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In love with leftovers

Rupert Blanchard, an upcycling furniture-maker, tells Georgia Grimond about his passion for materials

Georgia Grimond | March/April 2014

THE MAN

Rupert Blanchard is sitting on what was once a pile of junk. The plywood top of this cabinet used to be a hoarding on a building-site, one of the drawers comes from a Victorian shop-counter, another is from a 1970s G Plan sideboard, and under his leg is part of a fire-safety sign of the kind he saw in the park as a child. In his hands all of them have found a renewed purpose. The furniture he makes is greater than the sum of its parts.

Blanchard is 34 and originally from Wiltshire. In 1999, a graphic-design course at Central St Martin’s brought him to London, where the streets were paved “not with gold, but with rubbish”. He started collecting the city’s leftovers, reimagining and refashioning them into furniture so distinctive that his style was quickly imitated; his designs remain highly sought after. Now his days are spent scouring demolition sites, house clearances, scrapyards and the like to find objects he can put to new use.

He has rules. “A material cannot be usable in its present state, it must be undervalued and no longer fit for its original purpose.” And, ultimately, it must be destined for landfill. Breaking up an object for its parts is not acceptable.

He stores these “found elements” in a warehouse in east London, which is jammed to the rafters, but neatly organised according to size and material. “My life is like a game of Tetris. I’m constantly fighting for space and moving things around.” He puts out at least one collection a year, as well as designing bespoke pieces for commissions. And for the past five years he has been working with Ally Capellino, the British accessories-maker known for her simply styled canvas and leather bags. Capellino will re-launch her two London stores this summer, with Blanchard in charge of their refits.

It’s clear that he cares deeply about his creations. He talks of “falling in love” with some of the things he finds, of showing materials “respect” and of giving pieces the “attention they deserve”. He speaks softly from under a sweep of silky hair and with the gentlest murmur of a West Country accent, all of which adds to the romance of his endeavours. “I’m not setting out to save the world,” he says. “I just think there is a better, calmer way to do things and that people should design responsibly.”

His next big project is to apply his methods to a disused fruit warehouse he has bought in Margate, on the Kent coast. In due course it will become his workshop, with a place to live above it. Margate, with its Turner gallery, has become a hub for artisans like Blanchard and he admits his move there is a bit of a cliché. What would he call the community? Upcyclers? “It’s dangerous for anybody to pigeon-hole themselves. I would like to think I’m just a designer and maker. I’m as happy in a skip and making cabinets as I am in a boardroom designing an interior.”

THE SUIT

Blanchard has always liked the idea of wearing a suit, particularly for pleasure, but his job dictates that he spends most of his time in workwear, choosing practical, warm and hardwearing brands from America and Canada. That means “suits and shirts and good shoes are even more special to me now”. So it was a treat to wear this Farhi suit, even if he thought the print “unusual”though with its blocky, jigsaw look, it seems entirely suitable.

THE DETAILS

Navy skyscraper-print blazer, £595, trousers, £350, and slate cotton T-shirt, £65, all by Nicole Farhi; Tonda 1950 watch, £13,500, by Parmigiani; black Apethorn shoes, £205, by Loake. Cabinet, £2,160, by Rupert Blanchard at Elemental.

Stockists  elemental.uk.com loake.co.uk nicolefarhi.com parmigiani.ch

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