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Upcycling couple creates new products from discarded items

The upcycled items Mr Richard Koh and Madam Ong Bee Yan (both above) have created include a television console topped with tiles and a washbasin stand fashioned from a Singer sewing machine. PHOTOS: GAVIN FOO, COURTESY OF RICHARD KOH AND ONG BEE YAN

In a house in Sunshine Terrace is a barbecue station unlike any other.

What is now used for grilling meat and seafood used to have a far plainer function - it was once an old-school coffee table in Mr Richard Koh's family home.

Several years ago, self-taught makers Mr Koh, 56, and his wife Ong Bee Yan, 62, converted the table into a barbecue pit, turning it on its side and sawing the wooden top into halves that swing outwards, like wings, to hold plates of food.

The station, which they dubbed the "Bat-B-Q", gives visitors a taste of what is to come when they step into the couple's home.

Over the past 10 years, the couple, who run a coffee business, have given some 60 discarded products a new lease of life.

Most of their furniture comes from discarded items salvaged from the dumpster, roadside or friends' old homes.

"Any carpenter or furniture shop can just repair it," says Mr Koh.

"But to convert it into something unique, artsy and different... these are things we like to do."

While some of their upcycled goods are given to friends and family, most are sold on online marketplace Carousell. These range from a hanging lamp with a lampshade made of ice-cream sticks ($10) to a mahjong table topped with a collage of wrappers ($100).

Mr Koh and his wife assume the roles of "designer and contractor".

"I do the less glamorous stuff," he says with a laugh.

The father of two, who studied economics at university, says they sometimes get tips from YouTube. His time spent living in Australia - a "D-I-Y country" - in his younger days also helped.

Among the items in their house are bottle-holders made from wooden pallets and a side table combining the legs of a stool with an old Coca-Cola tray. Some, such as a restored tabletop-turned-tray with mosaic tiles, have even gone through multiple incarnations.

Their television console. 

An eclectic assortment of tables, serving trays and a television console are decked with store-bought mosaic glass tiles and floor and wall tiles from their family homes.

One memorable find was a teak sofa set they spotted while driving past a dumpster three years ago.

"We made it a family project," says Mr Koh. "My son-in-law, daughter, Yan and myself got involved and repainted, repaired and stained it. Then we upholstered the whole thing. We made it more hip and modern."

For the couple, upcycling has also been a way to honour the past.

Washbasin fashioned from a Singer sewing machine. 

The table and pedal of a Singer sewing machine belonging to Madam Ong's late mother have been converted into a washbasin stand and a vintage LED wall lamp.

Mr Koh says there is joy in letting the creative juices flow.

"Some people throw things away without understanding that there is life in all this old furniture. You just have to find the right ideas. A bit of elbow grease and imagination can make everything wonderful."

 

This story was written by Toh Wen Li for The Straits Times. Click here to read the original story.

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