BY TOBY PORTER
If flat-pack instructions and wardrobes with even more complicated Swedish names are getting you down, there is a solution.
Homeless people at Deptford’s 999 Club have defied the risk of blackened thumbs and bruised egos by teaming up with top designers to make DIY chairs, tables and desks.
They have upcycled packing crates into furniture which will be displayed at the London Design Festival later this month.
Eight people who are staying at the 999 Club’s night shelter in Deptford or who have previously been homeless have each been paired with experienced designers to create a bespoke piece of furniture they can use in their own homes.
The items will be made entirely from donated recycled materials, including packaging crates built for the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum to protect travelling exhibits.
The completed pieces of furniture will feature in a display as part of the Exhibition Road Day of Design on Sunday, September 22, focusing on design solutions to climate change. Hosted by the V&A and its neighbouring institutions, the day will feature free, drop-in feast held by People’s Kitchen.
This will be staged on upcycled tables also created from the V&A’s exhibition packing crates.
For the upcycled furniture, each pair or small group is designing and making a piece which is functional, multi-purpose, portable and can be used when people move on from the 999 Club to a new, temporary accommodation, which is often sparsely furnished with items which can be in poor condition.
The pieces of furniture being made include a sewing table, writing bureau, high-backed chair with storage, bench with shelving, stackable storage for vinyl records and a bed.
While in some cases the crates have been taken apart to provide the materials, other designs have taken inspiration from the existing shapes and are incorporating them into the main structure, with modifications.
Dean, who became homeless following a relationship breakdown, is making a high-backed chair with integrated storage, using a reclaimed wardrobe door as the inspiration for his piece.
His mentor is furniture designer Ellen Svenningsen.
Dean said: “The type of properties we are being sent to view are small. I wanted something that would be a bit of a statement piece, but not take up too much space, and I want to use it for different functions.
As soon as I saw that wardrobe door, I got a vibe from it, like I needed to go in that direction. So I’ve made it the back of my chair. It designed itself.
“The fact that it is being showcased, I wanted the chair to look appealing but also have the practicalities around it,” he added.
Ellen said: “These crates would basically be waste. I have a background in set design, so any project that takes into consideration that we can reuse existing materials is something that we should be doing. I am also interested in meeting people. Dean’s idea is brave, it’s great.
He saw the door on our first day in the workshop and wanted to let the materials speak for themselves.”
Zoë Louizos, Sustainability Co-ordinator, V&A, said: “We are thrilled to have been able to have worked with the 999 Club and Lewisham College to launch this pilot project to make valuable use of our surplus materials.
“We are very much hoping that this becomes a showcase for the V&A’s commitment to creative solutions to waste, providing a platform to support a diverse community of designers and makers and for demonstrating design solutions to the environmental and social issues we currently face as a society.”
If successful, the 999 Club hopes to further develop this pilot furniture upcycling project after this display at the London Design Festival.
Tim Fallon, 999 Club chief executive, said: “This has been a fantastic opportunity to bring together expert furniture designer-makers with people who have experienced homelessness to co-create and make personal pieces of furniture which are multi-purpose and sustainable.
“We’re hugely grateful to all our partners, particularly the V&A and Lewisham College, who have enabled what was an ambitious idea to become an amazing reality. Not many people will have the chance to get their work displayed by a world-leading art and design institution, and we can’t wait to see the finished pieces.”
As Deptford neighbours of the 999 Club, Lewisham College has provided a large workshop for the designer-makers to use for the duration of the six-week project.
Asfa Sohail, Principal of Lewisham College, said: “I’m so pleased that we have been able to contribute to this project.
Lewisham College is a true community resource – not only are we providing teaching and training that are so needed in the area, but we reach out to local stakeholders to share our space and expertise whenever we can.
This is an exciting project which highlights the need for sustainable, re-purposed furniture and also provides the service users with some very useful skills.”