From Trash to Treasure: Upcycling Workshops and Sustainable Design in Sydney’s Inner City and Inner West

July 21st, 2023 - by Brad Gillespie

According to a recent government-commissioned report, Australia’s waste generation has grown by 20% in the last 15 years.

It’s more important than ever that we divert our rubbish from landfill and reuse, repurpose, and upcycle whenever we can. The inner city and inner west, known for embracing sustainable living, are home to several upcycling and sustainability hubs that offer plenty of workshops and courses to help you turn your trash into treasure.

Reverse Garbage
30 Carrington Road, Marrickville

Reverse Garbage is something of an inner west icon. Founded in 1975 by a group of teachers who wanted to ease pressure on the environment by reusing industrial discards in their classrooms, it’s grown into an internationally recognised cooperative that promotes sustainability through the reuse of waste materials. As well as selling industrial off-cuts, over-runs, art and craft materials, stage props, furniture, knick-knacks, and other odds and ends at low prices, Reverse Garbage also runs workshops to show you how to put your finds to good use. Workshop subjects vary but include making your own upcycled basket, crocheting a funky hat from textile waste, and upcycling buttons into a necklace. There are upcycling art and sculpture workshops for the kids, too.

The Bower
Building 34, 142 Addison Road (Addison Road Community Centre), Marrickville
107 Redfern Street, Redfern

Award-winning environmental charity The Bower is all about reuse and repair, with a focus on addressing social issues thrown in to boot. Since 1998 it has promoted waste reduction through reuse and repair initiatives such as workshops, repair cafes, and reselling repurposed and preloved items and bespoke recycled materials. The Bower’s courses include home DIY skills, woodworking, upholstery, furniture repair, restoration and upcycling, bicycle and clothing repairs, and even how to build a tiny house from reclaimed materials. As well as its environmental work, The Bower also fits out social housing for people who have been homeless, refugees, or domestic violence survivors.

Among the Trees
27 Sydney Street, Marrickville

If you’re interested in learning about working with reclaimed and recycled timber, Among the Trees is well worth a visit. As well as salvaging and reselling used wood that would otherwise have been sent to landfill, it also offers plenty of courses. Learn how to make a stool or saw bench from reclaimed wood, how to repair your broken woven furniture, or take an upholstery class that will see you repurpose an old milk crate into a stylish ottoman.

Go second hand

If you’re keen to embrace sustainable interior design but not quite ready to get your hands dirty with a course or workshop, consider buying second-hand furniture instead. There are plenty of second-hand furniture outlets worth a browse in the inner city and inner west.

  • Mitchell Road Antique and Design Centre, 17 Bourke Road, Alexandria. This Aladdin’s cave of vintage homewares is stacked full of pieces from the Victorian era to the 20th century.
  • Juliet’s Balcony, 423 New Canterbury Road, Dulwich Hill. A curated collection of Australian and Scandinavian mid-century modern furniture and design. Think Parker, Hans Wagner, Hans Olsen and more.
  • Home Furniture on Consignment, Level 1 #14, 13-21 Mandible Street, Alexandria. If it’s pre-owned, high-quality, contemporary designer furniture you’re after, look no further than HFOC.
  • Rozelle Collectors Market, 663 Darling Street, Rozelle. Held every Saturday at Rozelle Public School, this market is renowned for its antiques, collectibles, and second-hand furniture. You never know what you might find.
  • Lunatiques Vintage and Design Collective, 2 Kent Road, Mascot. ‘Crazy for anything old’ is their catchphrase, and at the Lunatiques warehouse, you’ll find a treasure trove of antique, vintage, and retro furniture, homewares, and décor. They also boast an onsite coffee cart.

Renovating sustainably

Reclamation yards are a great way to embrace sustainable design and upcycling when you’re renovating.

  • Chippendale Restorations, 26 Parsons Street, Rozelle. Since 1980, Chippendale Restorations has specialised in recovering and restoring antique architectural items. If you’re looking for a genuine period fireplace, light fitting, or leadlight window to complete your reno, look no further.
  • Wastewood, 1 Mitchell Street, Marrickville. Wastewood collects discarded timber from renos, skip bins, and council clean-ups before removing any nails and milling the wood ‘back to beautiful’. Pop into their distinctive pink warehouse to find the perfect pieces of recycled timber for your next project.
  • Ironwood Australia, 9 Tenterden Road, Botany. As Australia’s leading supplier of recycled, reclaimed and architectural Australian hardwood timbers, Ironwood is well worth a visit. They even keep the history of where their recycled timbers have come from, so you can find out if your new pieces used to be part of a factory, warehouse, wool shed, or a heritage-listed building, bridge, or wharf.

Upcycling pottery, clothes, and more

All sorts of household items can be upcycled, and there are local courses to show you how.

The Japanese philosophy of kintsugi, which dates back to the 15th century, is an ancient example of repair and reuse. Rather than throwing a broken object away, kintsugi tells us to embrace the break as part of the object’s journey and to repair the cracks in a visible and beautiful way. Learn the art of kintsugi at the Kintsugi Australia studio in Clarence Street, Sydney, and bring your broken pottery objects back to life.

Meanwhile, clothing and textile waste is a growing problem in Australia. You can do your bit by repurposing and upcycling your old clothes rather than sending them to landfill. Try a mending workshop in St Peters to breathe new life into your old favourites or a garment alteration class for beginners in Redfern to get some wear out of those pieces that just don’t fit quite right.

If you’re thinking of buying or selling in Sydney’s inner city or inner west, we can help. Get in touch today.