Mindful home renovation – a case study of repurposing old household objects

In our latest blog we explore the hidden opportunities in old household items, following Dimitra’s experiences of giving new leases of life to disused objects.  

“Each repurposed item makes my heart sing and motivates me to find something else to bring back to life.”

Dimitra has always been drawn to unique, quirky, handcrafted objects in magazines, homes, shops and museums. She grew to love manipulating fabric in her teens, learning later to sew curtains and revive furniture with traditional and modern upholstery skills. For years she has squirrelled away fabrics and treasures which others wanted to discard, knowing that one day they could be reinvented and revived. Alongside upcycling creative household items, Dimitra’s repurposing also helps reduce her carbon footprint; instead of buying a new item she repurposes an old one. Repurposing is one way in which she sets an example for her son on how to live a less environmentally impactful life.

“I have a teenager for whom I would like to make a difference to my carbon footprint; guilt lingers when I consider my decades of consumption. I don’t, however, want to make him feel bleak about his future; I’d like to set an example of a life that impacts less on the environment and is still exciting and inspiring. We have both begun to value how a life surrounded by fewer but more meaningful objects allows us to focus on our life experiences rather than our need to maintain an overflowing home.”

Bathroom cabinet before
Bathroom cabinet after

Dimitra’s experiences of repurposing has led her on a journey of discovery when it comes to shopping and her carbon footprint, and the unexpected benefits of taking the time to consider what she wants and how she can achieve it.

“The old me would have decided I needed something, jumped in the car, bought it and driven home. Now I ask myself: Do I need it to be new? Can I get it locally? Does anyone have a spare one? Do I need it this instant? Finding something locally sometimes takes a little longer, but I meet local residents that way and have a chat about shared interests. Connecting with my community gives me a heart-warming feeling; now I look for that connection in many areas of my life.”

She has tried her hand at upcycling and repurposing a wide assortment of materials and items, from the traditional to the slightly more unusual, endeavouring to renovate her home mindfully. She’s used repurposed paint, made the partly rotten floor joists into garden bed borders, resewn curtains, revived the beautiful furniture left by the previous owner and sourced her items as locally as possible. From adorning curtains with her grandma’s embroidered tablecloth to fashioning a bedside rug made from unwanted faux fur coats, history, passion and a bit of quirkiness runs through every creation, each one unique and special.

Bedside rug made from unwanted faux fur coats, collars and cuffs - luxury and vegan!

“If I show you around my home, I won’t say: this is from Dunelm, this is from Ebay. I’ll say: this duvet cover was made from a friend’s 1950s trousseau, this lace curtain used to be a tablecloth. My surroundings are imbued with handiwork and treasures, reinvented to suit a more modern interior scheme.”

The embroidered tablecloth was first painted and then the lace pieces were laid on top and machine stitched. The tablecloth was then cut behind the lace so that in some sections more light can come through.

She’s recently created a stunning and hardwearing stair runner, made by hand using remnant fabrics. Apparently knitting with flax twine was a challenging job but it was worth it for the result; a hand crafted and eye catching runner, costing a fraction of the price of a shop bought one.

Hand crafted stair runner

Do It Yourself

Today’s throw – away culture is damaging our environment, with 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions a result of things we buy. Dimitra’s case study showcases how seemingly unwanted items can be transformed into stylish and contemporary products with a brand new purpose. 

Repurposing not only reduces carbon footprints but also provides opportunities to learn new skills, keep history and tradition alive, and allows you to create an item tailored to your tastes. As we have also seen, repurposing provides an opportunity to connect with your local community. 

Explore our shopping guidance pages for advice and sources to get you started on your own upcycling adventures. 

While her future endeavours include brainstorming more repurposing ideas and assisting other people to reinvent items they value, shopping isn’t the only area of the carbon footprint that Dimitra is working on. She’s started to create a kitchen garden in the hope it will become a dense food forest, overflowing with nutritious, organic vegetables and fruits. She’s practicing companion planting and using permaculture principles to ward off weeds and pests, and hopes to invite friends to pick their own vegetables to share the joy of picking what’s ripe and creating a meal around it.

Elm chest of drawers previously used as garage storage, sanded and given a fabric top
Marble mosaic made with small offcuts of marble from a stonemason's workshops floor
Small tub chair retrieved from a skip and re-upholstered

From her experiences, Dimitra believes harnessing the power of community is key to creating positive future change and has shared an inspirational tip for anyone wanting to start their own repurposing journey:

“Your community is a treasure chest of knowledge, skills, inspiration and much more besides! Enjoy connecting with it, valuing what you have and making a difference. The smallest effort you make is a piece of the beautiful mosaic of a changing world.”

Dimitra’s useful resources and organisations

Permaculture Magazine for inspirational living and gardening

Cambridge RePaint for good quality paint, craft supplies and much more

Repair cafes to meet like-minded people 

Connect with friends for skill swaps (I’ll make you a curtain if you…)

Emmaus for furnishings and all things re-vivable

Interior magazines, however old, for incredible ideas that can be achieved with simple skills and patience.

Talking to people; you never know who will inspire you next

Everyone can take action on climate change by reducing their carbon footprint.
If you have been inspired by Dimitra’s repurposing journey and want to be part of the solution in Cambridge, make a difference by calculating your carbon footprint and signing the Cambridge Climate Change Charter.