Reclaiming Style: using salvaged materials to create an elegant home
By Maria Speake and Adam Hills · Reviewed by Jo Drysdall
The title and cover of Reclaiming Style are promising: a clever storage space is finished with panels of reclaimed weatherboard, their timeworn surfaces creating a characterful finish and promising, with the superimposed text, a treasure-trove of ideas for outfitting your home in repurposed goodness.
However, this book is not quite what appearances imply. If you’re observant you’ll note that the authors’ names appear on the cover as “Maria Speake and Adam Hills of Retrouvius.” This is the clue to what is within – essentially a very nicely put together hardcover advertisement for their West London salvage and design business.
Now, I’m not saying it’s not an interesting and thoroughly readable book – it is both stylish and inspirational, as is their work – but much of what it contains is a portfolio of their commissions, rather than a how-to for the keen salvage-spotter. (The authors’ habit of referring to themselves in the third person, as though someone else is reviewing their efforts, also grates a bit.)
To be blunt, Retrouvius’ clients are not lacking in funds. Their homes are lovely to look at but they don’t really have a budget or starting point many of us can relate to. (First take your genuine medieval, timber-framed, wattle and daub priory… Ummm, yeah.) Many of the salvaged materials, too, are well beyond the reach and purse of the average DIY recycler (Two hundred tonnes of Derbyshire fossil limestone from Heathrow’s now-demolished Terminal Two? Drawers from Edinburgh’s Natural History Museum?)
(Now, I did actually know someone who used to dumpster-dive the British Museum’s trash – and, oh boy, did they have some quality trash! – but we probably don’t all have access to such superior sources of salvage. Me, jealous much?)
Reclaiming Style is a beautiful coffee table tome and I will not deny that its elegant images are drool-worthy and inspirational. There are definitely many aspects of Retrouvuis’ work that a resourceful maker could interpret and adapt. I am particularly enamoured of their delicate bathroom blind, made from scraps of vintage lace handkerchiefs and trims on a gossamer net, and I covet more of Speake and Hills’ drawer and shelving ideas than I could ever possibly have drawer and shelf space for (though the free-standing kitchen shelves, open on both sides and laden with crockery, made my wee Christchurch-based innards squirm a tad).
Just do not open this book expecting salvage tips, step-by-step projects and accessible sources for the average DIY-er. Interpret away, and be inspired – but you’ll have to find another book or helpful teacher to learn any new practical skills. Just sayin’.
Jo Drysdall has had a variety of alter-egos over the years, running the gamut from librarian to corsetiere, archivist to horticulturalist. These days she is the friendly face behind the customer service keyboard at Felt’s HQ. When not facing identity crises she enjoys ogling books on textile art and vegetables.