Create Beautiful Things with the Stuff You Already Have


By Danny Seo

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Renowned environmental lifestyle expert and Today Show regular Danny Seo shares 100 of his most inspiring projects for creative transformation. Have neglected items around your house? They can be the source for exciting craft possibilities! Turn your old leather belts into a cool doormat (or even a briefcase!); worn-out paperbacks into gorgeous bud vases; tennis balls into a quaint country swing; chopsticks into a handsome trivet, and many more.

With full-color photos throughout to guide and inspire, Danny shows that it’s easy to be crafty, and fun to be budget- and eco-conscious.


To my parents, Dr. Jin and Mrs. MinHee Seo, for putting up with all of my upcycling attempts—the good and the bad (especially the bad)—when I was a teenager.

Imagine you're at your doctor's office with an ailment—a persistent cough, dizziness, a cramping in the hands—and you finally get a diagnosis that gives your condition a name. Even though you're still suffering, at least there's some comfort in knowing whatever it is you have, it has a name, and you're on the path to curing it. I kind of felt the same way with my years of recycling trash and everyday objects into better, brighter, and cooler things and finally learning what it was I was actually doing.
For years, I've worked as both an interior designer and magazine editor where I've done everything from transforming a celebrity's home from boring to sexy boudoir, to producing magazine stories on creating the perfect Thanksgiving table settings using stuff you might have around the house. My philosophy toward doing it yourself was never about buying lots of stuff or supplies, but about making do with what you have and using basic skills to create extraordinary results. It wasn't quite recycling, and it wasn't quite crafting; it was what I called a hybrid of MacGyver (the resourceful TV spy)-meets-HGTV. Anyway, my diagnosis for what I did for a living came in the form of an e-mail from a producer at NBC's Today: after seeing everything I've done over the years, she wanted to book me to do a segment about upcycling. So now it was official—I was an upcycler.
Think of upcycling as a higher form of recycling. When you upcycle, the end result is far better than the material's intended purpose, and you end up with something that's pretty darn cool and all your own creation. Beware of its close cousin but polar opposite: downcycling. For example, a Tide bottle recycled into a bird feeder is what I call downcycling: it's still ugly, probably reeks of detergent, and no bird really wants to stick their head inside to feed from sticky seed. However, a plastic water bottle that is cut, manipulated, and painted to look like the most magical flower that might live, say, in Wonderland (see page 188) is upcycling.
As an interior designer, I've worked with celebrities who have multimillion-dollar bank accounts and want me to create comfortable homes that reflect their unique style. Since I'm also an environmentalist, they know that everything will be as eco-friendly as possible. For many that may mean custom-upholstered hemp sofas, reclaimed-wood end tables, and crushed-recycled-concrete countertops for the kitchen. But to me that also means salvaging from thrift stores and flea markets. So the celebrity homes you may have seen me decorate in the pages of InStyle or O: The Oprah Magazine feature tons of upcycling ideas that cost next to nothing to make: glass bottles made into vases, or an old IKEA light fixture found in the trash made into a charming birdcage chandelier (see page 24 to see what I mean!). Great style doesn't have to mean great big budgets; on the contrary, beautiful homes are created using ingenious decorating techniques, most of which cost very little to do.
As a magazine editor, my job has been to travel the country and find homes that are interesting and are decorated from a very specific point of view in the most beautiful way imaginable. The very best photos I've ever produced are the ones that feature nearly zero-cost ideas. One of my favorites involved a "collection" table filled with all sorts of found objects from nature: from oversized pinecones to dried mushrooms with tiny phrases carved into them. You just can't buy this from a store, and it makes a home, well, your home. These are the kinds of things I'm interested in creating.
Many people ask how I got started on this crafty path, and when I really think about it, it goes all the way back to when I was a child. In the seventh grade, I wanted to drive the message home to my peers that "throwing away" trash didn't mean it magically disappeared, but went to an overflowing landfill. So I got permission to fill all the display cases in our school with trash I collected from around the school in layers of paper, plastic, metal, and cardboard. Not only did it look like a modern work of art, it was also a cool way to get the message across. Unfortunately, it also became accidental gossip fodder for my classmates. One of the glass cases contained a breakup note from a girl who had intended to send it to her boyfriend and then had a change of heart and threw it away. The crinkled note was unfurled and pressed against the glass for all to read. Oops . . .
In my high school years, I ran a national environmental organization called Earth 2000 and campaigned all over the world on behalf of our planet's natural resources. But on weekends, the activist hat came off, and my inner crafter came out: I was probably the only teenage regular at our local flea markets, swap meets, and Goodwill store who wasn't dragged there by their mother. In my parents' basement, I reupholstered chairs I'd found on the streets with argyle sweaters, made colorful garlands out of beach sea glass, and recycled brown-paper grocery store bags into marbleized gift wrap.
Now in my thirties, I've made a career out of my passion for environmental concerns, combined with my love of crafting. And now I know it has a name: upcycling. With this book, I hope you'll be inspired to see that it doesn't take a lot of skill, money, or resources to make beautiful and decorative accessories, gifts, artwork, centerpieces. Instead, you'll be able to use things you already have. Not only can you achieve gorgeous-looking results that don't take a lot of time, but you can proudly say you did it yourself. Added bonus: you don't need to buy complicated crafting tools. In a way, I've given all of these upcycling projects a big ol' KISS: Keep It Simple, Sam.
In an increasingly disposable world, I think it's empowering to make something yourself and even reassuring that something you no longer use doesn't necessarily have to be shipped to a landfill. There's something calming and meditative about sitting down and tapping into your own imagination—and not Google—to come up with fantastic ideas on how to give something new life, new meaning, or a new use. Yes, we're crafting, and yes, we're being eco-friendly, but we're also taking control at the same time, too.
Creating Upcycling was an absolute joy that brought back so many childhood memories. It's a culmination of the best of the best, and I hope you'll try each and every project, and be inspired to invent your own.
Happy Upcycling!
—Danny Seo

Materials for Upcycling
I'm often asked what are the essential tools any upcycler should have in their arsenal. In an ideal world, we'd all have a giant craft room that's completely outfitted with every imaginable tool neatly lined up, every shade of craft paint, and rows of unfinished wood blocks, frames, and trays ready to be embellished and upcycled. The reality is this: you could spend thousands of dollars by filling up your shopping cart at the craft store, but I guarantee you will still find yourself missing something. So instead of preparing for a craft-a-palooza, start with the basics and forget the rest. When you do decide to upcycle that cashmere sweater into a patchwork quilt, then go buy the specialty tools you need to make it happen.
Here are my essentials that I think every upcycler will need. The best part is that these are easy to find and inexpensive. Always go for quality, not quantity.
1. Sharp Scissors: It's very tempting to reach for the ten-pack of colorful scissors for $10 at the craft store, but bypass it. Sharp scissors are the key to getting professional results, so splurge and get the best you can afford. Fiskars brand is my choice because the blades are coated with titanium nitride for strength and durability. Not only have I been able to cut clean, sharp lines into paper, but I've been able to slice through rope, twine, leather, and other tough materials with ease.
2. Glue Gun: My favorite place to buy a professional glue gun isn't the craft shop, but the home improvement store. Don't go for the pocket-size, pink-colored "just-for-women" kind; go for the heavy-duty-contractor one instead. Get an industrial-strength gun that heats up quickly, delivers an even amount of hellishly hot glue, and can be propped to stand upright when not in use without leaking out any melted glue.
3. X-Acto Knife: Whenever your scissors are either too big to cut an intricate design or you need to puncture something like a plastic bottle, an X-Acto knife is the way to go. While you're at it, pick up a self-healing mat at the craft store to do all of your paper-cutting projects on. It'll protect your tabletop surfaces and make cutting smoother, cleaner, and easier.
4. E-6000 Glue: Obsessed is the understatement of the century for how I feel about this adhesive. It's pretty much evident throughout this entire book that I've found 1,001 uses for this glue. And to be clear: I don't own stock. Whenever I need to glue something together when I know hot glue won't do the trick, I reach for my tube of E-6000. This industrial-strength glue takes about twenty-four hours to fully dry, but it does one impressive job joining materials together. I could glue an itty-bitty teacup to a heavy ceramic plate with this stuff and hold the two together by the handle of the teacup.
5. White Craft Glue: I use this stuff all the time for projects when I don't have to worry about making a superstrong hold. Choose whatever brand you either like or is the cheapest; in my book, craft glues are all the same. Whether you're glittering or gluing cut-outs onto paper, a squeezable bottle of craft glue is a must-have material.
6. Foam Brushes: At Michaels craft stores, you'll often see foam craft brushes in all sorts of sizes on sale for next to nothing. I love to buy them in bulk and store in a large jar in my craft room. They are indispensable for painting unfinished wood surfaces, spreading a light adhesive for silver leafing, decoupaging paper, or anything that calls for a brush. I've even painted the edges of my wall with them.
7. Goof Off: Walk down the paint aisle at your home improvement store and pick up a bottle of Goof Off. This stuff is great for getting sticky labels off of bottles: if you're upcycling a wine or spirits bottle for a project, those labels can be a complete pain in the you-know-what to remove. Goof Off makes it a breeze. If you accidentally get paint on a tabletop, just squirt some Goof Off, let it saturate, and wipe it right off. I could go on about the thousands of uses for Goof Off, but this I know for sure: one little bottle will last you a very long time.
8. Cordless Drill with Bits: I have power and hand tools that I purchased that still have the security seal still intact on the box. My cordless drill, on the other hand, is used pretty much every single day. Invest in the best drill you can possibly buy, and make sure you have two rechargeable batteries for it; while one battery is being used, the other one can be charging as a backup. Nothing is worse than being halfway through a project and realizing the drill has lost all its juice. Buy all the necessary bits to go with your drill: flat head and Phillips head screw bits and a box of titanium drill bits in a variety of sizes to drill holes into all types of surfaces.
9. Staple Gun: If there's one thing that every prop stylist has in their tool box, it's the staple gun. Want to hang up Christmas lights in a café-light pattern outdoors? Staple gun. Need to reupholster a chair using an old sweater? Staple gun it into place. Want to make a minihouse using book jackets as roof shingles? Yep, staple gun. Fast, powerful, and easy.
10. Alphabet Stamp Kit and Permanent Ink Pad:


On Sale
Aug 23, 2011
Page Count
224 pages
Running Press

Danny Seo

About the Author

Danny Seo has been dubbed the “crafty MacGyver,” and has become the national face of eco-chic. He’s a contributor to NBC’s Today Show and many other national programs including Access Hollywood and Live with Regis and Kelly. He also pens the syndicated column “Do Just One Thing” in newspapers nationwide. Danny’s creative how-to approach toward green living extends to products, including Simmons Natural Care Mattress by Danny Seo, and a full home collection called GreenHouse. Danny lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Visit him at dannyseo.com

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