Remade Meets the North East Glass Bottle Recycler
For this week’s guest blog we made a trip up to the mighty north east and caught up with our retailer Donna Feeney owner of Totes Adore, retro style queen and avid glass bottle recycler! We had a guided tour around the Totes Adore studio named ‘The Bunker’ based in Darlington, the home to Big Bertha and Little Bertha, her well loved and trusted kilns.
Kiln Glass Bottle Upcycling
With huge stores filled with thrifted bottles, collected and donated from local clubs, pubs and bars, Donna melts them down in her kilns to create wonderfully quirky accessories, including the famous Drunken Drizzle bottles! I met up with Donna where we chatted about running her own business, why she upcycles and exciting plans for the future!
Interview with a Glass Upcycler
What does Upcycling mean to you?
To me, upcycling means taking unwanted objects and creating them into beautiful, functional items. I create things such as cheeseboards, oil drizzle bottles and clocks from recycled glass bottles, the glass is melted down in my kiln (Big Bertha), where you can see the original function of the material. I believe within upcycling it’s important to lend reference to its previous function and help recognise the potential in waste and make us all embrace the importance of reusing and recycling!
As a Retro & Kitsch style worshipper this is something that I bring into my pieces, it’s important to me that not only am I rescuing materials from landfill but also this represents my own tastes, styles and interests.
Melted Glass Bottle Clock
Photo Source: http://www.remadeinbritain.com/totes-adore/
Kiln Formed Glass Cupcake Stand
Do you think people have grown tired of a throwaway society and why?
Yes! Big high street shops have a huge role to play in our throwaway society, fashion stores brought us into the concept of cheap and fast shopping. Where you can pick up clothing without a thought other than the price. Understanding what we are buying, and the value of the product is not important. It’s sad to think that we are in a mind-set where everything is replaceable.
Buying flat pack furniture has also been a massive part of the throwaway culture means that traditional joinery skills, dove tail joints and solid furniture have been abandoned. Embracing traditional skills and reusing and making use of furniture and materials around us is so important. There’s something so fantastic about taking vintage furniture, making your mark on it and expressing your personality, you can upcycle into something totally unique and one of a kind – something that you just don’t get with your average flat pack!
What other crafts or upcycling are you involved in?
Recently I have started sewing and embroidery classes, this has made me realise the time, efforts and skills which go into creating textile pieces. As an avid button collector and fabric thrifter it was great to start transforming and making from scraps and recycled fabric. I certainly stood out in my patchwork quilt class from those who bought fat quarter packs from the craft shop! It’s important that we learn skills which are in danger of being lost, workshops are a great way of meeting new people and socialising with friends. There’s something so theraputic about sitting and sewing, whilst putting the world to rights with your pals!
Why should people shop for upcycled and repurposed goods?
I think the way we shop has definitely revolutionised! Today people like to support smaller businesses and shop for unique items, they like to buy things which have a story or string personal collection with them. I’ve noticed a definite increase, which is fantastic for small makers and designers such as myself. With trends of vintage and antique becoming more popular in our interiors but also the way in which we dress, vintage fairs and pop up shops mean that we are growing accustomed once more to recycling and reusing – even if it is subconscious!
What does buying recycled and upcycled products mean to you?
Buying recycled and upcycled goods means that you are taking and creating your own piece of history. With most of us renting, its harder to decorate your interiors to your liking, so investing in upcycled vintage furniture and restyled homewares is a great way of injecting your personality into your rented home! It’s important that we embrace and make use of what we have, and look for the quality and potential of things considered throwaway.
Images taken of Donna Feeny’s studio
Images taken of Donna Feeny’s studio
Images taken of Donna Feeny’s studio
How did you get into designing your recycled glassware’s? Was it a conscious or subconscious?
A close friend of mine is a ceramic artist, as we are a creative pair, we often have craft sessions together. We were experimenting with his kiln fusing ceramics from beachcombed sea glass and I stuck in an empty bottle of wine, just to see what happened. This turned out to be quite a happy experiment, it got me thinking about why recycled glass is crushed, melted and made again? Surely this is a wasteful exercise, where energy is being wasted.
Images taken of one of Donna Feeny’s kiln’s in her workshop
How would you describe your style? Where do you get your inspiration from?
The Totes Adore unit is surrounded by small businesses, it’s somewhat a community! What is one businesses’ waste is another’s treasure (as the saying goes!) so we are often swapping and exchanging bits and bobs, and also ideas and inspiration! There’s such a range of businesses and folk up here, from an old fashioned hardware store, to a guy who creates super car engines, with high speeds and flames. There is never a dull day at the studio, its great to have support from such varied businesses.
My husband is an engineer by trade and between us we make a great team, I come up with the designs and the mad ideas, and Graeme puts them into action, often perfecting designs so they are user friendly! I was working with a hotel who wanted cake stands, after presenting the stands they unfortunately needed them to be of more industrial strength to pass the regilations. I worked with my husband to create a prototype, which got us the order!
Travelling certainly has helped me to upcycle and recycle. I recently travelled to South Africa, it’s an amazing country that really embraces recycling and using materials that are readily available. South Africa is a place where upcycling is a subconscious action across the nation, it’s about making use of what they already have. Travelling to Brazil was also a great experience for me, I really admire the use of colour, there really is no holding back from using every colour imaginable!
Images taken of Donna Feeny’s studio Images taken of Donna Feeny’s studio – Note her Annie Upcycled Shopping Trolley Chair from Max McMurdo of Reestore which she won at the Festival of Thrift, Darlington
What would you say your most influential piece is?
My drunken drizzle bottles are really something unexpected, and I’ve not seen it done anywhere else! The process of recycling the bottles is a really interesting one, they are often collected from local pubs, bars and clubs, would otherwise be thrown away, or recycled in an energy intensive process. I often arrive to work to find generous donations on the door step! Looking at my store cupboard anyone would think I had a great party!
An Upcycling Glass Studio
Image taken of her glass bottle stash at Donna Feeny’s workshop
After the bottles are washed, cleaned and dried they then are placed in the kiln, this is the exciting part! Opening the door and discovering what is inside is a real treat, its totally unpredictable! My Drunken Drizzle bottles are a spark for a conversation, it can really get you talking about upcycling, reusing and recycling! These are great from dinner parties, and gifts perfect gifts too!
Drunken Drizzle Bottle: Kiln Formed Glass Bottle
Photo source for all 5 photos of kiln formed glass bottles: http://www.remadeinbritain.com/totes-adore/
Why have you chosen to sell with Remade in Britain? Where did you hear of us?
Remade has the recycling ethos, it’s ethical by campaigning to reduce perfectly good materials hitting our landfill and supports small businesses, makers and designers. It really does have a community feel about it, so it’s a great way of meeting like-minded businesses too!
Remade in Britain was recommended to me by our good pals Den of Uniquity who are also based up in the North East!
What do you find your biggest challenge in running your own business?
Not enough hours in the day! Finding the creative and admin balance can be really tough at times, but I do have wonderful help in Hannah, who really isn’t scared to get stuck in, and certainly gives really helpful advice! Hannah is also an avid upcycler and is a wizz at repurposing scrabble tiles, she made a wonderful Totes Adore sign, which sits pride of place in the Bunker!
Running my own business means that I am wearing all the hats, from marketing to managing sales, collecting bottles to trips to the post office. But I absolutely love working for myself, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Images taken of Donna’s studio
What do you consider to be your biggest working achievement to date?
Running my own business! Riding the wave and not falling off, I set up Totes Adore two years ago and it has gone from strength to strength. To be able to make your own money and make it from something that I love is something that I am very proud of.
Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
I am attending the Festival of Thrift again, this will be my third year at the event. Thrift is based in Darlington which is my home town, it’s amazing to think that this is a great event for upcyclers and salvagers alike and it’s right on my door step.
Kiln Glass Workshops & Studio Hire
I am also setting up a few workshops in the Totes Adore studio, these are great for hen parties and a good way of spending quality time with friends and learning new skills too!
We want to say a great big thank you to Donna for having us round at ‘The Bunker’, we know that Totes Adore has an exciting adventure to come, and we look forward to catching up at the Festival of Thrift! If you’ve enjoyed Totes’ guest blog, why not check out the store filled with all manor of upcycled goodies!
Melted Champagne Bottle Cheese Board
If you are an avid upcycler or campaign for for sustainability we would love to hear from you, send the Remade in Britain team an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest for guest blogging on our site!