Built from scrap

Materials World magazine
3 Jul 2015

From building the exterior to furnishing the interior, Natalie Daniels looks at how recycled materials are becoming an inspiration for home design

Whether it’s plastics and paper or metals and glass, the impact that recycled materials can have on the home is huge. Upcycling materials has taken a leap forward in the housing industry and is inspiring homeowners to think eco-friendly. From designing whole houses to refilling your home with used materials, recycling and remaking is proving a popular choice. This means many are working towards a greener future and finding alternative, bespoke ways to fill a room. So, the question is, how do you create a home from recycled materials?  

The Exterior

Pondering the endless possibilities of aluminium may not be top of a person’s agenda when they reach for a beer, but it seemed to have made quite an impact on John Milkovisch from Texas, USA, who decided to take upycling to a whole new level in 1968 when he created a home made entirely from beer cans. It is estimated that Milkovisch used more than 50,000 cans to build his creation. It wasn’t just the cans he was saving, but electricity bills, too. Milkovisch was able to cut electricity consumption as the cans worked and acted as an insulator, reducing electricity use through the summer and keeping the house warm during winter. 

He and his wife began laying the foundations for the house using marbles, rocks, and metal pieces set into concrete and redwood. He then began adding flattened aluminium beer cans for the siding and, over the next 18 years, more were added. Since Milkovisch passed away in 1988, it has become a restoration project as part of the Orange Show Centre for Visionary Art organisation, and plans are currently underway to reform its original state. 

From shiny aluminium to rural and rustic cobbles, there are plenty of ways to source housebuilding materials, no matter how challenging it may be. Michael Buck decided to create something far more natural by designing a home made of earth, clay and straw, named the Cobble House. He used only natural and recycled materials, which he spent two years gathering and constructing to create the home in Wolvercote, near Oxford. Inside features a wood burning stove, wooden bunk beds and surrounding windows that have been recycled from old lorry windscreens, using only unwanted items donated or rescued from skips.

The Interior

Furnishing a home on a budget can often be the top priority, and while some homeowners may consider buying new furniture and accessories, others may be more concerned about material use and how they can reuse existing items. One person leading a project on upcycling wooden pallets and other packaging is Donatien Pascal Kamdem, from Michigan, USA. He decided to increase the sustainability of the wood and optimise its function through upcycling. When asked what is the most spectacular and unusual design he has created using the pallets, ‘I would probably say dog houses and tree houses for children'. Kamdem has created high-value upcycled products from the US$1.6bln market for recycling pallets. He adds, ‘I use the wood instead of other energy intensive, high-carbon and water consuming materials. The first step is the triage of packaging-sound wood, and then the pallet is either used in its initial structure or reverse engineered to obtain the solid wood to form the final products.