Giving old items new life as ‘green’ furniture

BEIRUT: You see a discarded wooden box or a stack of old magazines ready to be thrown in the dumpster, but Cyrille Najjar sees hundreds of possibilities. Najjar is the founder of architecture and industrial design firm White Sur White, and believes Beirut is a city ripe for “upcycling,” or converting old materials into new products with fresh uses for better environmental value.

“Reusing and upcycling in Beirut should be an easy and fun task considering all the amazing traditional arts and crafts from the past centuries,” Najjar says. “There are some quick ways to transform what seemed to be destined for the garbage into a useful and witty household item.”

Najjar’s firm, founded in Beirut in 2008, works on everything from architectural projects – homes, restaurants and hotels – to industrial design and even hard-core technology projects, including the development of a mobile solar electricity unit in response to Lebanon’s power shortages.

Distinguishing all of their work is an environmental conscience that Najjar simply calls “natural.”

“I don’t know how any architect or designer coming up after the year 2000 could even consider designing something that isn’t environmentally friendly,” he remarks.

According to Najjar, more than 40 percent of human productions end up as waste – usually in the form of packaging and handling products. Shipping products around the world also have a huge environmental impact.

As a response, Najjar and his small team work on designs and come up with ideas to transform the way we produce and process products to reduce the impact on the environment.

“White Sur White was created to bring together designers to rethink the way products and architectures are designed to offer a new solution where production isn’t ruled by excess over packaging and pollution,” Najjar explains.

These innovations range from 3-D printing to never allowing a bit of waste to go unused in creating architectural and interior design products.

For instance, one product White Sur White created is a light fixture made from a foldable aluminum design created by a 3-D printer. The instructions and pattern can be sent as an electronic file with assembly and printing directions – no need for shipping.

In their architectural designs, the company will also do everything possible to integrate the old, leftover architecture and furnishings into the new project.

In one restaurant design, Najjar used the remaining wood from chair production as a decorative wall installation.

“We work a lot to preserve ancient buildings. We renovate them and integrate modern, contemporary design with traditional architecture.”

Aside from their industrial work with various clients, White Sur White also holds upcycling workshops for amateurs and professionals alike.

These workshops – held at their offices in Sodeco and also at AltCity in Hamra – train people to look at the objects around them in a different light.

“Recycling and upcycling are a way of thinking and reinventing usage. It’s just looking at something in a different way. A cup can become a shade for a light bulb if you just turn it upside down. You just have to see objects beyond their predestined use,” Najjar explains.

In the workshops, Najjar will present students with a wooden crate and ask them to think of a new function for it.

“Very often furniture is considered to be a finished piece, especially older pieces, but sometimes rethinking a feature or two can make the pieces very useful again,” he says.

For example, wooden crates can be used as tables or storage units. Najjar has even created colorful light fixtures from plastic crates that are used to transport drinks and discarded by restaurants.

Najjar also suggests taking old books and magazines to convert into tables and stools. The books can be stacked into four legs of a table under a sheet of glass for a table top. Similarly, with a belt or bungee cord, you can firmly attach a pillow atop a stack of old magazines to create a funky stool.

These upcycling ideas also fit current trends in design and style, Najjar believes. “The trend now is about recycling, reusing and thinking in a different way about old items. There’s this Dutch direction in design that’s about reuse and it fits very well with style today.”

Upcycled pieces fit with a funky, vintage aesthetic that is currently popular. They are a way to save money, help the environment and express creativity.

Najjar recommends that people take a stroll around Beirut and keep their eyes open. Just take a few moments to think about an object before you discard it.

More information on upcoming workshops or projects can be found at or

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 27, 2012, on page 2.




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