Brain Pickings

Fabulous Furniture Made of Unusual Upcycled Objects


What vintage suitcases have to do with funeral homes and bowling alleys.

In the ideology of sustainability, reusing is always better than recycling. But upcycling — the act of salvaging a product that has run its course and repurposing it into something new — doesn’t have to conjure images of scrappy hand-me-down sweaters stitched together into sad-looking patchwork quilts.

Lately, we’ve become particularly obsessed with beautifully designed, meticulously crafted furniture made out of unusual upcycled objects, from coffins to skateboards. Here are five of our favorites. (And a big hat tip to studiomate Tina, a.k.a. Swiss Miss, for nudging us to put this together.)


Canadian artist and designer Adrian Johnson combines vintage fridges with vintage leather seats from junk yard cars into beautiful retrotastic couches.

There are currently three Fridgecouch designs, one of which even features built-in speakers and is iPod-compatible.


Serious skating comes with serious collateral damage. Besides the mandatory broken arms and cracked skulls, there’s also a perpetual graveyard of broken skateboards. Deckstool salvages these from skateparks and skateshops across the U.S. to turn them into wonderful upcycled stools and benches.

The collection currently features several stool designs and one bench, but you can also send them your deck and have them create a custom design for you.

via design milk


Counterevolution takes reclaimed bowling alley hardwood and turns it into beautifully handcrafted tables, benches, chairs, stools and various interior design accessories.

More than three years ago, when I first cleaned some old bowling alley wood to make a countertop, I was struck by the beauty of the heartpine that lay beneath layers of dirt and polyurethane. It was love at first sight. [Our] mission was born in those early days, and it remains the same today: To design, build and sell furniture that realizes the highest potential of reclaimed materials.” ~ Jim Malone

via Swiss Miss


You may recall Coffin Couches from pickings past — a morbidly fabulous collection of corpse carriers repurposed into living room furniture. And if you aren’t sufficiently creeped out yet, you need only look to the the six cast iron heavy duty legs on each couch, embossed with the universal biohazard insignia to wink at federal health and safety regulations.

Still, the couches are absolutely beautiful, in that Adams Family kind of way. The collection currently features 24 couches, including a couple of team fan varieties.


From South African designer Katie Thompson comes REcreate — a fabulous line of furniture made from upcycled objects, upholstered with beautiful locally designed fabric prints. From vintage suitcase chairs to hat box ottomans to whisky casket side tables, the collection is pure retrostalgic charisma.

REcreate also has a lovely line of home accessories featuring treats like bucket lid clocks and teacup herb gardens.

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Women of the World: An Arresting Global Exploration


Last year, we took a look at Mondo Cane, the original shockumentary circa 1962. The following year, the same filmmakers — Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Jacopetti — released La Donna nel Mondo (Women of the World), another genre-bender film whose tagline says it all: “Behind the Fancy Clothes Into the Most Primitive, the Most Provocative Affairs of Women!” — an arresting exploration of everything from tribal culture to Geishas to polygamy to the female form itself.

In the following excerpt, the filmmakers take us inside the gay and lesbian club scene of Paris in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It’s fascinating and unsettling to see the film treat homosexuality as symptomatic of some “underlying sadness” and a misguided attempt to emulate the physical characteristics of the opposite gender. At the same time, however, it’s hard not to revel in the disconnect between the narrator’s scorn and the merry good time these men and women seem to be having.

Women of the World bespeaks the era’s institutionalized sexism, devoid of any self-awareness, yet offers a fascinating perspective on both the women of the time and, in a rich meta kind of way, on the men who documented them.

via VSL

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The Joy of Stats: Hans Rosling on Statistics as Storytelling


Last month, we were once again stunned by our favorite statistical stuntsman, Hans Rosling, as he visualized 200 years that changed the world in 4 minutes using augmented reality, in a promo for BBC’s The Joy of Stats — a compelling look at the convergence of statistics and storytelling. The hour-long program is now available in its entirety and we highly recommend you indulge.

There’s nothing boring about statistics. Especially not today, when we can make the data sing. With statistics, we can really make sense of the world. With statistic, the “data deluge,” as it’s been called, is leading us to an ever-greater understanding of life on Earth and the universe beyond.”

Intelligent and witty, the segment begins with a compelling introduction to some basic statistical concepts, then segues into the power of data visualization, with cameos by Brain Pickings favorites like David McCandless and the We Feel Fine project. Interwoven throughout are cutting-edge examples of statistics that reveal hidden patterns in the real world and, in the process, improve our quality of life.

Tickled by the subject? Explore further with the excellent new book Data Analysis with Open Source Tools, an essential handbook for thinking about data and usiting it as a sensemaking mechnism for the world.

via FlowingData

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Look at Life: The Swinging London of The 1960s


What sky-dining and London’s traffic wardens have to do with pre-modern hipsters.

During the 1960s, the Special Features Division of the Rank Organisation produced Look at Life — a fascinating British series of more than 500 short documentary segments exploring various aspets of life in Britain during the “swinging” era. From the rise of the supermarket to the tipping point of coffee culture to the emergence of the high-rise office, the series reveals the roots of many modern givens, alongside curioius era-specific fads and unique London fascinations like sky-dining and the culture of female traffic wardens.

They say London swings: It doesn’t. Not even the King’s Road, Chelsea. But here and there, among the conformist fat-cat crowds, is a lean cat or two, looking like it might swing, given some encouragement. And there among the chain stores and supermarkets is here and there a shop that may have something all its own to say. To the character who can send up a mass-production car. To people who can put living before a living.”

And the lollipop says what the toy car said: It’s all about that tiny colored womb, warm and gentle, in its way an escape from the H-bomb, television and other horrors of worker-day world.”

It’s particularly interesting to see the emergence of cultural phenomena we tend to see as nascent, from vintage revivalism to hipsterdom, in London’s “antique supermarkets,” predecessors of today’s vintage stores, and boutiques like I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, an impressively more hipsterly-named then-version of Urban Outfitters. In fact, the program’s entire tone is oozing the same blend of genuine fascination, not-so-subtle condescendence and marginal mockery that you’d find in much of today’s media conversation on hipster culture.

One way of saying ‘no’ to authority is to parody it. Some of the young, with little to say ‘yes’ to, come to Soho — that pulsating heart of swinging London where girls join clubs to see old men strip… or is it vice-versa… and at the cutely named I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, buy uniforms of the past to affront the uniformity of the present.”

Filmed, narrated and scored with delightful cinematic retrostalgia, the series does for the history of cultural innovation what James Burke’s Connections did for the history of technological innovation.

For more on the subject, we highly recommend Ready, Steady, Go!: The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London — a sweeping review of the era that gave us mod, bob cuts, and a new paradigm for freedom of expression. From profiles of cultural icons like designer Mary Quant and photographer David Bailey to the sociology of Beatlemania to LSD, the book offers keen insight on a geotemporal phenomenon that crossed cultural borders and shaped the taste, style and sensibility of decades to come.

via MetaFilter

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