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Turning Waste Furniture into New Furniture

11 May 2021

Redefining practices and changing our taught behaviours, is hard yet crucial for growth and progress. In this, based on the interior architectural and furniture design field I navigate in, sustainable development and circularity is key and is applicable in many ways.  

Written by Daniel Svahn


For me, working in the interior architectural and furniture design field, it is very much about material reuse and upcycling of the old to create the new. Because today, more than ever, it is absurd how much fine, already extracted and produced material is being wasted after its first lifecycle instead of being put into new use. And that’s all because of the idea, that it is much cheaper and easier. This needs to fundamentally change and I believe progressive and aspiring designers and architects for the future are given advocates for this.


Material waste from the public sector that even the professional reconditioning companies cannot deal with to give new life i.e. my material to work with and upcycle from.
© Photo: Daniel Svahn Studio

My passion and urge to work with these issues grew stronger in me during my now finished MFA studies in interior architecture and furniture design at Konstfack - University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm. A defining time for the further development of my creative practice and for how I want to act as a conscious creative for the future. Our future. A future liberated from the current linear system of making, using, and wasting and instead embracing circularity. What would that look like in our field and how can I, we, through this develop new ideas, products, systems, and services that may help lay ground for a new design paradigm and new aesthetics for future circular furniture and interior design? 


Putting my theories and ambitions to practice has so far generated two internationally acclaimed projects, The New Goodies but Oldies and my thesis project A New Paradigm. Both dealing with the artistic reuse and upcycling of materials, mostly focusing on furniture from the public sector. These materials are often deemed as waste after their first lifecycle and are for the reconditioning companies hard to deal with. From this material waste, I create new characters, functions and products that tell something more and beyond what the original intent of the material was. A way for me to approach a new type of industry, add new value to material and, with that, prolong the lifecycle of it indefinitely.   


Discarded, oddly shaped, table tops I was assigned by the municipality of Nacka to save from being wasted. The brief: make three new seating units for the city hall that represent different situations that can occur during a workday. 
© Illustration: Daniel Svahn Studio

The New Goodies but Oldies collection, consisting of the three new seating units made from the old table tops, now reinstated to the Nacka municipality city hall to live a new life and with new purpose. © Photo: Daniel Svahn Studio

Going through this process in these pandemic times, is both tough and enthusing at the same time. On one hand, it is quite hard to find employment or commissions within the design and interior architectural field right now, with the industry being somewhat on hold. On the other hand, we have become more awakened to how fast things can take a turn for the worse but also how quick we collectively can rise to the challenges before us and meet the hardships. Be that the pandemic or climate change and the things we need to do together to steer things in the right direction. 


And things are happening now, particularly in Sweden, where the shift towards circular systems and economy is imminent by word from the government. With this, the industry will follow; already a handful of companies and organisations leading the way by restructuring their business to keep up with new demands and an economic growth that does not cost the earth. That is where the real challenge lies: how to break away from the outdated ways of doing things and take a leap into a new world with both feet.


Schematic step-by-step illustration depicting how I used wasted material in my MFA project to create my new designs and pieces. 
© Illustration: Daniel Svahn Studio

The full and finished ensemble of ‘A New Paradigm’ project, all made from waste material and upcycled into new products and spatial objects.
© Photo: Sanna Lindberg

In this transition I urge designers, architects and other creatives to become even more engaged in larger systems and in broader contexts. We need to work cross-disciplinary with other fields of competences to truly generate change and I genuinely think this is a way for us to work in the future. This all coupled with a more widespread emphasis on reusing and upcycling materials and products instead of designing, manufacturing, or buying new. The circular era is here and that requires a complete shift in systems, ambitions, and paradigms. With that said, I find it so extremely exciting to live and act in a time where the only way forward is to move in circles.

Turning Waste Furniture into New Furniture
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