Design Driven Column: Shining a light on upcycling.

A version of this column ran in Saturday’s Arts Section, Salon in the Telegraph Journal, May 3rd, 2014.


Lately I’ve spent a lot of time searching the internet for concepts and ideas having to do with upcycling. As with any subject of topical interest, when it comes to sussing out source material on the web, the possibilities are all but endless. Although my search was limited to the use of barn board, I couldn’t help but be struck by the many upcycling options out there, in particular around the subject of lamps, light shades in particular.

What is the difference between upcycled and recycled? The verb ‘upcycle’ means to reuse discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original. Recycle, on the other hand, usually involves breaking down the object (or material) to create a new product from used materials.

What fascinated me about the upcycled light shades was how professional they looked, principally because of their emphasis on simplicity. Many of them could have easily passed muster and earned a place on the product lists of any of the décor suppliers I use.

So, for those of you who are looking to light up your lives with a spring DIY exercise, here are my five favourites (four of the five come with instructions):

1. Pendant shades made out of straws and pipe cleaners. Your first reaction might be, ‘Where are we, back in Kindergarten’? but the simplicity of these diamond-shaped pendants made from pipe cleaners placed inside straws, then sprayed gold then arranged like a cage around the light bulb, look very similar to lights designed by Spica, made from brass-plated steel and costing close to $800. The cost of the DIY, on the other hand, is approximately $20. To find instructions visit: and search “DIY pendant straws.”


2. I’m never been much of a fan of fake medallion ceiling plates. Maybe it comes from living in Saint John where there are so many beautiful original ones available. But then I stumbled upon a simple, minimalist DIY ceiling medallion on a blog called ‘The Brick House.’ All you need is a birch plywood circle and a few supplies, such as a drill, pencil and tape. For instructions on how to make yours, visit: and search “Ceiling Medallion.”


3. I first came across the DIY coffee filter lampshade when a client announced she was going to make one. I was skeptical but the results were beautiful. She took 2,000 coffee filters and glue-gunned them onto a paper lantern. The results are genuinely striking; this dramatic lamp is now a source of warm light over their dining room table. The best instructions I can find on this is a nine-minute tutorial on Youtube: search ‘DIY Floral Chandelier/Pendant by thatgirlkathy.’

NIKON D700, AF 85mm f/1.4G f/2.5, 1/800, ISO 800, 85mm

4. The most inspiring DIY chandelier – and, frankly, the impetus for this column – is the Chiquita Chandelier. Dutch Designer Anneke Jakobs took 29 used Chiquita Banana boxes and 300 paper fasteners and created a three-tiered piece of art. The best part of this shade is the fact that Jakobs released open source plans so you can create one too. Visit: and search ‘Chiquita Chandelier.’


5. Although there are no instructions that I can source on line, the Clothespin sculpture by Ariel Rose in Glasgow, Scotland, is a true thing of beauty. Created from five tiers of round circles of clothespins, this structure requires high ceilings to display the beauty of these otherwise utilitarian laundry tools. You can see this DIY sculpture on Rose’s blog: search: Clothespin Sculpture



Lighting Collage.jpg