A New Skin Makes Second-Hand Furniture Gorgeous (And Green)

With these cleverly upcycled items, gray is the new green.

A couple years back, the interior architects at i29 turned our heads with the new home they designed for the Dutch ad agency Gummo. The formula for the “recycled office” was simple: 1) buy second-hand furniture from local flea markets and 2) give it all a nice thick coat of gray paint. The result was a decidedly contemporary workspace produced on a thrift store budget. But the project also nudged people towards acknowledging an often-overlooked aspect of “green” design: one of the best things you can do, in terms of the environment, is simply to buy used stuff. Now, i29 is making a second collection of new old furnishings available to the public through an all-gray-everything pop-up shop and web store.


The new collection, produced in conjunction with Gummo and Krimpex Coating Systems, is dubbed AsGoodAsNew, and it follows the same formula that proved so successful last year. Take a vintage sofa; slather it in gray paint. Find an antique globe; cover it in gray paint. See a cool old chair at a flea market? Grab the gray paint! Actually, it’s not really paint–it’s a solvent-free polyurea coating. The team chose the material, they explained, because it’s long-lasting and “sticks on almost everything.” Typically used for more industrial applications like coating swimming pools and freight trucks, the substance gives the second-hand objects a fine, rubbery texture. More than a paint job, it’s a full-on reskinning.

But what, you might ask, is the appeal of an old, gray, rubbery sofa? On one level, it satisfies that green itch. The world is already full of stuff–too full, really–and when you buy second-hand, you’re doing your small part to help keep the global junk level under control. The message, i29 says, is “mostly about giving some attention to using re-used and recycled furniture and materials.”

After you look at the pieces for a while, though, they start to satisfy an aesthetic itch, too. There’s something fascinatingly incongruous about seeing the familiar shape of a parlor-style sofa with a space-age new skin. The reskinning process, i29 admits, is a “very simple” one, but the transformational effect is great. “The interesting part for us,” the designers told me, “was to select the objects just as a form. When textures and color are gone, any object changes completely.” Really? Any object? So it would seem; just take a look at Jesus Christ Superstar, one of the kitschier items to go into the gray goo bath and also one of the more compelling to come out of it . As the team noted to me, “Pieces that normally are rejected in modern interiors become the more interesting ones.”

True enough, though I’m not sure the monochrome messiah is €750 interesting. (I guess a newly minted art object deserves an art object price tag?) Maybe I have some solvent-free polyurea somewhere in the garage.

You can check out the collection at the AsGoodAsNew web store, or, if you’re in Amsterdam, at the pop-up shop inside the SPRMRKT concept store.