are influenced by archaeology, the natural sciences and the raw, windswept landscape of her birthplace, Shetland. “Mudlarking for ancient artefacts, foraging and crafting from nature start as material research in my practice,” she says, “as well as experimentation with form, colour and texture.” Katie’s childhood adventures led to what she now calls her “miniature museum” of micro-sculptures. In her own words, “For as long as I can remember, my mother has taken me hunting for treasures washed up in the silt of old middens. One year she found handmade roman tiles and terra-cotta pottery rims. These were precious remnants of worlds, cultures and their respective inhabitants which had long since passed and were the first conscious experience I had with the properties of clay.” Recently, she has experimented with homemade paper clay, made from 100-percent reclaimed terra-cotta clay and paper scraps. Her tiny curiosities nestle inside the resulting reef-shaped sculpture.
Atelier La Gadoue
Looking toward natural and sustainable materials, Eloise Maes and Audrey Werthie of Atelier La Gadoue specialize in design and prototyping for ceramics and textile projects. “Our specificity is our in-depth knowledge of materials, our wish to extend the possibilities of creation by twisting traditional techniques,” say the designers. We are especially intrigued by their Up Grades project that tackles the issue of textile waste. “By playing with cuts and assembly, we are trying to optimize the reuse of second-hand materials to make new textiles.” Their collection of curtains, quilts and pillows, for example, are born from discarded men’s shirts from the textile sorting centers of Flanders. “As fast-consumption is being questioned and slowly tries to evolve towards more sustainability, it still leaves behind tons of unwanted textile products. We take up this challenge to put these materials back in the loop. Upcycling means we do minimal intervention on textile “waste” to make it something more valuable. By partnering with local textile industries, we are looking for solutions to optimize this process and offer new applications for these new textiles.” Garments are dismantled and cut into rectangular pieces, then assembled as puzzle pieces to form new surfaces. The uniqueness of the collection lies in the carefully chosen color ranges.
They call her artisane de la mer, or craftswoman of the sea. Aurore Piette is a designer whose practice draws a new vision of making, establishing rituals where “nature as a manufacturer replaces the manufactured nature.” Aurore felt the necessity to challenge the current way of production and consumption by understanding the path a product goes through and to question from what and from whom? By placing handcrafted molds attached with ropes at low tide, Aurore allows nature to form her pieces within the containers. Dried with the sea and the wind, the pieces are then fired in the ancestral ceramic kiln. The objects presented are the result of the slow modelling of the sea and tell the story of the uniqueness of the coast of Meschers-sur-Gironde. “Here the nature becomes a metaphor of the maker,” she says. According to her wabi-sabi philosophy, fabrication should be passive, respectful and transparent. “I value discarded maritime sediments,” she says. It’s a sustainable vision of design that applies to diverse applications. Her Eco Ceramics, part of a Nature’s Whisper Show, highlight products made from revalued ocean matters from the French Atlantic coast.
Contemporary jeweler Liz Willis is inspired by the colors, contours and textures she sees in the environment around her while out running and walking. She uses gold and silver wire and hand-stitched silk threads to represent different aspects of the landscapes she passes through. But what we find truly special about Liz’s work is her delicate way of incorporating found objects collected from mudlarking expeditions along the River Thames. “I particularly like those objects that have been made by the hands of past generations, that have had a previous life and use, and that can be worked on by my hands to give them a new chapter in their history,” she says. Sifting through her mudlarked nail and silver brooches and earrings, you can enjoy reading through Liz’s personal thoughts and curiosities on the objects found. For the earrings pictured right she muses, “The little nails used here were handmade several hundred years ago in an era before mechanisation … They could have been used for boat building or for housing – who knows where these nails have been & the history they’ve seen! The shape they are is how they were found, & I form the silver to fit around the nail, then handstitch the two together with silk threads.”
Hul le Kes
A Hul le Kes garment might be the only clothing delivered with a registration number and its own passport. “A garment’s journey doesn’t need to end at one owner or function,” say the fashion brand’s founders, Sjaak and Sebastiaan. Why discard when you can recover or even re-share? “We believe in circularity, and that every garment has a story that should travel with its wearers.” Recently, for example, Hul le Kes and the Dutch Salvation Army joined forces for a better world by creating the Hul le Kes ReShared collection. “We have always been clear about our love for vintage and second hand products. The use of antique fabrics and material for the regular Hul le Kes collection represent our passion for transience. For the Hul le Kes ReShared collection we used discarded clothing and dyed it with waste of restaurants. We believe everything and everyone deserves a second, third or even fourth chance. To give such a chance to a garment, everyone should look beyond the surface to find the hidden beauty.” All of the clothing is dyed at their Recovery Studio, where your well loved T-shirt can be returned for a makeover when it fades or frays around the collar.
Corrie Williamson fills the nooks and crannies of her garden studio with precisely ordered collections of ash off-cuts from retired musical instruments, pieces of salvaged, blackened oak and bold, reclaimed metal shapes. “Ever since I was little I collect treasures from nature. When being outside I really enjoy treasure hunting in the forest, at the seashore, in little villages, in the mountains, at clay quarries and so on, to the great despair of my boyfriend who simply wants to make long hikes without too many stops.” The multidisciplinary designer crafts hanging mobiles composed of a balance of those materials, all constructed using traditional metal and woodworking techniques. Her background in jewelry design is evident in the contemporary, sculptural forms of the mobiles, which delicately sway in the breeze as easily as a gold hoop swings from the ear. One-of-a-kind mobiles and jewelry can be found on her website.
Kirstie van Noort
Kirstie van Noort is a Dutch designer, researcher, maker and storyteller. Her earthenware and porcelain projects are often derived from extensive fieldwork abroad. A few years ago, curious to know about the origin and production of china, Kirstie spent four weeks in Cornwall in the UK. “Here, large quantities of china clay are extracted every year,” she says. “During my stay I also learned that Cornwall played an important role in the Industrial Revolution, because of its soil being very rich in ore. Until the nineties, there were dozens of mines from which copper, tin and silver were extracted. But the prices of the materials dropped, and all mines were forced to close down. The result is a landscape that has been left with piles of raw materials that have been discarded by the industry.” The five objects in her Cornwall Collection, named after the places where the materials were found, reflect the five most important industries in this area, namely tin, copper, china clay, silver and lead. All of the objects are handmade from porcelain and colored with pigments extracted from the various natural resources. Kirstie’s newest work, “From sludge to tile”, is a series of pink tiles made from earthenware colored with natural iron sludge obtained from the water plant in Eindhoven. The waste-based OER tiles are a collaboration with Lotte de Raadt.