From trash to treasure

Ingenuity meets functionality… Ong Bee Yan with her upcycled creations – a lamp with a lampshade made of ice-cream sticks (left), a framed centrepiece using leftover tiles from her kitchen floor and a bottle holder made from wood scraps (in front of framed centrepiece).

MADAM Ong Bee Yan can turn trash into treasure. No, she’s not a magician with a nifty sleight of hand. Rather, the 63-year-old gives discarded items a new lease of life by upcycling them.

“Unlike recycling, which retains the original purpose of the object, upcycling is taking a used or discarded object to create a new product of higher value or quality,” explained Bee Yan.

Her first ever upcycling project in 2012 saw her transform an old mahjong table into one that is a collage of colourful food wrappers using a method called decoupage.

“We decorated the table top with plastic food wrappers from instant noodles, potato chips, malt drinks and sweets. The end product looked really funky!” said Bee Yan. 

2. Table
Setting the table for success… Bee Yan repainted her old mahjong table and decorated it with plastic food wrappers using a craft technique called decoupage, where paper cut-outs are glued together.

Since then, the innovative senior, who also runs 1degreeC, a coffee business with her husband, has upcycled more than 60 items using discarded materials found at the dumpster and roadside, or old furniture given to her by family and friends. She can spend a day or up to three weeks on a project, depending on its complexity, and sells many of her creations on online marketplace Carousell.

We got Bee Yan to share more about her favourite creations:

1. BAT-B-Q

3. Bat B Q
One of a kind… the Bat-B-Q, a barbecue pit fashioned from an old coffee table and aluminium tray, has ‘wings’ that can be folded downwards (left) to save space.

My husband Richard and I had an old-school coffee table with a laminated table top and metal legs. I tried selling it on Carousell without success. So, I decided to make a barbecue pit with it. Richard dismantled the table top from its metal frame and legs. The frame was then set vertically upright on its side as the base for the barbecue pit. The table top was sawed into two and hinged on each side to the metal legs so that the sides could be folded downwards when kept. The barbecue pit looks like it has wings when flipped opened – that’s why we named our creation BAT-B-Q! The rectangular piece which contains the charcoal is an old stainless steel tray that we found in our storeroom. Today, BAT-B-Q makes its appearance whenever we host parties for our friends.

2. Herringbone bedside table

4. Herringbone bedside tableGeometric beauty… strips of wood pieces were painstakingly measured, cut and arranged in a herringbone pattern on the bedside table.

This is a project that I am very proud of… the drawer is made from a wine box that a friend gave to me, and the table’s legs are from an old shelf. The wooden table top is made from wood strips bought from a hardware store. Achieving the herringbone pattern required a great deal of precision – I had to measure the wood pieces and cut them to size before painstakingly arranging them and filling in the gaps with wood dust. It was not an easy task and took me about a week just to complete the herringbone pattern. I think this has been my most challenging project to date!

3. Retro television console

5. Retro tv console
Fresh coat of paint… A discarded television console (left two pictures) was picked up from the streets and refurbished by Bee Yan (right).

Richard and I found this beautiful vintage teakwood television console with slim legs discarded at the side of a road near our home. It was in a really bad shape as the laminate was peeling and it had missing drawers. To retain the vintage look, I designed and stencilled my own retro pattern onto the console and chose a colour scheme to complement the design. Before stencilling, Richard and I removed the laminate and stickers and sanded the console to smoothen the wood surface. The whole project took us a week to complete. I eventually sold the console on Carousell.

4. Tall shelving unit
6. Tall shelving unit

From sofa to shelf… By sawing away the arm rests from an old sofa frame and flipping the entire frame on its side, Bee Yan created a shelving unit to display household items.

Another one of my favourite upcycling projects is this tall shelving unit created from a three-seater wooden sofa frame discarded near a dumpster. Creating the shelf was actually very simple. I just needed to sand the bench, saw away the armrests, turn the entire frame upright on its side, add a few scrap wood pieces for the shelves and voila!

5. Two-panel room divider

7. Two panel room divider

Standing tall… The room divider, made from a double-decker bedframe left at a dumpster, doubles up as a hanging rack in Bee Yan’s master bedroom.

Richard and I found the bedframe discarded at a HDB dumpster. We sanded, painted and secured each side of the bed frame with hinges to create a two-panel room divider. This divider is currently placed in our master bedroom. We also hung some hooks on the divider so it doubles up as a place for us to hang our bags. I took about a week to complete this project.

View more of Bee Yan’s creations by following her on Carousell (@ongbeeyan4).

Article published on 5/12/2019