6 clever ways to recycle leftover decorating materials: to save money and be kinder to the environment


If you’re overflowing with decorating ideas and have a project underway or about to start, you might be wondering how you can incorporate eco-friendly decorating into your project to reduce waste.

Of course, green home improvements can be made in all sorts of ways, from sourcing sustainable fabrics to investing in green heating, but one of the simplest green steps you can take is to use and to reuse unused decorative materials, which often take the form of scraps.

“We need to start changing the way we use materials. We need to stop feeling like we have infinite resources when they are finite. We should all try to minimize the amount of cutting we do, because each time we create another smaller piece, we are effectively minimizing its potential reuse,” says interior designer Maria Speake.

Below, we show you some of Maria’s ways and our favorite ways to use decorative materials that would otherwise go to waste.

Maria Speake, together with Adam Hills, founded Retrouvius in 1993, the UK destination recovery company. Maria creates incredible interiors for design studio Retrouvius, which respectfully transforms repurposed materials for distinctive, contemporary purposes in properties ranging from contemporary penthouses to a medieval priory.

1. Rethink where to use the stone

Vaulted alcove with open shelving and terracotta backsplash in kitchen with white worktop

(Image credit: Margaret Austin)

If you are looking for sustainable kitchen ideas, you can simply reduce the rockfall created to create ledges for your kitchen counter ideas and replace them with a more renewable source or simply do without it altogether.

“Practical junctions – for example, the little ledges you have in the kitchen to hide the junction between the worktop and the wall – require small pieces of material, often a bit of wood or stone,” says Maria. “My favorites to use are architraves, baseboards and kitchen backsplashes. Or, you can make sure some small scraps of rock or marble are kept to make one of those little shelves near the hob where you can store your olive oil or salt.

2. Use leftover paint wisely

Full length curtains in a colorful living room

(Image credit: Suzy Hoodless)

‘Using eco-friendly paints in the first place is your most eco-friendly approach to approaching the paint ideas you have prepared for your decorating projects. But there are always paint scraps, which often go to waste, and trash is trash,” says Lucy Searle, Editor, Homes & Gardens.

“One way to use it is to paint it in another room in a single area to create an eye-catching yet impactful flash of color. And if you have a whole-house color scheme or a color thread that runs through the house, you can do that seamlessly.

Interior decorator Suzy without a hood (opens in a new tab) shows how it’s done in her living room with the door trim in a bright, citric yellow.

3. Make imaginative use of the remaining tiles

How to Tile Stairs with Green and Blue Tile Stairs

(Image credit: future)

When tiling we are always told to order extra to account for breakage. But what about extras you can’t always return or broken tiles? There are plenty of nifty options, from the treatment of the stairs above to Maria’s favorite option:

“Tile remnants or tile offcuts can be easily tucked into joinery pieces – an easy way to spruce up a very boring closet door.” They can be lightly recessed or routed in wood or plaster. You can also do the same with pieces of mirror or stone, or contrasting woods,” she says.

4. Reuse unused wooden floors or coverings

Dining room with textured walls

(Image credit: Retrouvius)

Flooring? You will inevitably have leftover wood, which can be put to smart use, from making new furniture to covering or covering small spaces that don’t require a lot of wood.

“One of the fun things we’ve done with leftover parquet is to cut it thin enough to use as almost lightweight marquetry. We make decorative parquet panels to use as inserts and the resulting geometric effect is very interesting to watch,” says Maria.

5. Use leftover wallpaper

Living room with shelves around the door, sofa and armchair and stone floor

(Image credit: Lucy Cunningham)

Your wallpaper ideas are unlikely to be cheap and it is terrible to see wasted paper. So ask yourself, can you use the scraps or leftover roll or half roll elsewhere in the house?

“It’s amazing how little of something you need to have a big impact. Wallpapers are a fairly obvious choice, but you can have fun using them to line the backs of bookcases or drawers.

6. Reuse fabrics – new or old

A headboard covered in blue fabric with soft edges next to a bright orange bedside table

(Image credit: Future/Polly Wreford/Sally Denning)

If you are replacing old curtains that you love, but one of them may be damaged or worn or discolored in places, could you reuse them elsewhere? Or maybe you’re looking to make sustainable purchases for your home by purchasing pre-loved fabrics that someone else has thrown away?

Either way, there are plenty of ways to avoid buying new when you can rethink, from creating new headboard ideas to adding a valance to an open vanity shelf to the simple manufacture of bowl covers.

What is the easiest thing to recycle?

The easiest household item to recycle is the simple glass jar. Mason jar crafts are a good source of inspiration for how glass jars can be repurposed. Think: rustic flower pots for crafts and containers for craft supplies.


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