For These Designers and Homebuilders, the Best Materials Are Ones That Have Already Been Used

Writer Penny Craswell explores the potential of secondhand and upcycled materials to craft new homes.

Sure, you could build a home from boring old wood. Or, a more exciting option, you could build a home from wood that is literally old, as in timber sourced secondhand from a prior build. A growing number of designers, architects, and builders are catching on to the goldmine that is construction waste, and have started recycling wood, plastic, and metal, and upcycling rubble to create entirely new materials for use in home design. It’s these homes that Australian design writer Penny Craswell explores in her upcoming book, Reclaimed: New Homes from Old Materials, out January 10, 2023, via Thames & Hudson.

Craswell offers some perspective on why we should implement a pre-used palette. In one of her examples, approximately 13 million tons of brick and clay tile debris was generated in the U.S. in 2015. In another, nearly 9 million tons of wood is thrown out in the U.K. every year, she reports, yet 80 percent is thought to be recyclable. If those numbers aren’t enough to inspire your own secondhand build, perhaps the projects within the pages of her new book will. If they do, Craswell provides a list of suppliers globally that can help you get started.

Reclaimed: New Homes From Old Materials
A celebration of sustainability, design, and creativity, this book presents beautiful homes created from recycled and repurposed materials.Bricks can be cleaned, timber hardens with age, and metal develops a pleasing patina without deteriorating, making them all perfect for reuse.

"This book joins the dots for people wanting to take action on climate change, offering inspiration on how to design homes using reclaimed and recycled materials," says Craswell. "I hope people will discover that these materials can be used to create a whole variety of different looks, from old weathered timber, to white-painted brick, to bright-colored plastic. You don’t have to go in with an aesthetic in mind either, sometimes, the reclaimed material can surprise you and offer something you never expected."

Here, we share some of the most exciting homes from Craswell’s book, and a few more we’ve featured on the site that make clever use of used materials.

A Colorful New York Apartment Is Reimagined Using Reclaimed Timber

Location: New York City, New York

Architect: Andrew Franz Architect

Reclaimed materials: Timber for floors, cabinetry, storage wall, and door jambs

Architect Andrew Franz used reclaimed timber extensively in this renovation of a loft apartment in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, transforming a small space into a bright and comfortable home for four. The building dates from around 1908 and was probably originally a textiles factory. The blue and yellow cabinets are made from reclaimed timber and act as dividing walls with integrated storage.

Architect Andrew Franz used reclaimed timber extensively in this renovation of a loft apartment in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, transforming a small space into a bright and comfortable home for four. The building dates from around 1908 and was probably originally a textiles factory. The blue and yellow cabinets are made from reclaimed timber and act as dividing walls with integrated storage.

The use of the cabinets extends into the bedrooms. The architect chose reclaimed ash from local supplier The Hudson Company, which sources this hard and structural timber from old New England and Canadian barns. "It’s a beautiful old-growth wood," says the architect. "The client had a desire to use wood and to use as few species as possible."

The use of the cabinets extends into the bedrooms. The architect chose reclaimed ash from local supplier The Hudson Company, which sources this hard and structural timber from old New England and Canadian barns. "It’s a beautiful old-growth wood," says the architect. "The client had a desire to use wood and to use as few species as possible."

Blue tiles in the bathroom match the cobalt blue cabinetry made from reclaimed ash.

Blue tiles in the bathroom match the cobalt blue cabinetry made from reclaimed ash.

A Faux Mountain Inspired by Disneyland Caps This Riotous Renovation in London

Location: London, U.K.

Architect: CAN

Reused materials: Plastic for kitchen benchtops and cabinets, decorative plaster moldings in the living room, reclaimed bricks, recycled aluminum

Mat Barnes, the director of architecture and design studio CAN, embraces creativity and new materials—including those made from recycled waste. In the transformation of his London home, he has created a design full of surprises and invention. On the ground floor, the partially demolished brick wall was inspired by the crumbling brick walls in the movie Trainspotting. The bricks taken down were relaid elsewhere in the project, and the remaining wall was painted and left as is.

Mat Barnes, the director of architecture and design studio CAN, embraces creativity and new materials—including those made from recycled waste. In the transformation of his London home, he has created a design full of surprises and invention. On the ground floor, the partially demolished brick wall was inspired by the crumbling brick walls in the movie Trainspotting. The bricks taken down were relaid elsewhere in the project, and the remaining wall was painted and left as is.

The kitchen cabinets and benchtops are crafted from a marble-look material made from recycled plastic chopping boards and bottle tops. The alternating black and blue panels add visual interest that complements the bright red metal beams and trusses.

The kitchen cabinets and benchtops are crafted from a marble-look material made from recycled plastic chopping boards and bottle tops. The alternating black and blue panels add visual interest that complements the bright red metal beams and trusses.

The design fades gradually from the vibrancy of the communal ground-floor spaces to the quiet neutral of the bedrooms, with a pastel mint-green staircase with orange nosing helping the transition.

The design fades gradually from the vibrancy of the communal ground-floor spaces to the quiet neutral of the bedrooms, with a pastel mint-green staircase with orange nosing helping the transition.

A Melbourne Home’s Fancy Brick Work Breaks the Mold

Location: Melbourne, Australia

Architect: Studio Bright

Reused material: Bricks

Architecture office Studio Bright used reclaimed bricks, lightly bagged and painted cream, to create a sense of history at 8-Yard House, a new build in suburban Melbourne. "I like it that non-architects are not sure if it’s a new or an old house," says architect Melissa Bright. "Maybe that’s connected to the material choices we made." The bricks are used both inside and out, as can be seen from the back garden.

Architecture office Studio Bright used reclaimed bricks, lightly bagged and painted cream, to create a sense of history at 8-Yard House, a new build in suburban Melbourne. "I like it that non-architects are not sure if it’s a new or an old house," says architect Melissa Bright. "Maybe that’s connected to the material choices we made." The bricks are used both inside and out, as can be seen from the back garden.

Inside the house, reclaimed bricks are used as interior finishes alongside timber in the living room and kitchen. The front living room is an intimate space with rich, dark interiors and an old wood-burning stove. "In some ways, this is our new ‘old’ house part," says architect Melissa Bright.

Inside the house, reclaimed bricks are used as interior finishes alongside timber in the living room and kitchen. The front living room is an intimate space with rich, dark interiors and an old wood-burning stove. "In some ways, this is our new ‘old’ house part," says architect Melissa Bright.

There are eight outdoor spaces, or yards, of different sizes, which gives rise to the name of the house. This small courtyard is located off the dining room, and helps to connect the interior to the outdoors. "The selection of reclaimed brick has given this house a coherence that meshes perfectly with the focus on nature of the eight outdoor yards, and the cream paint contrasts wonderfully with the green planting throughout," writes author Penny Craswell.

There are eight outdoor spaces, or yards, of different sizes, which gives rise to the name of the house. This small courtyard is located off the dining room, and helps to connect the interior to the outdoors. "The selection of reclaimed brick has given this house a coherence that meshes perfectly with the focus on nature of the eight outdoor yards, and the cream paint contrasts wonderfully with the green planting throughout," writes author Penny Craswell.

Blink and You Might Miss the Subtle Beauty of Alessia Mosci’s Upcycled London Flat

Location: London, U.K.

Architect: Alessia Mosci

Reused material: Marble, plywood, pine boards

On the main level, architect Alessia Mosci relocated the kitchen into what was a large bedroom, so as to give the kitchen more functionality and connect it to the living room. The cooktops can pivot up against the backsplash to create more prep space on the counter.

On the main level, architect Alessia Mosci relocated the kitchen into what was a large bedroom, so as to give the kitchen more functionality and connect it to the living room. The cooktops can pivot up against the backsplash to create more prep space on the counter.

The counter and backsplash are made up of a marble slab leftover from a bigger job.

The counter and backsplash are made up of a marble slab leftover from a bigger job.

Virtue Joinery built the custom cabinetry, composed of plywood stained a soft grey.

Virtue Joinery built the custom cabinetry, composed of plywood stained a soft grey.

A Cramped Melbourne Victorian Gets an Earthy Refresh Inspired by the Australian Bush

Location: Melbourne, Australia

Designer: Kim Kneipp

Reused material: Wood

The kitchen island and cabinets at this Melbourne renovation are made of recycled timber, taking cue from the wooden bookcase that designer Kim Kneipp installed during the home’s first restyling.

The kitchen island and cabinets at this Melbourne renovation are made of recycled timber, taking cue from the wooden bookcase that designer Kim Kneipp installed during the home’s first restyling.

For These Designers and Homebuilders, the Best Materials Are Ones That Have Already Been Used - Photo 14 of 21 -
For These Designers and Homebuilders, the Best Materials Are Ones That Have Already Been Used - Photo 15 of 21 -

Four Minnesota Housemates Turn Their Dingy Garage Into a Workspace for $26K

Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota

Architect: Kyle Huberty

Reused materials: Douglas fir boards, pavers, bricks, furnishings, fixtures

In turning the second level of the garage behind their duplex into a multifunctional workspace without breaking the bank, Kyle Huberty relied on friends, family, and the community at large.

In turning the second level of the garage behind their duplex into a multifunctional workspace without breaking the bank, Kyle Huberty relied on friends, family, and the community at large.

Around a hearth made of black bricks and a Jøtul stove found on Facebook Marketplace are vintage leather loungers that a friend pulled out of storage and an Iranian rug given to Kyle and his wife, Elsie, by another friend.  The light fixtures are vintage finds from Bauer Brothers Salvage.

Around a hearth made of black bricks and a Jøtul stove found on Facebook Marketplace are vintage leather loungers that a friend pulled out of storage and an Iranian rug given to Kyle and his wife, Elsie, by another friend. The light fixtures are vintage finds from Bauer Brothers Salvage.

Elsie’s grandmother crafted the wool wall art that hangs at the end of the space, where Elsie stashes her fabrics and Birdie Lou, the couple’s daughter, plays with toys.

Elsie’s grandmother crafted the wool wall art that hangs at the end of the space, where Elsie stashes her fabrics and Birdie Lou, the couple’s daughter, plays with toys.

A Young Family’s Brooklyn Townhouse Stands Apart in Steel Cladding

Location: South Slope, Brooklyn

Architect: Office for Architecture

Reused material: Eastern white pine

Bay windows are common in this kind of terraced house and add visual interest to both the house and the street, as well as a small amount of additional interior space. "We kept the original bay windows and designed the rooms around them in a manner that would frame the table in the dining room downstairs, and the bed in the main bedroom upstairs," explains architect Aniket Shahane.

Bay windows are common in this kind of terraced house and add visual interest to both the house and the street, as well as a small amount of additional interior space. "We kept the original bay windows and designed the rooms around them in a manner that would frame the table in the dining room downstairs, and the bed in the main bedroom upstairs," explains architect Aniket Shahane.

The front door and the timber flooring throughout are made from knotty Eastern White Pine that was reclaimed from the joists of a demolished building in Brooklyn.

The front door and the timber flooring throughout are made from knotty Eastern White Pine that was reclaimed from the joists of a demolished building in Brooklyn.

The dining table sits in an alcove created by one of the bay windows at the front of the home. Sheer curtains allow the natural light to filter into the interior while maintaining privacy. An original fireplace and brick wall has also been retained.

The dining table sits in an alcove created by one of the bay windows at the front of the home. Sheer curtains allow the natural light to filter into the interior while maintaining privacy. An original fireplace and brick wall has also been retained.

Mandi Keighran
Design and travel writer based in London.

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