Upcycling is a trend that has taken the world by storm. Never heard of it? Upcycling involves giving all sorts of household materials a new lease of life by using them to create something new. Whether that’s repurposing old clothing or re-creating furniture and accessories for the home, a third of Brits have given upcycling a go and 53% adore the process of bringing items back to life.
To celebrate this booming movement, Beyond the Box teamed up with celebrity upcycler, Max McMurdo, and tasked him to transform surplus cardboard packaging into something truly special. The result? The ultimate dining set, perfect for summer soirees and al fresco dining.
We sat down with Max to learn more about his upcycling journey and his top tips for working with cardboard, the UK’s sustainable packaging choice. So, read on to get inspired. And why not try turning the leftover cardboard boxes around your home into something new? Just remember to recycle all cardboard once you’re finished with it!
Tell us about your journey to become one of the nation’s most treasured upcyclers.
“My journey started during my thrifty upbringing, where my mum and dad encouraged me to get creative and make things from scratch. We would wander into the garden and transform old materials into something new and useful. From then, my design teacher at school saw my creative flair and invested time in me, ultimately inspiring me to chase my upcycling dreams.
After studying product design at Bournemouth University, I entered the first phase of my design career in Germany and on my way back home to the UK, I bought a camper van and filled it up with junk to give it a new life, and that’s where my upcycling journey began.”
What inspired you to become an upcycler and what was the first item you ever upcycled?
“I was inspired by the disruptive nature of upcycling, which enabled me to give old items a new lease of life. I was also intrigued by the playfulness of transforming everyday waste objects into beautiful and functional designs.
For my first project I renovated a battered shopping trolley into a stunning chair. It’s just fascinating how a symbol of a scrap yard can be totally revamped into something perfectly functional and of high quality, and the provocative nature of giving an old material a new future is truly inspiring.”
Where do you find most of the items used for your projects?
“When on the hunt for items, it’s all about having a creative vision and, just because a material is second-hand, this doesn’t mean it is poor quality and, if anything, it should be even better – it’s all about raising the bar. I am quite an inquisitive person and would visit tips to examine shapes, objects, forms, and materials, to think about what I can do to bring something old back to life in a special and innovative way – I call it innovative waste.
My advice is to find a high-quality material – just like cardboard due to its structurally sound design – and thinking about how you can convert it into something unique and beautiful.”
Can you tell us about the impact that upcycling has on the environment?
“Upcycling is all about challenging the norms and showcasing design alternatives that have sustainable credentials. In fact, it has made environmentalism cool, fashionable, and valuable, whilst enabling us to take a step back and think about the environmental impact of our waste.
Rather than instantly throwing old materials destined for landfill away, it takes waste items forward in the chain to become more desirable for years to come. Not only are you transforming waste into something useful, you’re also doing your bit for the environment, one step at a time.”
Why is cardboard a useful material for upcycling?
“Cardboard is such a diverse and special material, that can be found in a range of shapes and sizes, perfect for upcycling. The corrugated fluting is a simple but impressive design that is naturally lightweight, but, thanks to the construction of layers, is strong, structurally sound, and robust, making it easy to cut and fold.
And the even better news is that cardboard is 100% recyclable – with the best recycling record in the UK – as well as being renewable and biodegradable. This means that if you ever fall out of love with your cardboard transformation, simply flatten the box, and pop in the recycling bin – and the paper fibres will be used time and time again.”
Can you share five top tips for people upcycling their cardboard boxes around the home?
1. Invest in your tools
“One of the great things about cardboard is it is free and easily accessible, as it packages so many of the deliveries you’ll already have coming into your home. This means you can spend your money on a set of tools which you can use for future projects as well. I’d recommend a cardboard ruler and knife which is designed specially to cut cardboard, so you don’t waste any material.”
2. Plan plan plan!
“From creating your templates to making sure you’ve got enough cardboard and measuring out everything before you start cutting, planning out your design first will make it easier in the long run. If you choose a simple design, you should be able to cut out identical copies of each shape to attach together – I used 180 individual pieces for each of my objects.”
3. Work with the cardboard
“Let the cardboard guide you and use its structure when you’re designing your piece. Make sure you use the corrugated fluting to your benefit as this is what gives cardboard packaging its strength and structure.”
4. Consider your joints
“Think about how you’re going to join everything together – and how long you want your design to last. I used a hole punch on every piece and threaded them together using a threaded bar and finished with a washer and nut on each end – a bit like a giant cardboard kebab!”
5. Have fun with it!
“Upcycling is all about playing around with different materials and finding what works for you. It’s a great project for kids to get stuck into, too. As well as the environmental benefit of reusing materials, it’s a fantastic way to unleash your creativity and add something unique to your home.
And remember – if you decide to get rid of your object at any point, all the cardboard can be recycled (just remember to remove any nuts and bolts before you add it to the recycling!)”