Jay Blades: Why we should make do and mend as much as possible

The designer and restorer argues that we owe it to our planet to make do and mend as much as possible…

Portrait of Jay Blades in a warehouse alongside one of his re-upholstered vintage armchairs

My belief is that you have got to leave this planet better than you found it. If I didn’t make a contribution to the Earth – from recycling products, to working within my community – then I’d be just as bad as those who take it for granted. 

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As you are reading Homes & Antiques, chances are you already furnish your home in a way that has very little impact on our environment: by buying antique and second-hand furniture. But do think about how you’re getting rid of the items you are replacing, as well. Is that old sofa going straight to the recycling centre? If so, there’s a high probability it will end up in landfill. Don’t let it! It’s so much better to repair and reuse. And a piece of good old-fashioned wooden furniture is never beyond repair.

Don’t let your sofa end up in landfill! Good old-fashioned wooden furniture is never beyond repair.

The way stuff was built back in the day… I believe it can all be restored. Even if you’ve got something that you’re convinced is beyond repair, it’s worth talking to an expert before you throw it out. Someone will be able to fix it. If the work is very extensive, then you’ll need to find an experienced restorer – the older they are, the more likely they will feel confident in taking on the job.

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If it’s important to you that the restoration is done in an eco-friendly way, then talk to your restorer about it. You want someone who will use water-based paints rather than oil-based, as the strong solutions required to clean up are so bad for the eco-system. If the job includes upholstery, you’ll want someone who can offer you fabrics that are made without damaging inks and chemicals. And ask about the various different padding materials they can use. Your best bet is to look for someone who works in traditional ways. My upholstery teacher, Greg (Gregory Cupitt-Jones), will only use the old techniques if he can. And his methods will have very little impact on the planet, if at all. It is more labour intensive, so it will cost more, but it’s worth it.

3 ways to make sure your unwanted furniture doesn’t end up at the dump

  1. Donate it ‘Charities like BHF and Emmaus will collect. And someone in your family might need it too.’
  2. Sell it ‘Get it on eBay or Gumtree, or, if it’s a quality piece, have it valued by an auction house.’
  3. Keep it ‘A change in upholstery fabric or a fresh lick of paint might be all that’s needed to give it a new lease of life.’