Danny Seo's "Upcycling"

Danny Seo's "Upcycling"

By Diana Budds
In a new book out this August, upcycling ace Danny Seo guides readers through the craft of taking trash and everyday objects and transforming them into "better, brighter, and cooler things." Armed with humor, wit, and an arsenal of bottles, corks, take-out chopsticks, and other cast-offs, Danny details 90 projects that range from decorating ideas to gifts to entertaining to kid-friendly crafts—and all can be completed in just three steps. We asked Danny a few questions about how the book came about and for some words of wisdom for our Methodology upcycling contest. "Just think if MacGyver were running a Michaels craft store, what would your Methodology result be?" Danny says. Read on to learn more about how Danny got his start and for a sneek peek of Upcycling: Create Beautiful Things with the Stuff You Already Have.
How did you catch the upcycling bug?
It sounds like a disease! But I guess in a way, upcycling is like having a crafting fever. I've been working on environmental issues since I was 12 years old, when I founded the organization Earth 2000, and grew it into a national teenage eco organization. At the same time, I was also interested in the world of home design, crafting, entertaining—lifestyle, in general. So you can imagine when these two worlds collided—sustainability and style—you ended up with someone who was interested in making things but doing it in the most resourceful way possible.

I've been upcycling since I was a teenager. One of my first "a-ha" moments happened when I was 19 and I realized I could upcycle objects into useful and truly functional things. I moved into my very first apartment in Washington, D.C., and had little money to spend on decorating. A local church was throwing away a podium that I managed to get home. There, I painted it a beautiful matte gray color, added wheels on the bottom, and turned it into a TV stand. Behind, where the shelves once held copies of the Bible, I now had DVDs stored that I could easily access just by wheeling it forward. The ornate wood blended together with the paint created something modern and traditional at the same time. I called it "sacrilegious chic."

A trivet made from take-out chopsticks, "one of the most common junk drawer staples," according to Danny.

What project was the most challenging? The most fun?

The Pots-and-Pans Robot is one of my favorite projects in the book. It's cobbled together from cookware items past their prime, a couple of candlesticks, and some hot glue.

All of the projects in Upcycling are three steps or less, so nothing really is difficult. What can be challenging is FINDING the items to upcycle. I've been obsessed with Patron bottles because it seems like a real shame to simply toss them into the recycling bin considering how pretty they are in shape, texture and weight. So, I upcycled them into beautiful tabletop oil lanterns for outdoor entertaining. Finding a dozen of these bottles without binge drinking was a challenge, but then I realized I just had to be very friendly to the owners of my local Mexican restaurant.

The most fun project is the gold "dipped" silhouette plates. You just take old plates, stick tape on top in whatever pattern you like, and spray with a Valspar metallic paint that looks just like, well, metal! Wait three minutes, peel off the tape, and you've got modern-looking, luxe plates.

Pellegrino bottles wrapped in twine become DIY diffusers. "This project takes advantage of the fact that you can buy little jars of essential oils for reed diffusers instead of buying the whole kit," writes Danny in the book.

Can you talk a little bit about your thought process behind the Method Plastic-Bottle Hourglass? How did this idea come about?

Hourglasses made from Method bottles and wine corks.

Iconic shapes are always fun to play with and the Method hand wash bottles—in their very popular tear drop shape—are definitely something people recognize even if the word "Method" is scraped off. I just played around with the bottles and realized they could be made into an hourglass. Does it really keep time? No...but it looks super cool. All you need is a wine cork, a cordless drill to drill a hole through the cork, and two bottles. Fill with sand and attach the parts together and you're done. No glue, no tape, nothing.

Here's a carpet made from a gradient of about 100 sample squares. "I think I need to preface this project with a stern warning," writes Danny. "Do not go into your local hardware of flooring store and steal all of their free samples."

What advice do you have for people participating in our Methodology contest? How can they begin to approach the task at hand?Keep it simple. I once picked up a crafting book that had beautiful photos and projects, but they all involved weird and expensive tools and machines or clearly were made by a team of talented stylists. Big impact, small effort, easy to find materials—scissors, tape, craft glue, a twig—is the way to go. Just think if MacGyver were running a Michaels craft store, what would your Methodology result be? Think like MacGyver.

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