BEIRUT: For many in Lebanon, good quality, stylish outdoor furniture is a desire but not a possibility.
The high prices of often-imported patio sets and weatherproofed couches are what drove Nadine Eid to look for an alternative and begin building her own furniture from used cargo pallets.
“It started with my garden at home. I wanted to do something that didn’t cost a lot of money,” she told The Daily Star at this month’s Garden Show and Spring Festival, where she is now selling her upcycled wares.
Eid said her uncle had long burned used pallets as firewood in the winter, so when she began exploring her options for creating her own outdoor set, it made sense to utilize this inexpensive resource.
The young designer’s booth was just one of several at the show that featured upcycled or recycled items. There were many jars used as planters or light fixtures, doors repurposed as art and, at one stall, used billboard tarps that had been fashioned into all-weather cushions – perfect for an outdoor space due to their durability.
In Europe and North America, young people like Eid have long sought creative solutions to budgetary restraints through “upcycling,” broadly meaning to take someone’s trash and turn it into treasure.
A cursory glance through do-it-yourself forums and Pinterest inspiration boards shows hanging vases made from light bulbs, desks and tables made from doors and a particularly creative lawn chair whose slats are all used skis.
It is such sites that Marc Beyrouthy, professor of agriculture and food sciences, encourages his students to visit to draw inspiration for their upcycling projects.
“Upcycling is like creating art from trash. ... It can be really very artistic. With just a few wine corks, you can make thousands of things nice enough to display,” he said.
Beyrouthy, who also hosts green-living program “Eco” on MTV, led a workshop at the garden show Tuesday night at which he introduced the crowd to the possibilities of using unconventional materials such as plastic bottles, coconut shells and tires to make planters.
“I tell my students and anyone else who asks just one thing: The only thing you need to use to upcycle is your imagination,” Beyrouthy said.
To this end, last month Beyrouthy and his students took part in a fair focused on using recycled materials to make new artistic or functional objects. For the occasion, they created a house as well as a bar built entirely of pallets and other upcycled goods, right down to the chairs and the glasses made from plastic bottles.
However, as this shabby-to-chic trend that sheer desperation inspired has caught on in Lebanon, just as in the West, there are also shops that now offer goods with a distinctive upcycled look.
Also with a stall at the garden fair in Beirut’s Hippodrome is Boutique and Cafe, a Bikfaya company specializing in repurposed and restored furniture – or furniture made to look repurposed and restored.
The owner, Khalil Abu Rahed, said it began as his own personal obsession with updating his family’s furnishings using whatever he had to hand. Now, he sources industrial sites and old houses for material, and his clients even bring him their family heirlooms to renew.
Still, he said, in a country such as Lebanon, finding viable used resources was difficult. At the garden show, only about 20 percent of the benches made of wine barrels and utilitarian light fixtures on offer were actually made from recycled goods.
To professor Beyrouthy, however, this is not upcycling.
“It’s not just taking something new and repurposing it. That is not good for the environment. It’s helping to decrease waste by giving something a new life.”