For this week’s Guest Blog we caught up with fellow Remade in Britain retailer, Donna Walker Design at the Great Home Hack. An advocate for upcycling and the Fine Arts, Donna creates lighting accessories from vintage homewares! Combining traditional craftsmanship with modern trends, Donna develops themes of memory through her upcycled pieces and brings them right up to date. This is a fascinating blog for those who are enthusiastic about reusing and recycling furniture destined for landfill, about embracing past treasures and imagining the journies they have been through!



 



What does upcycling mean to you?

For me upcycling is about more than just the environmental concerns which surround consumerism and responsible design. It's obvious that designers need to be more aware of the environmental impact of creating more and more new products for the market; which inevitably use our planets valuable resources and will most likely end up in landfill in a relatively short space of time. Of course all these things are something which drives the world of upcycling, but I am also interested in the history and lives of objects that already exist. Upcycling for me is also about the history and stories embedded in the objects we have in society.

Looking at the original craftsmanship in objects which years ago would have been made by hand rather than by machinery, a skill we are all too readily loosing. Some objects which are thrown away to landfill may have lived for longer than you or I. They have lived alongside people acting as 'containers of memories,' being part of family life; living through times that we may learn about though books or films. Relics of our history so to speak.  


   Upcycled Vintage Furniture   Donna Walker

Photo Credit to Giovanna del Sarto


Talk us through your style, range and designs….

My style reflects my ideas surrounding upcycling. The range which I currently have on sale at Remade in Britain are the Skeleton Lampshade range. Existing lampshades that are stripped back to their original framework, and rather than covering this in fabric and hiding the 'skeleton' of the piece, they are left naked with a simple powder coated finish.

Intended to be used with special bulbs which do not dazzle your eyes, it makes the need for a fabric covering defunct.  Without this fabric covering, you are able to see the original craftsmanship in the framework, something not usually celebrated, but an aspect which is entirely functional.

 

Skeleton Lamp Shades


My other ranges which I make to order. For example, 'Window Series' repurposes old chairs and tables, all pieces are stripped back and hand painted except for one small component which is left original, making a feature of the scratches and dents, revealing it’s history and story.


Painted Vintage Furniture


I then upholster the seats of the vintage chairs in a matching fabric to the paintwork. This is so the ‘naked’ original component contrasts to the paintwork, creating a window into the objects history. I'm a firm believer that these scratches and imperfections are part of the piece of furniture’s life and should therefore be cherished. Bold, block colours are a signature style within my work, and I do adapt these colours for specific commissions. I aim to make the defunct and unloved, fit into today’s tastes and fashions. 

 

Take us through a usual day in your studio…

There is never a 'usual' day in the studio, each day is different which is why I love upcycling so much!

I share my studio with 3 other creatives, which is a great environment for discussing ideas, trying out designs and getting feedback. It really is massively inspiring being surrounded by other creative people with different passions and skills. We all get on really well and so spend time together for lunch etc.

I try to do all my admin work at home as it's a much cleaner environment, but when I have orders or want to play around with new ideas I spend my time at the studio.


Vintage Lampshade Chandelier   Handmade Vintage Skeleton Lampshade   Handmade Vintage Lamp Shade


Why should people shop for upcycled and repurposed goods?

As mentioned before, there are the environmental impacts to be considered. I also personally feel that the idea of owning something which has had a life of its own before you own it is fascinating.

Imagine owning something which has lived through a World War, a revolution or even been within your own family for a long time. It takes on a whole new meaning, and the fact that you now own it gives you a chance to add to the pieces history, to mould its future, to be part of a story.

By upcycling objects, designers are giving these pieces a chance to continue their lives whilst also avoiding landfill.


Retro Vintage Sideboard   Upholstered Vintage Chairs


How did you get into upcycling, did you train professionally?

I did my degree in art and design interdisciplinary at Leeds College of Art and Design which is where I first got into upcycling. I was working on projects surrounding memory, history, personal stories and the home, and I turned my hand to furniture and upcycling in order to fulfill the ideas I was exploring.

I enjoyed it so much, and got so much from producing something which for me was a kind of conceptual art I suppose, but also a functional item that people could live with, that I decided to specialise in furniture making and upholstery. Since leaving university I set up my own design business concentrating on these ideas.

 

What do you find your biggest challenge in running your own business?

There are many massive challenges in running your own business! As an independent designer maker it is extremely hard to make enough money to live on purely through the designs you make.

Therefore I have to supplement this with doing other freelance design work, working with communities and schools, as well as in the corporate world. I currently run two different companies, Donna Walker Design, Traces London (an immersive events company), and work freelance for some private clients in the city.

Juggling all these things can be really stressful, and sometimes you have to turn down jobs that you love because you are already promised to another job, or because another one pays more money.

Then you've got tasks such as admin work, tax returns, website maintenance, social media etc. It's a lot for just one person to do, and I regularly work 7 days a week.

Another challenge for me is other designers and companies replicating my work, unfortunately I have had my designs replicated by at least 5 other big design shops to date. My designs have been replicated almost identically, but have made the products from new rather than upcycling existing pieces which avoids the original concept with is rather frustrating! An ethical message into just another mass produced object destined for landfill.

But, all of these challenges are not enough to make you want to pack it all in. The thrill and excitement of working for yourself, doing something you love, will always be more rewarding and satisfying than the negatives. It's hard work, but it's totally worth it! 


Running a Business

Photo Credit to Giovanna del Sarto


Do you have any exciting plans for the future?

I am currently busy preparing the next Traces Exhibition which we hope will be our biggest to date. I founded Traces back in 2011 with Talulah Mason with the idea of creating an environment in which myself and others could exhibit their work outside of the white cube gallery, and it takes on many of my interests from upcycling, and puts them back into another format. Traces is a collective of individuals ranging from architects to designers and curators. It invites contemporary artists and designers to work with them re-imagining old spaces through limited time frame interventions. The Traces website contains developing information regarding both upcoming and previous events.


Vintage Hats   Artist Collective - Traces   Art Installation

Photo Credit to Giovanna del Sarto


Traces is about narrative. More specifically, Traces is about the practice of using buildings to tell their history through the stories of those who lived and worked in them, through objects. Objects are more resonant than language, as they allow for gaps and slippage in their interpretation. Buildings fall out of favour, their uses change and often their past becomes hidden by their own contemporary obscurity.  In the process of researching the architectural heritage of a building and its relationship to the local environment, these lost spaces can be reinvigorated. Traces, however, adds another level to this by re-imagining a specific historical duration through the lens of contemporary designers. The function is not historical recreation nor simple pastiche, but of bringing a former life of a building into the contemporary design arena through an immersive interactive experience for both participants and audience. This experience combines historical facts with fictitious objects and stories that interweave to produce the exhibition. Have you ever stood in a museum and longed to make contact with those stories, by touching the objects so tantalisingly close behind the glass?  Or wandered through a dilapidated and empty house, wishing you could see it as the last inhabitants left it?


Painstakingly researched, ‘Traces,’ is a combination of  theatrical design, history, and the very latest gorgeous and evocative art and design, which maps and elaborates on the stories of the actual former inhabitants of the building, bringing it back to life with smells, tastes, touches and sounds of an age gone by. The audience are invited to come along and discover these histories for themselves; wandering through the rooms left as if only a moment before, and unpicking their secrets.  Interacting with the specially commissioned and selected art and design pieces to unravel clues about the building and its inhabitants., whilst also having the opportunity of buying their favourite ones at the end of the show.


Traces an Artist Collective   Contemporary Art Exhibition   Traces London

Photo Credit to Giovanna del Sarto



 

We would like to thank Donna for a truly inspirational blog, if you’ve loved hearing about Donna’s work why not take a peak at her online shop? Filled with glorious upcycled lighting accessories, handmade from vintage accessories.


Vintage Lamp Shade   Recycled Lighting Accessories   Table Lamp Accessories


      


      


If you are interested in guest blogging at Remade in Britain, please do get in touch we would love to hear from you! Send you enquiry to info@remadeinbritain.com