In our fourth and final live Q&A, textile designer Zeena Shah and up-cycling duo Patience & Gough joined Roddy Clarke to talk about how upcycling and DIY brings happiness to the home. Scroll down to read the highlights and find out more…
Will spent hours watching his carpenter grandfather tinker in his workshop, where his passion and interest in furniture was born. After studying at university, honing his skills and gaining a deeper knowledge of furniture restoration and conservation, Will set up his own workshop in 2012 and has been working on commissions for much-loved family heirlooms and larger corporate contracts ever since. Best known for his appearances on BBC One’s The Repair Shop since 2017, Will is also the resident furniture expert on BBC’s Morning Live.
Founded by Alice Patience and Oliver Gough, Patience & Gough is an upcycling studio reviving vintage designs into contemporary yet timeless creations. With a signature style of bold fabrics, colours, and prints, the duo’s main mission is to tackle waste and the environmental impact caused by mass furniture production. Since beginning in 2015, they have gone onto to collaborate with retailers such as Liberty to create beautiful bespoke and one-off collections.
When we look at recycling, long gone are the days of painted white furniture and a shabby chic aesthetic. - Roddy Clarke
Zeena, where does your love of colour and craft stem from?
Zeena: I just love all things colour and creativity. It’s been a long journey. I started my creative life as a textile designer at Chelsea School of Art, falling in love with screen printing primarily but also honing in on my love of colour and how to use it. I would spend hours in the dye lab putting things together. Since then, being a freelancer, the best way to make money was to try a bit of everything, I realized I work best when I’m doing a variety of different things as I have a very short attention span. My day to day is very varied, I'm either designing, art directing, styling, or wearing fun and colourful clothing so it comes from a lot of different things.
Where did your love of textiles come from? Was that your experience as a child?
Zeena: That's absolutely it. Being Indian, it’s part of my culture and heritage and it’s what I've always been drawn to. Such as Indian dress, the colours of clothing was part of everything that I was doing growing up.
Alice and Olly, how did you get started? What led you to the upcycling world?
Alice: I’ve been doing it for about seven or eight years now. I finished uni and did some work experience with an interior designer, that's when I knew that I wanted to be creative with my own hands. Luckily we had an art studio in my home and I repainted a piece that my Dad built, it went on from there really and I started learning my own techniques.
Olly: I joined about three years ago now and we rebranded. It used to be called ‘Down the Rabbit Hole Furniture’ which was quite a mouthful so we rebranded to Patience & Gough using both our surnames. I built a website which really helped to get our brand out there. I come from a photography background which goes hand-in-hand as I can photograph all our work.
The styling and the photography you create really sets you apart. Is that something you pride yourselves on and you focus on?
Olly: Definitely, it’s taken a long time to get there. I used to work for hotels and do food photography so it was completely different to what I was used to. We share a studio with Alice’s sister who does pet photography and she’s got some great flash lighting that we use. It works so well. We just managed to find our style and we’ve kept it consistent.
The concepts of upcycling, restoration, buying less but buying better or vintage, they all play into the circular economy that we’re trying to create. - Roddy Clarke
Zeena, how can people do this themselves? Where do they start?
Zeena: We live in a rented flat with not a lot of space so there’s loads of stuff that we’d like to do but we’re quite limited. I think it’s good to have a vision and the confidence to just give it a go and not to overthink it too much. Paint is the easiest way to get started. Start small. One project people really love from my reels is a glass drinks bottle dipped in marbling inks (you can use nail varnish). You can transform something that was just going in the recycling into something beautiful using just a bowl and nail polish. It’s having that attitude of trying something different.
What have been some of your most exciting DIY creations to date?
Zeena: The most exciting has been the TV show that recently aired called Hire my Home. There was so much DIY, we were on such a tight budget which was really challenging but so fun. There’s so much inspiration everywhere. Pinterest is a really good place to start to find simple upcycling ideas. We brought in some wooden panelling to create a false wall which was really affordable and we used tester paint pots to save money. Sourcing and going to vintage markets and charity shops was really fun. We found lampshades for £10 each and gave them a bit of a zhoosh with a piece of cord for a premium feel., It’s all in the details.
Your home is filled with things you have created. Does that make you feel very personally connected to it?
Zeena: Yes absolutely. My space is a part of me and a part of my partner. The things we choose really mean a lot to us, all of our plants are our little babies. You care for them more and your space is more meaningful, it’s really important to have a space that is yours.
We’re still throwing away millions of items into landfill every year. It’s key to look at recycling, restoration, and repair as the first option we think of when decorating the home. - Roddy Clarke
Alice and Olly, how has this tough year been for you? Have you had any exciting collaborations?
Olly: Yeah it’s been really busy. A lot of people are at home and stuck in their own environment with old furniture that they’ve wanted to get rid of or that’s a bit damaged so they’ve been looking to get these pieces refinished. We’ve got exciting things coming up. We’re collaborating with Patrick Folkes from Graphenstone Paint. They’ve donated paint for our workshop that we’re opening and their paint is really lovely.
Alice: We’re really excited to open so we can have a presence in our local community and people can see what we do.
Do you take commissions so people can bring their furniture to you? I know you buy furniture and sell it too.
Olly: We do a lot less of that now, we always used to do stuff ourselves with our own designs and sell it on our online shop but we’ve had so many commissions recently where people have been bringing their furniture to us to restore.
Alice: I love working on pieces like that as they often have sentimental value.
Is there any time you would say no to a piece of furniture? Like an antique that needs to be preserved for example. How would you determine that?
Olly: It’s a tricky one. A lot of people are bringing furniture to us because they want it to be different. We wouldn’t necessarily say we’re not prepared to work on something unless it’s something that’s really special with a lot of history.
Alice: We had a very old veneer chest of drawers from a client with a lot of damage so we just put some fabric in the two bottom drawers. We’ve learned over the years how to restore veneer to maintain an antique look.
Olly: Anything we can't do we give to our joiner friend in our local town who fixes anything we can't restore or fix. We’re getting slowly more into restorations which is exciting.
You’ve collaborated with Liberty on a unique collection. How did that go? Is there more to come?
Alice and Olly: Calum, who is a buyer for Liberty, found us at the 100% Design Show. We took a big risk and drove all the way down to London with thirty bits of furniture. We didn't know Liberty were going to be there and two weeks later we got an email saying they wanted to collaborate. They bought five pieces from us that they saw at the show and from then on we’d have pieces that would come in and Ollie would mock up some designs so they could choose what’s going in the shop.
Olly: We don't have anything in there at the moment but now that the store has reopened we’re hoping next season we’ll be able to get back in there.
In terms of looking at the recycling world from an external point of view, how has it changed over the years? Has it become more of a community?
Alice: I’d say the recycling world has definitely tightened. I follow a few girls from the beginning when I started and we’ve gone from strength to strength. We chat to each other and give each other tips. It’s progressed and the standard of upcycling has gone up to more of a refinishing standard.
Olly: When you (Alice) were working at the beginning you started off with chalk paint creating some pretty questionable pieces and over the years you've honed in your skills and style.
There’s so much power in colour. Colour is a therapy, so much joy and positivity can come from it. - Zeena Shah
Zeena, have you noticed more of a desire from followers for things like DIY and craft?
Zeena: Yes definitely, I've been doing this for ten years and it’s always been one of things that craft has never felt very cool, so it’s been my mission to make craft cool again. Especially after the year we’ve had, people are so keen to learn and create things and they have realized the value of creativity and the joy it can bring. Everybody needs and has enjoyed trying it, whether it’s a tie dye project revamping old bed linen or using avocado to dye things. There’s a real zest for learning and I’ve definitely noticed a big difference this past year.
Do you think this year has pushed yourself to do more?
Zeena: Definitely as I've had more time being at home. This year has allowed me more time to create, do some sewing projects, and make things for my followers which has been really nice.
What simple tips can viewers take away? Is it looking at the everyday things that surround us and thinking how can it be repurposed?
Zeena: Yes, it’s about starting small or thinking is there something you really don’t like that you just feel isn't working in your space. Start with a mood board and gather inspiration. Our space has such a personality and is so directed by colour so thinking about how things work together.
With people who might be nervous to use colour, how could they embrace it?
Zeena: If you hate it, you can just repaint it. You've got to find your colour confidence, I encourage a similar thing with the way people dress, it’s not for anyone else it's for you. It’s about starting small again. With clothing I might say start with a scarf but interiors I might say start with a cushion before moving onto bigger pieces. Think about layering, using different textures, wall art, gallery walls, and the way you can put things together. You could even paint something and create your own wall art.
For people that might be working on a shoestring budget. You must buy some things that think that’s not what I want right now but I can change it. Where do you source these types of things?
Zeena: I love our local charity shops but there’s also some amazing antique antique fairs. The one I love the most is Sunbury antiques fair, it’s so good but it’s got a little bit more expensive over the years. Ten years ago you could buy the most amazing things for no money at all. My favorite is eBay, it’s so brilliant and the further you go outside of London the cheaper things are.
It's fun, it’s playful and at the same time you’re helping save things from going into landfill. - Roddy Clarke
Alice and Olly, what tips would you give to viewers for attempting things themselves?
Olly: The most important thing is just to have a go. You can try all these expensive products but just be creative and use paint as a cheaper option.
Alice: I agree and if it goes wrong it’s yours so you can just repaint it. Go to auctions, they’re really fun. You can find good, sturdy pieces to work on for your first restoration.
Olly: It makes it really special when you're buying or using a piece of furniture with a lot of history. Just a paintbrush, some paint and a bit of creativity and you can go a long way.
Zeena, this is very specific but is there any way that you can upcycle or repurpose DHL envelopes?
Zeena: I marble everything, I save up my old envelopes and go wild with marbling inks but you can do the same with nail varnish and water to create beautiful patterns. I then rip up the marble papers when they've dried and turn them into collages for birthday cards, prints and gift tags. You could also buy paper punches and create confetti or shred it and use it as packaging.
Do you have any suggestions for where you can donate pieces that you actually can't recycle or upcycle?
Zeena: I use Depop and eBay all the time. Local charity shops are really handy too. If there’s ever any toiletries I use The Hygiene Bank, you can send whatever you don’t use to people in need. There’s a similar organization for food called The Trussell Trust.
Alice and Olly, when is your workshop opening officially? WIll it be a showroom as well as a workshop?
Olly: Good question. We’re open by mid to the end of May. We’ve had a lot of setbacks, it’s been really fun we’ve learned so much, it’s been an experience. It’ll have some pieces on display in the windows and around but it will mainly be a workshop. We have a sanding room with glass walls so you can see me working and a painting section which is a lot cleaner now without the dust.
Alice: It’s really to get people to know that we’re there, we exist, and we can take care of your pre-existing pieces so you don’t always have to buy new.
How do you know what is good at an antiques fair? Do you have any advice?
Alice: In person it’s probably easier as you can see and touch the pieces but online you can ask for a report on quality and request more photos but you can upcycling anything.
Olly: Modern pieces tend to last a few years as they’re made out of chipboard but generally speaking pieces that are twenty-or-so years old are built to last. The more solid it is the better quality. If it’s heavy then buy it.
Zeena, do you have any advice on that at all?
Zeena: I often will just do my homework on a piece so I know what to look for as there’s so much information online. I often shop for mid-century furniture so I want to make sure I’m buying smartly.
Audience Q&A Continued
Zeena, what has been your most exciting collaboration over the past year?
Zeena: I collaborated with The Tartan Blanket Co last September. We created a really bright and colourful scarf. It was lovely to work with a small brand and bring my personality to one of their products. Next season we’re doing some blankets and I’m over the moon about the colours.
Alice and Olly, for someone looking to set up their own studio as an upcycler what advice would you give them?
Alice: Get your branding down first and make sure you have everything set up. Good imagery, a good space, and test out your products before showing them to the world so you know that when you do, it will be the best it can be if you want to do it professionally.
Olly: The thing that helped us the most was having our own website as that gives you a wider audience with an online presence.It’s surprisingly easy to set up once you learn what you’re doing.
Are there any good hardware suppliers homeowners can look out for?
Olly: We always try to preserve the handles that are on the pieces if we can. If you can reuse the handles then that’s the best way but if not go for something solid, made out of real brass or a good metal. There’s so much stuff on Etsy and eBay that are either handmade or refinished. Or reusing old handles that people have taken off other pieces.
What is the most different but satisfying project you've ever done?
Alice and Olly: It was a wardrobe that took twenty-eight days of work and it had very intricate plaster mouldings that we needed to take off, repair and put back on. There was a lot of restoration that we’d never done before and we learned so much, the client was really blown away so it gave us a real sense of achievement.
Zeena: Probably a wardrobe again, because it was more of a restoration project before Instagram times. I was in my old shared flat where I only had a tiny bedroom. It was very messy but it did end up being very beautiful. It’s come around with us.
Do either of you have any last words of inspiration?
Alice and Olly: If you're renting and you can't paint your walls but you want to express yourself then upcycling is the best way to do it as you can put your own character into that piece.
Zeena: I would say just do it. Don't overthink it and just give it a go, you can always change it back.