British designer and entrepreneur Max McMurdo knows a thing or two about turning junk into treasure. Featured regularly on TV shows such as Amazing Spaces, McMurdo has a knack for re-using everything from bicycle wheels, doors and toolboxes, creating some spectacular outdoor projects that are both practical and beautiful. In his new book, Upcycling Outdoors: 20 Creative Garden Projects Made From Reclaimed Materials, McMurdo outlines the basics of good outdoor design, how to find cool salvaged materials, and includes step-by-step tutorials. We asked him to share some tips with us.
Have people embraced the idea of upcycling more since you’ve started encouraging and educating them to do so?
Absolutely! Fifteen years ago when I started out, I was just considered a hippy on a mission. I wasn’t taken seriously as a designer or a business, and people didn’t even know the phrase upcycling. The entire movement now is incredibly strong, and the younger generation are very familiar with the shows, books and designs.
Upcycling has numerous positive impacts: We save items from landfill, we create beautiful designs, interiors and architecture while learning new skills that benefit mental health and wellbeing. What’s not to love?!
What are your favorite outdoor projects?
My personal favorite from the new book is the Toolbox Barbecue, mainly because it has huge sentimental attachment, as I purchased it with the profit from my first-ever sale. The Three-Door Potting Shed design on the cover of the book makes me really happy and already people have been sending me pictures of their versions.
In your book, you talk about how garden products and furniture are changing for the better in terms of what’s available. What materials or techniques do you use that we can incorporate into our outdoor projects?
Upcycling outdoors is the ultimate challenge, because not only are you re-using salvaged objects, but you also have to ensure they are suitably durable for use in the elements. Fortunately, we now have wonderful finishes, paints and materials that make it easier than ever to upcycle successfully and on a budget.
Charring is the greatest timesaving technique ever! Basically it’s an ancient Japanese process where you burn wood with a naked flame – we use a blowtorch. The charring effect brings out the grain, which looks lovely and rustic, makes the wood waterproof and I believe even has anti-mold and fungal properties. I’m also a big fan of using palm routers to finish timber quickly and beautifully.
Can you recommend a project the family can do together?
For outright family fun at festivals, it has to be the Pallet Play Tent for kids. It’s so simple, yet hours of fun with loved ones creating an inspirational play space. It’s also great way to get the kids off the iPads and out making things in the garden. Best of all, it only involves sourcing two free pallets, a hammer and some nails. Once you’ve created the structure, the kids can let their imagination run wild, accessorizing with fairy lights, bunting and cushions to make the ultimate kids upcycled hangout retreat!
Have you created any fabulous upcycled garden projects? Share your photos with us!
All photos by Brent Darby