The makers who turn recycling into an art form

Today I’m paying homage to the visionaries – the eco designers who take our cast-offs and transform them into items we might actually want to show off.

I do think it takes a special kind of innovator to look at a damaged fire-hose and want to recycle it into a gorgeous belt, or who pick up an old life jacket and envision an upcycled shoulder bag or laptop sleeve.

Belt by Elvis & Kresse is made from a decommission fire hose
Belt by Elvis & Kresse is made from a decommission fire hose

It takes vision to recycle and upcycle, rather than just opting for shiny new material.

Shoulder bag upcycled from a life jacket, includes the whistle and red ripcord, and uses the inflation tube as a pen holder
Shoulder bag upcycled from a life jacket, includes the whistle and red ripcord, and uses the inflation tube as a pen holder

Some items display their eco credentials proudly
Take these salt and pepper shakers. They’re clearly made from pool balls and conjure up images of darkened pool halls and tequila slammers.

These pool balls have been upcycled into funky salt and pepper shakers
These pool balls have been upcycled into funky salt and pepper shakers

That life jacket bag I mentioned? It includes the whistle and red ripcord, and uses the inflation tube as a pen holder.

Some of the best eco products are ones that don’t look especially eco friendly at first glance
Take Sarah Turner’s Cola 10 Bottle Light. As the name suggests, it’s made from 10 plastic cola bottles, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. It’s simply an eye-catching, rather funky lightshade.

Cola 10 by Sarah Turner is made from 10 recycled cola bottles
This light shade by Sarah Turner is made from 10 recycled cola bottles

It would probably attract attention if it was hanging in your living room, but it’s pretty unlikely the admirer would know that it was in any way eco friendly.

As Sarah herself says, “Just because a product is made from rubbish, doesn’t mean it needs to look like it does.”

Thanks to kerbside collection, plastic recycling is pretty common in the UK. But what about less recyclable items, such as typewriter components, broken camera lenses and worn paint brushes?

Well, over in Huddersfield, Zincwhite is giving them a whole new lease of life, re-purposing them as hair clips, bracelets and cufflinks.

Zinc White make recycled jewellery where design is the primary driving force
Zinc White make recycled jewellery where design is the primary driving force

Imperfect colouring pencils are fashioned into eye-catching items of jewellery: “Cool design is the primary driving force, the recycled bit is the bonus,” they say.

There are also some really innovative products on the market that help people to reuse products themselves
Got an old paperback book that’s a bit too mucky to pass on? With the help of a kit, you can use it to grow your own mushrooms. I mean, how does someone think that up?

Recycle an old book and grow delicious mushrooms
Recycle an old book and grow delicious mushrooms

So I’d like to raise a toast (in a recycled glass, of course) to the eco visionaries. May you continue to inspire, innovate and save the planet, one torn fire hose at a time.



Ten top eco gifts for Father’s Day your dad will love

It’s that time of year that tends to bring a lot of people out in a sweat: Father’s Day. Worry not. Here are our top ten suggestions for eco gifts that your Dad will love.

Why are dads so much harder to buy for than mums? Here at Nigel’s Eco Store, we reckon the perfect Father’s Day gift needs to be:

  • Something personal, that shows you’ve actually paid attention to his ramblings.
  • A gift that lasts (unless it’s food, in which case it needs to be something that isn’t going to languish in the cupboard for years.)
  • Something a bit different, that your sister wouldn’t have thought of.

So with these guidelines front of mind, here’s our top ten eco friendly suggestions for unique Father’s Day gifts.

1. If dad likes his coffee and is a bit of a fussy bugger, Hu2 Design’s Caffe Latte mug should be right up his street, as it shows the exact quantities of espresso, steamed milk and foam needed for the perfect latte.

Hu2's mug is deal for a coffee drinker!
Hu2’s mug is deal for a coffee drinker

2. Or, if his favourite tipple is of the alcoholic variety, our round bottomed recycled whisky glasses or Grolsch goblets may be a better option.

Recycled glass whisky tumblers - lovely to have and to hold
Recycled glass whisky tumblers – lovely to have and to hold
Glasses made from upcycled Grolsch bottles make a great gift
Glasses made from upcycled Grolsch beer bottles make a great gift

3. A new wallet is always appreciated. Davis Jeans wallets are made from old jeans’ labels and a recycled bicycle tube, and Elvis and Kresse’s rather lovely billfold wallet is made from a decommissioned fire hose, so each one is unique, and tells a story.

Elvis & Kresse make gorgeous wallets from decommissioned fire hoses
Elvis & Kresse make gorgeous bags and wallets from decommissioned fire hoses
Wallet made from recycled jeans labels
Wallet made from recycled jeans labels

4. If you’re buying for your kids’ dad (or you have a really funky father), Po Zu’s sneakers are a good bet. They’re made from organic cotton, eco-microfibre, corn husk and recycled materials, but design has been given just as much importance as the eco-credentials.

Great eco shoes from Po-Zu
Great eco shoes from Po-Zu

5. Alternatively, the recycled parachute messenger bag is great for commuters.

A messenger bag made from an upcycled parachute is a good gift for a commuter
This messenger bag is made from an upcycled parachute

6. Cufflinks can be seen as a bit of a naff gift, but we’ve got a few that are less, shall we say, ‘run of the mill’.  Cufflinks made from recycled pencils are a good choice for arty dads, while recycled circuit board cufflinks should appeal to techies.

These cufflinks are mde from recycled coloured pencils
These cufflinks are mde from recycled coloured pencils

7. If the father in question is a bit of an eco geek (like me), we’ve got plenty of choices for you, from a Sun Solo solar phone charger to a water-powered clock.

Sun Solo solar travel charger sticks to a window for handy charging
Sun Solo solar travel charger sticks to a window for handy charging

8. On a budget? (And who isn’t, after that election result?) How about the Remember Me key hook, a handmade shaving soap, the Not Knot cable organiser or a grenade shaped seed bomb?

Give a gift that helps bees. A pollinator beebom is good for a gardener
Help the bees, with a pollinator beebom

9. Outdoorsy, Bear Grylls types should be happy with a Fire Kit in a Tin, which contains a fire striker and several natural tinders, a solar powered kettle or a wind-up torch.

Fox & Fire's natural tinder fire making kit
Fox & Fire’s natural tinder fire making kit – good for outdoorsy types

10. Finally, if Dad really does depend on you to replenish his sock collection, you can at least buy him some decent ones. Our Freethinker socks are made from bamboo, which is incredibly comfortable and stays fresh for longer. And when it comes to the Father’s Day card, why not carve your own?

Bamboo socks are always a winner!
Bamboo socks are always a winner!
Send something unique and carve your own card!
Send something unique and carve your own card!

Well, that’s my two-penn-orth, but feel free to ignore me and stick with a trusty gift voucher instead.

What will you be giving your dad for father’s day this year? Let us know in the comments below.


Introducing the next step… Why we’re setting up a marketplace for eco design

Nigel's Eco Marketplace

It’s our tenth anniversary here at Nigel’s Eco Store. We could kick back and celebrate (or we could head off to the beach for the summer), but instead we’ve decided to indulge in a particular passion of ours – eco design.

This summer at Nigel’s Eco Store, we’re launching a new marketplace to promote design-led eco products. Think bags made from recycled fire hose, smartphone speakers crafted from reclaimed wood, and wall decals made with eco-vinyl.

Elvis and Kresse make gorgeous bags from fire hoses
Elvis and Kresse make gorgeous bags from fire hoses

We haven’t gone public with the marketplace just yet, but it is open for business and I wanted to give you an early viewing.

Morph speakers amplify without power
Morph speakers amplify without power

Back in 2005, when I first launched Nigel’s Eco Store, I headed to 100% Design for inspiration. I found Re:design, a side exhibition in Brick Lane. There were eco products there that got me really excited, but most were not yet in production, and those that were just weren’t a good fit with the store.

Fast forward 10 years, and designers have really woken up to the potential of eco design. Recycled and reclaimed materials are being turned into lust-worthy objects. Brands like Morph and Tense are bringing together carpenters, designers and technicians to use wood in ways that have never been thought of before. Clothing brands, such as Po-zu, are using natural materials like corn husk in place of plastics. It’s truly a great time for eco-design.

Po-zu use coco husk in their shoes
Po-zu use corn husk in their shoes

We’re starting small… with just a handful of hand-picked designers. Some of these are brands I’ve come across over the years. My Tense wooden watch, for example, is as much a part of my ‘look’ as my glasses. Others have popped up in the news or on social media; Ashton Kutcher and Ryan Gosling have tweeted about the Hu2 wall decals. And others I’ve literally scoured design shows and the internet for.

Ashton Kutcher uses them, and Kylie tweeted about Hu2's stickers
Ashton Kutcher uses them, and Ryan Gosling tweeted about Hu2’s stickers

Once we’re really up and running, we’ll be adding a lot of new designers, brands and artisans to the mix. All the products will have some kind of eco-credentials, whether they’re Fairtrade, recycled, re-purposed, or just designed to make green living easier. But we’re equally as happy to collaborate with a work-at-home mum in Cornwall as we are a big(ish) Canadian brand. This isn’t about mass production, it’s about eco-items that are dare I say it, damn sexy.

Tense watches are made from sustainable sources and offcuts
Tense watches are made from sustainable sources and offcuts. I love mine.

So do take a look at, and if you know of any designers or makers we should invite on board, please leave us a comment below.

7 ways to save energy in Spring

The daffodils are out and the bluebells and warmer weather are on the way. You may not have the heating on as much, but it’s still worth doing a few easy things to save energy and money at home this Spring.

save energy

You’re using the heating less, but there are still a few simple things you can do to improve energy efficiency of your home as the temperature warms up. Here’s our handy guide:

1. Switch to more energy efficiency light bulbs and save around £35 per year
You can now get energy efficient LED blubs that are bright enough to replace every kind of halogen and incandescent bulb. They’ll save more energy than the old style compact fluorescent lamps too, so now’s a good time to switch.

2. Stop using the tumble dryer
Tumble dryers are one of the most energy hungry household appliances. They use four times as much energy as a washing machine. Now that the weather is better, dry clothes on a washing line outside instead and save about £70 a year. If you’re worried about rain showers, get one of these washing line covers, they work just like an umbrella and will keep your clothes dry when it’s raining.

3. Save water in the shower
Heating water is the second largest energy use in the home (after heating). If you have a power shower, combi boiler, condensing boiler or a dedicated shower pump, a water saving shower head is guaranteed to save on water and heating bills.

radiator booster
the new Radiator Booster Turbo can save £70 to £140 a year

4. Stop leaving your appliances on standby
If you leave your TV, hifi, play station or computer on standby instead of turning them off completely, it could be costing you around £30 a year. Instead, plug them in to a standby saver, which will automatically switch off unused items, helping you to save money and energy.

5. Turn your thermostat down by one degree
Every degree you can turn your heating down saves about £60 to £70 a year. It’s an easy way to cut your energy bills especially at this time of year. Get a Radiator Booster for when the nights are a little chilly to avoid cranking the heating up too high.

energy saving kettle
an energy saving kettle is worth investing in

6. Use an Energy Saving Kettle
Every time you use a kettle, the chances are that you boil more water than you need. “Overfilling the kettle costs British households £68 million on energy bills a year” say the Energy Saving Trust, so try to only boil the water you need, or invest in an energy saving kettle.

7. Service your boiler
An inefficient boiler could cost you up to 30% of your gas bill (approx £300). You may not be using the heating as much, but you’re still using hot water, so now’s a good time to get it checked.


More experiments with making fire without matches

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a Fire Making Masterclass led by the brilliant Robert Fallon of Wild Nature. (there’s another one coming up here).

fire starting kit

Since then I’ve been experimenting with making fire without matches, using a fire making kit from Fox and Fire.

It’s been rather interesting.

Their Fire in a Tin fire starter kit contains several natural tinders that all take sparks differently. Some better than others, but all are materials that are found in nature.

Natural tinders in the Fox and Fire kit
Natural tinders in the Fox and Fire kit

The tin comes with a Light My Fire fire steel, which is one of the easiest tools for making sparks.

fire making kit

You just need to catch the spark on some tinder… these are the natural tinders in the tin:

Silver Birch Bark
This light, thin bark takes a spark well, even when wet. It helps your tinder catch fire – a small handful should be enough. If you need more, pull a few thin strips off a silver birch tree. But only take what the tree is offering (that’ll make sense when you’re in front of one.)

Reed Mace (Bulrush)
The fluffy down from a dried bulrush head is really great for catching sparks. Like cotton wool, Reed Mace catches fire and burns out very quickly, it works better if you mix some fluff with birch bark – the reed mace goes up easily, and is enough to get the bark going. If it’s windy though, the reed mace flies away really easily, so keep it out of the wind.

Cramp Balls
This is one of the best natural tinders. Cramp Balls are a black ball-shaped fungus found growing on dead Ash branches. Also called King Alfred Cakes and Coal Fungus, I found loads in the woods when I went for a walk last week. They need to be dried, and then cut open. If you drop a spark from a fire steel onto one, an ember starts really quickly. Once lit they will smoulder away for a really long time.

Cotton Wool Balls
I discovered that cotton wool balls catch fire really easily. The slightest spark from a fire steel will ignite them, but though they don’t burn for long. Fluff them up a little for best results.

A guide to… making fire with flint and steel

Even with modern day tools, making a fire in the woods or in the middle of a field, is an art that needs a little practice. It can be more rewarding though to make a fire without matches, in the way our ancestors did, using a flint and steel fire making kit instead. It’s easy when you know how.


Ever wondered how our ancestors made fire for thousands of years before matches and lighters were invented?

While experts agree the origins of stone tools date back at least 2.5 million years, the origin of making and using fire is not totally clear. The earliest evidence of humans making and using fire ranges from 200,000 to 400,000 years ago.

Back then, people would have made fire by friction, by rubbing sticks together to create a glowing coal, or by striking things together to make sparks, that would then be transferred to a tinder bundle, which would burst into flame.

Our ancestors would have been experts in making fires in this way, and of knowing which materials would make the best tinder, or, like King Alfred’s Cakes, keep an ember glowing for long enough to use for several fires.

Last year, thanks to Ruby Taylor of Native Hands, I learned to make a fire using a flint and steel fire making kit. It’s strangely satisfying and feels a more natural, and appropriate way of making fire. It’s also a useful survival skill and great bushcraft.

I’ve been using a great flint and steel kit from Fox and Fire, which has some ignition extenders – silver birch bark and natural kapok – included with it.

fire making kit

So here’s my guide to making a fire using traditional methods.

There are 3 things you need to make fire:

  • oxygen
  • fuel
  • ignition

So before you start, you need:

  • A tinder bundle: a big handful of dry grass, dry leaves, or similar – made into a ‘nest’
  • To ensure your fire bed (or fire tepee) is ready and prepared with kindling / twigs / wood of various sizes, and ready to accept your burning tinder bundle

How to use a flint and steel fire kit to make fire

flint and steel kit

These instructions are for right-handers. Do the opposite for left-handers:

  • Hold the flint in your left hand so that one of its longer sharp edges is at a 45 degree angle, facing your right hand.
  • Lay a piece of char cloth the size of a postage-stamp on the top (flat) side of the flint, and hold it there with your left thumb.
  • Keep the char cloth close to the sharp edge of the flint, a little back from the edge
    Hold the striker vertically in your right hand
  • To make sparks, bring the striker down at a 30 degree angle across the edge of the flint. Following through with long strokes will help.
  • Keep striking down until the char cloth catches a spark – this usually happens at the edge of the char cloth and might take one or two goes.
  • When a spark catches on the char cloth, it’ll glow red, you can blow gently on it to help it spread.
  • Place the glowing ember in your tinder nest, then blow hard or waft the nest, it’ll make smoke first, then burst into flame.
  • Transfer the burning tinder into your fire bed and cover with kindling, and voila, your fire will get going!

You can buy a fire making kit at Fox and Fire, and also find out more about workshops and classes based around making fire in the wild, here.

How do you make fire?

How to save up to £60 a month: use these innovative food savers to throw out less food

There’s something about all the over-indulging of food and drink during the festive period that makes January feel like a welcome relief – despite the cold weather. But it’s not just the amount we consume that feels a bit over the top, it’s also what we don’t use…

A recent Daily Mail article said that as a country we wasted about £64 million of food this Christmas.

That’s just crazy.

And we throw a lot of unused food out throughout the rest of the year too: about 24 meals worth ?60 a month, according to a recent report.

Like everyone, I end up reluctantly binning food occasionally but I’ve found some great inventions that make food last longer, and we’ve added them to Nigel’s Eco Store.

food save

For example, the breathable Banana Store keeps bananas fresh for about twice as long as normal – no more overripe brown ones.

This useful Onion Keeper solves the problem of the half-used onion slowly going off in the fridge.

And these stylish, stainless steel food containers make leftovers definitely worth eating.

Since using some of these food savers (there’s more here), I’ve really noticed how much less I throw out. And I’m not spending as much on replacing what I was wasting.

It’s surprisingly easy to do.

So how do you save food?

How to install a Loft Store Floor on stilts, to protect your loft insulation

Watch this video to see how to install an easy, safe DIY storage deck in your loft that sits on stilts and protects your loft insulation.

(You can buy StoreFloor from us here.)

Most of us know it is important to insulate the loft, because if you don’t, up to 25% of your heating bills disappear through the roof.

It’s cheap and relatively easy to install loft insulation for this: it pays for itself quickly, and it’ll help you to feel warmer in the winter and cooler at night in the summer.

The recommended depth for loft insulation is 270mm.

But as ceiling joists tend to be only 75mm or 100mm high, 270mm of loft insulation makes it impossible to see them, making it difficult to move around safely.

And if you do insulate your loft to 270mm, and then flatten it with boxes or other household belongings, the insulation then won’t work very well.

StoreFloor solves this by using modular metal rails to make an easy DIY raised deck in your loft, on stilts, that you can use for storage space, that fully protects the insulation underneath.

Let us know how you get on with it.

How to add EndoTherm to your central heating

EndoTherm is a central heating additive that could save you up to 15% on your heating bills. Here’s how to install it…

I’ve used EndoTherm myself, it was a little fiddly, but it takes only about 10-15 minutes to install it once you’ve got the hang of switching off the radiator, and as long as you have the right tools on hand.

Here’s a video that shows you how to do it:

How many bottles to use?

For homes and domestic situations:
Less than 12 radiators: 1 bottle
12 to 25 Radiators: 2 bottles
More than 25 radiators: 3 bottles

For commercial situations, please contact me.

Endotherm is safe to use with Fernox and is also okay to use with plastic, copper and steel pipes.

EndoTherm will last for a minimum of 4 years, and then needs re-applying.

You can buy EndoTherm here.

Let me know how you get on with it?

How to check if your Radiator Booster is working, or not

Just received a radiator booster and can’t seem to get it to work? It may be something very simple… here we explain what to do

A Radiator Booster is an innovative energy saving gadget that improves the efficiency of radiators, to make your home warmer, and cut your bills. Here’s a short video that shows it in action.
(NB the booster will also work fine if it sits ontop of the radiator, as far back to the wall as it can go.)

As with many new products though, there can be a learning curve to get them working, and the Radiator Booster is no different. In case you’re overlooking some basics, here’s some things to check:

1. Check the radiator is turned on and is hot at the top
Radiator boosters only come on when the radiator is hot enough. As a rough guide you should not be able to hold onto the top of the radiator for more than 5 to 10 seconds with your hand. (this ensures that the radiator is not full of air and the heating system is switched on and up to temperature).

2. Make sure it’s the right way up
Check the Radiator Booster is placed on top of the radiator with the hole facing down (we’ve had calls to ask which way up to fit it).

3. Check it’s plugged in and the power is on
Check the Radiator Booster adapter is plugged in to a mains socket and that the mains socket is switched on (common mistake – forgetting to switch on).

4. Do the lights come on?
Does the red light on the front of booster come on when power is turned on? It should. And when the booster is plugged in and put on top of a hot radiator, the green light should come on to show that it’s at the right temperature, and working.

5. Give it time to work
Allow 10 minutes or so for the heat to reach the thermostat sensor (in practice it will be quicker than this).

6. Check that the fan has come on
The fan can be hard to see and hear, as the fan is quiet and the blades are not visible when the fan is turning. (This is another common mistake – the fan sits behind the X-shaped, fan-like fixed piece of plastic that you see when you look through the end, so it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that the fan’s not moving, when in fact it is.) If in doubt, a slither of paper poked into the fan will quickly show if the fan is moving or not.

7. Allow a couple of hours for the Radiator Booster to do its thing
Allow a couple of hours for the booster to do its thing, it’s worth noting that the effect is not instant, and the air movement is designed to be slow and gentle. If you’re in any doubt as to whether it works, have a look at the reviews (they’re on the reviews tab half way down the page).

To get a more accurate idea of the effect of Radiator Booster, make sure the door(s) to the room is closed – this will make the benefits of Radiator Booster more noticeable in a shorter period of time.

If all the above are checked and the unit is working, it will definitely improve the heat mix in a room, and allow you to turn your thermostat down, to save you money!

If anything is awry, please get in touch and we can work out how to fix it.

Let us know how you get on?



How to fit Floorboard Gap Seal to stop draughts coming through your floorboards

Wondering how to fit Floorboard Gap Seal? Watch this handy video, which shows you how to do it.

Wooden floorboards look great, but they can be draughty: in a typical home, 15% of the heat is lost through the floor.

In a room with around 25 floorboards, there’s an average gap area of almost 4 feet, that’s equivalent to leaving a small window open!

Rather than cranking up the heating, stop the draughts by filling the gaps with this easy-to-use, flexible sealant.

Let us know how you get on?



How to fit an Ecoflap letterbox draught excluder

Want to stop letterbox draughts but not sure how to fit an Ecoflap letterbox draught excluder? We’ve got together this handy video, which shows you how to do it.

An Ecoflap draught excluder fits onto the inside of your front door, and is designed to stop draughts and bad weather from getting through your letterbox.

It’s quick and easy to install.

The clever thing about an Ecoflap is that the way it’s hinged means that it uses the wind to blow it shut, so it is totally draught proof, and adjusts automatically to any size of delivery – up to A4 and including thickish newspapers and magazines.

If you’re wondering whether it’ll fit your door, there’s a size and dimensions guide here.

Let us know how you get on?



Here’s a quick way to knock 15% off your heating bills: use Endotherm

Looking for a quick and easy way to make your home warmer, and save money on your heating bills? Well, there’s a new central heating saver on the block. EndoTherm is independently proven to save up to 15% on heating bills. I’m using it and it’s definitely worth a go.


A few weeks ago, a friend was telling me about EndoTherm – a new energy saver that he’s been using, that’s made his home warmer without adding to his heating bills.

In fact quite the opposite he said, “it’s saving me money.”

So I thought I’d try it.

EndoTherm is a liquid that you add into your central heating system that makes the water hotter in the radiators. It means your boiler doesn’t have to work as hard to get your home warm.

To use it, you have to partially drain one radiator and pour EndoTherm in – which is a little fiddly as I found out, but here’s a youtube video that I found to be really helpful.

If you follow it, it should only take you about 10-15 minutes or so.

Just make sure you protect the area under the radiator as it can get a little messy if the water in your rads is dirty (mine was).

Almost immediately after adding EndoTherm, I could feel my radiators getting much hotter, which showed it was working and helping to cut my bills.

I’ve seen independent tests that show you can save up to 15%. Even the most efficient boilers on the market can be improved by EndoTherm.

It worked so well that we’re now selling it (here)… and in combination with a radiator booster or radiator reflectors, well, I think that’s a winning combination.


How to decide what to buy this Christmas

Christmas is fast approaching, but there’s still time to think about what you’re buying, and if possible, to try to avoid buying ‘stuff’

Buy Nothing Day

It was Buy Nothing Day a couple of weekends ago… did you notice?

It was the day after ‘Black Friday’, when in contrast £810m was spent online in the UK this year.

At this time of year it’s quite hard to buy nothing at all, so for me, more than anything Buy Nothing Day is a reminder to think about what I buy, and whether I’m just adding to more ‘stuff’, and things that I don’t really need.

If this resonates, as you make your Christmas purchases, you could do a quick audit of the things you’re about to buy:

  • What materials are they made from?
  • Where are they produced? Are you buying it for the smile it puts on someone’s face, or for its usefulness?
  • Or is it just ‘stuff’?

In a world of shiny plastic and metal, it can be the most unglamorous of things that get the most use, and the most appreciation.

A few years ago, a friend’s two-year-old spent 4 hours on Christmas Day playing inside the cardboard Rocket playhouse he’d given her, as it was the first time she’d had her own dedicated space. She managed to cram twenty teddies in there, and drew all over it.

It costs £29.99, but to his daughter it was as if someone had given her a house.

rocket playhouse

The space to play in was the real gift, not the Rocket itself.

A successful and low impact gift, a Rocket can be folded away when done and brought out again when wanted.

There’s a whole range of cardboard playhouses, they’re all strong and durable enough to be passed on to younger siblings.

It’s Christmas, but it’s worth investing a minute in thinking about how you can make your presents more useful, and give something that’s more than the sum of its parts.

What are you going to give this year?

Download our FREE guide to a having a good Christmas Here

Fill your house for free: Max McMurdo’s top 3 Christmas upcycling ideas

Upcycling design expert and regular on Channel 4’s Fill Your House for Free, Max McMurdo, shares his design ideas for the festive season

Max Mcmurdo in studio
Max designing in his caravan office

Upcycling is a fancy new word for something that lots of us, including our parents and grandparents, have been doing for years. It is basically the art of taking a scrap item and adding value through design.

Chair made from a shopping trolley
Annie, the Shopping Trolley Chair by Max

When I started upcycling, I naively thought it might help to save the planet. However, I realised recently that it’s more about making people aware of the issues, and so now my focus is on designing and creating beautiful thought-provoking pieces.

I’ve been involved in upcycling for about a decade and it’s never been as topical and relevant thanks to the current economic crisis. In times of hardship people often become more creative, and I have noticed a huge increase in interest of late, particularly on social media and through my website .

Upcycling skills

The basic skills you need for upcycling are creative thinking and bravery; the rest of the physical talents can be learned. In reality, anyone can use a sander after a bit of training and experience, but it’s the ability to look at an object and imagine it fulfilling a new role that’s the key to good upcycling.

The other important factor is to use the waste material in a sensible and practical way. If an object is naturally substantial and strong, use these properties to your advantage ­– don’t try to fight them. Likewise, if you have a lovely flexible, soft material, work with that and don’t try to make it something it’s not.

Upcycling for Christmas

Here are a few Christmas-friendly ideas to get you started on your upcycling journey. Some require a few basic tools ­– these are generally available from your local DIY store. The main thing to remember with all of these is that there is no right or wrong. These are your designs and mistakes will naturally be made – go with them and keep it fun!

Upcycled stool
Max’s pallet stool

1. Re-upholster a chair in a Christmassy fabric
This sounds pretty advanced, but most dining chairs have a pretty simple drop-in seat fob.

i) Using a screwdriver, undo the screws which hold the fob in place – these are usually found underneath.

ii) Once you have removed the fob, you will likely find it is simply fabric stretched over a piece of foam and stapled onto a plywood base. Using a flat-head screwdriver, remove these staples and release the old, worn or boring fabric.

iii) Now select a festive fabric of your choice, but try to make sure it’s fire retardant or you may need to add a fire-retardant lining or spray.

iv) Place the fabric face down with the foam and wood on top, then pull the fabric tight and using a standard staple gun, staple the four middle points along each face.

v) Flip it over and check that the pattern etc looks ok. Continue to staple each side, working from the centre out.

vi) Fold a nice little box pleat in the corners and, hey presto, you’ve reupholstered your first chair. Naturally you’ll get the odd little crease, but you’ll get better with experience. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not re-upholster all the chairs in time for Christmas dinner!

Pallet Chair
Max’s Pallet Chair

2. Upcycle pallet wood
A material I’ve been working with a lot recently (as you may have seen on Kirstie Allsopp’s recent show Fill Your House For Free) is pallet wood.

Pallet wood is perfect for creating everything from planters, shelves, shoe racks and cute little vintage crates all the way up to furniture items such as tables and chairs.

i) Where to find it: when you see a dirty old pallet sitting around outside a warehouse it looks very uninspiring. You can usually get these pallets for free and businesses are often glad to get rid of them.

ii) Taking them apart (or not): the hardest thing about working with pallets is that they are well made and as a result hard to take apart – they tend to be held together by ring nails, which are hard to remove. The easiest way I’ve found to get around this is to design your item to fit within the fixings so you can simply cut the pallets at either end, inside the fixed corners.

iii) Once you have cut the pallet up and have some nice lengths of timber (you can do this with a simple hand-saw), you can assemble it by drilling small pilot holes and using countersunk screws. Pallet wood is generally soft, meaning it’s easy to work with and allows the screws to go in flush.

iv) The wood is also good for whitewashing or waxing to create a vintage look. How pleased would mum be with a handmade gardening tool tray made from old pallets!

3. Make some toys from Christmas packaging
This is one for the children. No doubt they will have put some expensive, fancy-pants gaming system on their list for Santa. You know that it will come in heaps of packaging and they will be bored of it within minutes. Here’s some fun things to do with the packaging:

i) Purchase a selection of blank stickers, some marker pens, scissors and pipe cleaners.

ii) Sit down on Boxing Day, full of turkey, and as a family create some cool upcycled toys from all of the packaging. Take a look below at some of the things I’ve made:

Talking bird
Max’s Talking Bird

Milk Bottle Fish
Max’s Milk Bottle Fish

Jumping Frog
Max’s Jumping Frog

If you do create any of the ideas above, I’d love to see some pics. Please send them to me on Twitter: @maxreestore. (and us too please! @Nigelsecostore)

Max McMurdo
Max McMurdo

Max runs Reestore, which takes everyday waste objects and upcycles them into beautiful accessories and functional pieces of furniture. He is also a TV presenter, with credits including Channel 4’s Fill Your House for Free. Find out more about Max, here.