Luke Neil talks furniture and adaptive reuse

This story first appeared in Design Online in August.

The Front End Loader made by Luke Neil, Old2New Designs.

The Front End Loader made by Luke Neil, Old2New Designs.

IT TAKES A KEEN EYE and imagination to see creative potential in large discarded household goods. When it comes to repurposing these items into unique and beautiful pieces of furniture, practical ability with tools is must.

Luke Neil is an experienced carpenter with a sense of design and the spirit of an environmental entrepreneur and started tinkering with pieces of wood and old metal objects on his days off work. After playing around with a broken hot water system that was sitting in his front yard, destined for a hard rubbish collection, he built a unique shelf unit and the idea for Old2New Designs snowballed from there.

“I really believe in the fact that there is too much wastage in the world. I like the idea of taking that broken item and finding a new purpose for it. That’s one of my main drives,” he says.

Neil grew up on 20 acres of land in St Andrews, an outer north-eastern suburb of Melbourne. He calls it “the bush” and says he was always building tree houses and cubby houses and joining his father, a builder, on job sites. “I always loved making stuff and was always good at the practical side.”

He established Old2New Designs 10 months ago and divides his time between traditional carpentry to pay the bills, while building up supply of unique pieces of furniture with an industrial edge. Neil says he prefers to work with natural timbers rather than manufactured timbers that are typically used in interior joinery. Ideas for new pieces usually come when he is building something else or studying the quality and shape of salvaged timber and discarded industrial materials.

Luke Neil’s favourite piece is Pot Belly.

Luke Neil’s favourite piece is Pot Belly.

The A-Frame by Old2New Designs.

The A-Frame by Old2New Designs.

“There might be an off-cut of metal or timber and I see them in a different light. I try to adapt them because I hate wasting things,” he says. He tries to find a new purpose for each piece and typically sources waste timber such as Vic Ash and Tasmanian Oak from old houses that are being renovated or demolished. On a particularly good day, he may find lengths of Oregon or Baltic Pine flooring in the waste pile of a demolition site.

“I have friends who are builders so when they are doing demolition work I will come in and take things away,” he says of his growing store of timber.

“I’d love to do what I am doing on a larger scale,” Neil says. He aims to expand the business to include interior fit-outs exclusively made using locally sourced discarded materials and recently built a deck using recycled timbers and fence palings and prefers to build his own doors and cabinetry.

“I’d like to make a whole kitchen or a large centrepiece, incorporating that old-to-new style within my carpentry and try to use as much reclaimed timber in my carpentry work to be as sustainable as possible,” he says.

Several of Neil’s pieces are on display at Red Socks, a boutique lighting showroom in Collingwood, Melbourne. And with the focus in hospitality design for bars and cafes increasingly aimed at eco-friendly urban interiors often found in the inner city, there is a growing demand for hand crafted and remodelled furniture of the likes supplied by Old2New Designs. As Neil says, “Timber tones paired with raw industrial looking metal just works well together.”

The Shield drawer unit combines recycled hardwoods and knotted pine.

The Shield drawer unit combines recycled hardwoods and knotted pine.

The Piggy

The Piggy

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