The Living Furniture Project

Emerald-green sideboard with brass fittings
Emerald Side Cabinet
Designer Nic Parnell with apprentice Kevin. Made from scrap pieces of plywood and brass fittings recovered from a building site in Shoreditch

A charity set up to help young people get back on their feet by up-cycling old furniture was an idea that aimed to help solve two major problems – homelessness and environmental waste. Like many similarly great ideas though, it all came down to funding and this project turned out to be just a bit too ambitious.

Founded by journalist Alistair Sloan, the charity started in 2012 and dissolved less than 2 years later in June 2014, The Living Furniture Project was one of those great ideas that, for countless reasons, just didn’t get fully off the ground.

The idea was simple, to help homeless people get back on their feet by recycling old furniture. A workshop, based just off Brick Lane, was the central hub where homeless Londoners could enrol as apprentices to work alongside a skilled mentor in order to learn valuable skills as well as producing unique furniture pieces that could be sold to raise funds for the charity.

The original concept, however, has been validated by a number of small, local charities which have been inspired to replicate the idea of helping homeless people back into the world of work by teaching them valuable, in-demand, skills such as carpentry and furniture restoration.

The Mission

The Mission Statement clearly set out the aims of the charity to employ a commercial approach to solving homelessness. This involved paying homeless people a living wage and to provide specialist support to help them rebuild their lives.

Another aim was to reduce the amount of landfill waste, of which discarded furniture, building materials and timber is a major component, by up-cycling and re-purposing old furniture that was no longer wanted.

Design Partners

The project worked with several London designers to help create each item and the idea was that people could commission unique pieces which would benefit from the authenticity of having an established designer ‘name’ involved in the work and, with the input of skilled mentors, a guarantee of high quality.

Sarah Baulch

The founder of two eco-friendly homeware companies, Sarah Baulch’s innovative re-use of textiles has been recognized by Country Living, Good Homes and Elle Decoration as a leading example of up-cycling.

She is dedicated to empowering others through teaching, and has run up-cycling workshops at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Kensington Palace and other iconic venues with a strong design heritage./n Strengths: Eco-friendly Design, hand-crafting, re-using textiles.

James McBennett

James maintains interests in entrepreneurship, furniture and digital design. He trained in architecture, working in London, Copenhagen and Rotterdam before co-founding – whose mission is finding the next generation of ready-to-assemble furniture and sharing it with the world.

Previously, James has been a visiting critic at several leading designs schools as well as taught 3D printing and digital design to masters students in Dublin, he co-organises TEDxLondon.

Nic Parnell

Nic runs a successful furniture making company creating bespoke work for a range of commercial and household clients across London. Working with reclaimed wood and sticking closely to the true principles of upcycling, Nic adds value to his raw materials through his fluency in woodworking and affinity with sustainable design.

Well-respected design blogs like Inhabitat, DesignMilk and Scraphacker sing his praises, and his work is regularly featured as part of the DesignersBlock series.

Geoff Walker

Geoff Walker is a furniture maker and carpenter with 20 years experience, and the founder of re-fuze – an interior design, furniture making and installation company that uses old furniture, reclaimed wood and even motorbike parts in its designs.

Some of Londons most unique venues – like Barrio East, Dalston Superstore and Noble Fine Liquor, have been created by Geoff. He has run workshops in sustainable design at a range of events from Green Man Festival to The London Festival of Architecture.

Yinka IloriI

London Metropolitan University graduate Yinka Ilori hales from North London but his influences are both parochial and global; from herringbone tweeds to Dutch wax.

He shows at exhibitions around London and events across Europe, and works to order from his studio in the heart of East London.

Donna Walker

After completing her BA at Leeds College of Art and Design in 2007, Donna Walker then successfully launched her own design company where as well as designing and making furniture and lighting. She also works with spatial design, immersive set design, and public art – exhibiting nationally and internationally.

Walker also co-founded an immersive design company called TRACES back in 2011, who specialise in putting on unconventional art and design experiences in often forgotten and abandoned buildings. She currently works and lives in Hackney, London.

  • Makita, a global power tool brand, donated tools and certified training courses to the apprentices and staff.
  • Providence Row, a homeless charity based in London, offering a safe place where the homeless can engage in services to help them off the streets. The furniture workshop was also base here.
  • Crisis – the national charity for homeless single people.

Aside from award winning designers, the project also benefited from the help of a team of furniture makers who would typically give up a day of their time each week to offer training and support at the workshop.

Marketing Volunteers
  • Clair Pinegar, an animator and motion graphics designer.
  • Michael Shannon, a web developer.
  • Natasha Lees, freelance photographer.
  • Nick Warpole, filmmaker and musician.
  • Laurance Gibson, freelance photographer and digital image consultant.
See Also
Child with her new bed from zarach
Every Head Should Have a Bed
Wooden tables and benches
Can the sustainable furniture trend be sustained?