Out & Out Insider: Paula Owen on Upcycled Furniture

Out & Out Insider: Paula Owen on Upcycled Furniture

For this month’s Out & Out Insider, I had the great pleasure of speaking to environmental and sustainability specialist Dr Paula Owen, self-confessed ‘lapsed climate scientist’, lover of upcycled furniture and vintage design.

Paula’s biography makes for incredibly impressive reading – amongst many other achievements, she has a PhD in Climate Chemistry from Oxford University, has authored a number of highly regarded publications on energy, and led the award-winning project to create the UK government’s first official carbon calculator for the domestic sector, the ‘Act on CO2 Calculator’. Paula has also had the enviable task of working with Wayne Hemingway as sustainability curator on his Vintage Festivals and regularly blogs about her love of vintage.

Driven by her passion for showing people that ‘living more sustainably can be fun, rewarding, money-saving and satisfying’, Paula has dedicated most of her career to communicating eco issues to the public and now runs a boutique environmental consultancy and educational games social enterprise (see the eco action games® app, below). She works across the private sector, with government departments, charities and not for profit organisations on various approaches to reducing their resource use, and helps them understand how they can educate their staff and engage the public on these issues.

So, with Paula’s expert, original and inspiring approach to being eco, allied with her love of interior design, I was fascinated to find out what insider tips she had to offer...

What is the first piece of furniture you bought and why?

It was a wooden lattice work Mexican tequila bar that I saw at a show, just before my first home purchase went through. I didn’t buy at the show as I was still uncertain the sale would go through, but some weeks later when it had, I was down in Brighton and happened upon the shop that sold them.  It was also reduced as it was a display piece, so it was a double bonus. I bought it there and then, although I had nowhere to put it as my actual house completion didn’t happen for a while afterwards. Much tequila has been consumed from that bar over the years.

What is your most treasured piece?

Gosh hard to say as I have quite a few. One of my most cherished is an original 1950s Hygena kitchen unit (below).  I spotted it in my local Oxfam furniture store and it was a bit of a wreck. Its glass had been replaced by cardboard and it was very grimy. But I bought it and got it home, then started the process of restoration. I managed to source some suitable glass replacements for the sliding doors, took off all the metal handles and cleaned them up. Rubbed it down completely and bought some lovely eggshell paints in duck egg blue and cream – now it is a fabulous piece and has pride of place in my kitchen. And the best bit, it only cost £60!

What is your top tip for furniture care?

For wooden furniture, don’t over clean - just use some beeswax every now and again.

What advice do you have for anyone who loves designer furniture but also has an eco conscience?

There is no problem buying good designer pieces, as they will last a lifetime and give you years of joy. It's much better than buying cheap and flimsy mass-produced pieces (that everyone else has) every couple of years and chucking the old stuff in landfill.

What would you say is your primary furniture style or interior design inspiration for your own home?

I guess it is a bit of a smorgasbord of art deco, 1950s and smatterings of the 1970s – some could say ‘confused’, I would say quirky. 

Do you have a favourite piece on O&OO, if so, what makes it stand out? 

I love the District Eight Design 5 Tier Shelving Unit (below) for its chunky industrial look and the fact it is made of reclaimed wood and metal from Japanese looms – it would look great in an alcove in my dining room.  

Do you have some tips for conserving energy in the home?

  • Make sure you have proper insulation in your walls, loft, floors and draught-proof windows, doors and fireplaces (if not in use of course!)
  • Don’t have your thermostat on any higher than 21C, any higher and it begins to get unhealthy as bugs can thrive. If you feel chilly put a pullie on instead!
  • If you have any outside space, use that to dry clothes, and not a tumble drier. It takes four times the energy (and money) to dry your clothes than to wash them
  • Swap deep baths for short showers of no more than 4 minutes. It saves money on your hot water bills and your water meter if you are on one
  • Don’t overfill the kettle if you are making a brew for one – it saves time, energy, water and money if you just fill it for one cup

What are you working on at the moment that might be of interest to our readers?

I’m working on a new idea that looks to fun and games to help educate and inspire people to be more eco friendly in their everyday lives. We use social interaction, traditional games and playfulness – across all ages, not just children, after all we are mostly all big kids ourselves – to get resource saving (and money saving) messages across. We work with schools, old age day care centres, corporates, universities and community groups. We host ‘pop up’ eco action playgrounds, where people immerse themselves in giant games, such as Twister and Snakes and Ladders, but the idea is they have been re-imagined (see eco action trumps®, above) to contain lots of information and messaging regarding easy things people can do in their work and home lives to be a little less wasteful and more eco conscious.

Visit the website ecoactiongames.org.uk for more information and to view the games.

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