Life Hacks: Upcycling

It’s environmentally friendly, it’s creative, it’s satisfying, and it saves money. What more could you ask for? Making treasure out of trash – otherwise known as upcycling – is more than a trend. It’s a way of life.

It certainly is for our friends, upcycling masters Ritch and SJ. So we got in touch to ask why they’re on a mission to spread the word about reusing or repurposing old materials that most of us would throw away. Appropriately enough, they were laying a patio (using recycled stone slabs, obviously) when we called.

“There’s an environmental element to it,” explained Ritch, “But there’s also the creativity and imagination in taking something old and turning it into something new. It’s rewarding – and nothing you buy off the shelf will have that level of character or interest.”

The couple certainly practice what they preach. Their YouTube channel features guides to making small(ish) projects including gifts, bookshelves and planters, but in their own lives, they’re not afraid to tackle the big stuff either. In fact, they rebuilt a large part of their North Lincolnshire home, landscaped the garden and completely renovated the interior.

“When we bought the house, our family thought we were mad,” continued Ritch. “I’d learned to bricklay a bit, but it was clearly a big project and we had no plan, no budget and no expertise!

“Our house was an old smallholding barn, built around 1830. Someone raised the roof level, around 1903 and turned it into a house. But they used contemporary materials, which just didn’t look right. We had an old wall at the back of the garden, which had been built at the same time as the barn. So we knocked that down and used it to rebuild the top third of the house.”

Ritch describes it casually enough, but the job took them more than eight years, including removing and rebuilding the chimney stacks, and researching the local building techniques of the day, to make sure their home included all the appropriate design details. Neither of them has been formally trained in building techniques – Ritch is a freelance illustrator and SJ is a part-time accounts assistant – but they’ve got a motto: I wonder if we can? Yes, we can!

The projects have continued, from roofing to patios, all with recycled materials and skills learned from what SJ calls ‘The University of You Tube’.

“Inside the house, there isn’t a new piece of furniture, except the kitchen and bathrooms, which we fitted ourselves,” she added. “It’s about looking at things in a more imaginative way – Pinterest is a fantastic resource for ideas you can tweak – like our washstand, made from a 1904 Singer sewing machine table.”

Their skills run to computers (Ritch built his own) and editing their own videos (SJ’s department) and they’re passionate about sharing their expertise and encouraging everyone to give it a go.

“A lot of what we do comes from the fact that we can’t afford something – so we look for another way of doing it. We always want to keep our creativity developing and anyone can do the same. If you want to do something, do it. Don’t worry about the result, just keep trying and you’ll get better and better.”

Fancy finding out more and getting some inspiration? You can follow their Instagram @ritchandsj and YouTube RitchandSJ.

Have you learned a new skill – or perfected an old one – during lockdown? We’d love to hear about it.