Out with the old, in with the new - is that how the phrase goes?

Although we are mostly wired to think that we should get rid of old things, what if we said instead 'From old, make new?'

The concept of upcycling follows this exact mindset. It means to reuse old materials and objects to create something new from them.

Stephen Hynes is an avid upcycler and if you don’t know where to start, his work might inspire you to take the first step.

As Stephen says: “Start with something basic, don’t try and build the Eiffel Tower.”

Stephen’s beginning

Stephen was born and raised in Glasnevin, Dublin, and that is where he still lives today. He says proudly: “My family go back four generations of tradesmen and craftsman here in Glasnevin alone. They’ve been in this area for over 150 years.”

A plumber by trade, not by vocation, Stephen says: “Going through school, I realised that I liked working with my hands, so I was never going to be able to sit at a desk.

"I got into plumbing and used that as a gateway to get where I am now, which is a mechanical and electrical engineer in a fuel management company.”

The gateway had been set. Stephen’s boss is very supportive of his upcycling and often lets him work in the company’s workshop.

A big plus is the scrap bin with loads of upcycling material at his job that has resulted in many new objects at Stephen’s hands.

Loving upcycling

Upcycling almost becomes a very philosophical and motivational activity for Stephen. He is motivated to never just use an object as it is, but break it up into its original parts.

He says: “If I was ever making something out of a pallet, I couldn't actually use the palette itself. I break everything apart back down to its raw material and then build it back up to something new and it's very rewarding.

“Starting with the likes of a pallet; if you make a mistake, it’s fine. You can just go ahead and get another pallet and that’s how you’re going to learn.”

Also, with regards to good mental health, upcycling can be very beneficial. Stephen says: “It’s nice to have a project, it keeps your drive going, you’re constantly focused on goals and objectives. As you keep going, you get better and more confident.”

Inspired for upcycling

Stephen has been on the upcycling route for a long time. From the humble beginning of a dog shed eight years ago, to building his own shed to work in, and now doing creative projects like building industrial lamps, he has come a long way.

Stephen starts all his projects with a handdrawn plan, to have a clear direction in mind.

When it comes to the industrial lamps, he says: “If I am building a man, I literally draw a stickman. You got the head, the feet, the arms; and I just break that down into what kind of pipe fittings they would be.

"So, there is a T, there is an elbow; and I write them down and then I’ll go out looking for them. If I can’t reclaim them, I’ll go and source them.”

Stephen has done a range of industrial lights in the form of a boxer, sax player, soccer player, a basketball player and is currently working on a customised Harry Potter-themed lamp. The inspiration never stops!

Start upcycling

As for tips to start upcycling, Stephen says: “YouTube is gospel. I’m an avid YouTube user, that's where I've built and gained a lot of knowledge and skills.”

Stephen also uses the website Pinterest a lot to get inspiration, although he advises to not make exactly what is shown, but to try and make it your own.

He says: “I love Pinterest because it gives you good insight to what you can do, as opposed to ‘I'm going to make their exact thing’.”

Lastly, upcycling can have overwhelming moments, especially in the learning phase or when you have so many projects you want to do and don’t even know where to start.

Take it easy, do it step by step, and enjoy the process. The end result will be worth it, but so will the many hours, focused on creating something beautiful and new, from something old and used.

You can find Stephen on Instagram under @reclaiming_the_past.

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