UPLUX: “IKEA is not the only style that can have wide appeal”
When you see these hand crafted desk lamps in the industrial style of the 60s and 70s, you would probably never guess that their components used to be part of bicycles, beer bottles or chandeliers: Upcycling can turn old parts into extraordinary design items and save millions of joules of energy. Read More
When was the last time you stood in front of a huge store shelf wondering which laundry detergent, piece of furniture or package of noodles you should buy? Did you ultimately decide in favour of the product that offered at least a small social promise, like an organic seal or fair-trade source?
Sustainability has become a selling point for many branches. Even the large furniture companies have gotten the message. If they use recycled materials, that’s a good start, most of us would probably say – but environmental experts warn that recycling is nowhere near enough.
Part of the problem is that recycling consumes a tremendous amount of energy. Recycling 1 kg of scrap iron, for instance - including the remaking, melting, breaking apart, transporting and reinstalling -, requires millions of joules of energy. An alternative would be to turn our backs on mass production and return to traditional hand craftsmanship, to a concept known as upcycling.
Recycling processes usually transform the useful materials from a discarded product into a new one. Upcycling is, when this newly produced product is of higher quality than the original – when it is cleaner, healthier, or of better value. Now consider this: Individually upcycling the same amount of iron only costs about 40,000 joules. The energy saved is more than a million joules.
Apart from requiring almost zero energy to produce, UPLUX’ vintage design lamps are also immensely beautiful.
This simple equation was one reason why, ten years ago, Hungarian law student Tibor Gungl decided that he’d rather become a craftsman than a lawyer. He dropped out of university and spent hours and days in his workshop in Budapest turning old bicycle parts into industrial design desk lamps. Last year, he decided to turn his passion into a business and opened the Uplux webshop. Apart from requiring almost zero energy to produce, Uplux’ vintage design lamps are also immensely beautiful – and much more exceptional than any item you could ever buy in the shops.
Tibor, is it true that some of your lampshades are made from Hungarian bitters bottles?
It is true that Hungarian Unicum liquor is quite bitter, but I have never tasted the bottles themselves ;) Yes, I use Unicum bottles, but I also take any other used bottles with a good shape, size and colour. Hendricks gin bottles are also quite nice.
You mainly use old bike parts. What gave you the idea of turning them into desk lamps?
I’ve been involved with bikes for a long while. I was a bike messenger, and fixed and built them too. I have also always really liked lamps and kept collecting old ones. Now they’re all piled in a tangled mess in my workshop, waiting to be awakened back to life.
Some old bicycle parts are noble, clever pieces. It is such a waste to throw away perfectly useful mechanisms, like the quick release skewers in wheels, for instance. You can turn them into joints for an elegant articulation system like I do in my lamps.
What other production materials do you use?
Apart from the bike parts, I use industrial waste and electric material like old chandelier parts. Metal and glass waste is very valuable, because the material itself is noble and durable. I get it from bike shops, scrap metal yards, bazaars and flea markets, and often from friends.
“There’s a bit of a stigma behind the idea of upcycling.”
On your website, you state that upcycling should not compromise on design or quality. What do you mean?
It’s just stating the difference between nailing some pallets together and a thoughtful, consistent product. I think there’s a bit of a stigma behind the idea of upcycling. People think of beer caps sewn together to make a purse, aluminium cans as ashtrays, that kind of thing. And it’s true, these are examples of upcycling, in a way. Upcycling is bringing back a discarded product, incorporating it back into the chain with a higher value than it previously had. In my case, this value addition is achieved through design and careful craftsmanship. The lamps live up to a very high quality standard, and I want to emphasise that this is not be equated with ‘throwing trash together into a funky art project’. A lot of meticulous, individualized work goes into in my lamps, precisely because the pieces I start with have had a previous life and come in different states and shapes.
“There’s a difference between nailing some pallets together and a thoughtful, consistent product.”
What is the most challenging element of this meticulous work?
Working with metal parts that were already part of a design with a different purpose is a tricky thing. You have to approach the pieces with respect, like a wild animal. I don’t like disturbing the whole shape that I find the material in. It would be like banging my head against the wall. Also, I don’t believe that the idea in my head is so damn good that I should change the shape of the material for it. Therefore I don’t begin with a strict idea and make the materials adapt to it. Instead, for every new piece I get, I have to find a new way of creating a lamp out of it. That is good – not to be so proud, and to be a bit soft instead.
You studied law, which is not really a handicraft. How did you end up as a lamp designer?
Studying law meant being in a massive school with hundreds of other students and teachers. I soon realized that studying under one person, having a mentor to learn from personally, is much more interesting and provides deeper knowledge than an institution ever could. I had two mentors: one in the field of hospitality and another who was a locksmith. The culture of recycling is intrinsic to metal work. The workshops are always filled with useful fragments and parts lying around. I guess that’s where my interest came from: the combination of seeing the parts, and acquiring the skills to put them together.
“Maybe IKEA is not the only style that can have wide appeal.”
You started experimenting with lamps about 10 years ago. When did you launch your shop?
Gunglamps, which is now called Uplux, was officially launched around May 2015, when I had established a few different models and put them in a Webshop. Making lamps for people I know is very different from systematically producing them. The daily routine of it is still quite eclectic, making and gathering and shifting as I go along. It is moving along slowly but steadily though.
What has the best day in Uplux’ life been so far?
There was one day when an old lady, a young hipster, a craftsman, and a graphic designer all said that the lamps were beautiful. I thought, well, that’s a representative sample for a poll! So then maybe IKEA is not the only style that can have wide appeal.
Do you work on Uplux full time?
I split my time between different welding projects and jobs, and I try to give as much as I can to the lamps. I recently started welding high quality bicycle frames, very delicate work.
Who else is involved in the project?
There is Lux, who does the tasks out of the workshop, writes about upcycling, and occasionally helps me by drilling metal until the wee hours of the morning.
What countries do you ship your products to?
We’re working on a way to send our lamps overseas, because we have a number of followers and friends on the US West Coast who would like us to have a market there. But the shipping system is beyond our current capabilities. Right now, we ship to anywhere in Europe.