Mister Walker: Furnishing an office space with reused materials

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Organisations often spend large amounts of money on decorating office spaces.   For organisations that are trying to promote sustainability, office décor can be an important way to signal commitment to green principles.    One alternative to replacing office furniture with brand new sustainable variants is the repurposing of used materials. This not only reduces waste to landfill but can also add quirkiness to a space.

Design company Mister Walker, created a unique look and feel for their Durban office with reused material.  Garth Walker, who heads up the company, selected an industrial building that was undergoing refurbishment for new offices. When Walker first visited the space had just been fitted with electrical wiring and no dry walls had been installed or floors screened. He realised that the space was ideal to fulfil his long-standing dream of designing an office space with reused material.  “I have always liked old stuff, things that have had a life before…and I find the mix and match aspect interesting … furthermore there is a monster saving on cost”, explains Walker.

When Walker was shown the parking space on his initial visit he spotted a set of old doors that had been removed from the building in preparation for renovations. Walker joined the doors together to form a screen that divides the large 120 square metre space into a private office and a meeting room. The handles, dents and graffiti were not removed to preserve the character of the doors. An old garage door was repurposed into a divider that separates the kitchen from the rest of the open space. On discovering the doors in the car park Walker says, “we got lucky…but then you make your own luck…my wife would say it was destiny”. 

No dry walls were installed, instead discarded doors were connected in a concertina-like form and used to divide space (Image Source: Garth Walker)

When it comes to office furniture, Walker used some of the furniture that he brought from his old offices and spent time at local car boot sales to find items that would be suitable in the office. Walker explains that designing a space using reused materials does take time and effort, “it was much more difficult than taking a cheque book and buying everything new… I spent six months looking for second hand furniture at the Greyville car boot market…but I found some really interesting stuff.” An old fold up picnic table has become the office’s coffee table and out of order lawn trimmers have been repurposed into light fixtures, replacing the blades with light bulbs. A minimalist approach has been adopted and there is no excess, “you learn quickly how you can live without certain things”, says Walker.

A visit to the local car boot market sparked an idea to use out of order lawn trimmers as light fixtures (Image Source: Garth Walker).

Walker says that if organisations are thinking of implementing a similar design style that they need to think about the practicality of the design. Sometimes repurposing items does not always work out. For example Walker initially designed a bookshelf from plastic milk crates and used cable ties to join them together. The design looked great but was not suitable to hold the weight of the books. A different bookcase was then designed using bricks and pieces of wood. Initially a bookcase was designed out of plastic milk crates that were joined together using cable ties (Image Source: Garth Walker).

The plastic milk crate bookcase was not able to hold the weight of the books and so a more sturdy design was created (Image Source: Garth Walker).

Walker says that in order for an office to take on this kind of design style the organisation should start with what they already have.  They should also consider the physical office environment when thinking of second hand items that they want to purchase. A change in mindset is needed in order for an organisation to adopt this style of design, and is definitely more suited to the creative types of businesses, says Walker. “The beauty is that this design style does not date and you can keep reusing until the cows come home”, adds Walker.

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Amanda Botes