Five years into the rebuilding of Christchurch, in our Shake Up series we talk about the legacy of the earthquakes with some of the people making the city a better place.
Rekindle means to revive or relight – that’s exactly what Juliet Arnott’s business does. Using wood scraps from houses that would have otherwise been destroyed or sent to the dump – and turning them into pieces of furniture, jewellery or sculptures.
Juliet saw the amount of waste coming from the streets of Christchurch’s earthquake stickered homes and she decided to do something with it.
Where were you when the earthquake struck?
I wasn’t in Christchurch at the time, I was in Auckland. Someone told me about it. I remember going online and seeing the footage and being quite shocked by that. Then checking in with friends down there as I use to live in Christchurch in the nineties.
How did Rekindle start?
I had actually started Rekindle in Auckland, before starting up a location in Christchurch. Rekindle was a response to what I thought then was high volumes of reusable timber being thrown away in skips in Auckland.
Then I went back to Christchurch in early 2012. I was just very struck by the vast amount of material that went to waste within the residential areas. I felt that there was too much haste in that process. Even though we couldn’t take it all, we could at least do something to show the value of that material and make its value overt.
Is there a team of you at Rekindle?
We’ve done three major projects so the team size varies depending on the project. When we were at our busiest we had a team of 12 people. Some of them were trained furniture makers, some of them were artists that made smaller pieces of timber into something beautiful. It just varies depending on the project.
When there is an opportunity to share a creative project we do.
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How did you get the materials from red zone houses?
We had bureaucratic issues. The homes were owned by the either the insurers or the demolition company. We had to have their full permission. We had to have a trained and certified team. We couldn’t just wander in a start ripping boards off the house!
Why was Christchurch a good place to get those materials?
It wasn’t that Christchurch was a good place to get the material. It was really that the degree of waste in Christchurch post-quake was so significant. And the impact of the waste on the homeowners was something I felt was difficult to witness. I wanted to see if we could do something even at a small scale symbolically showing the value of those homes by reusing them.
How long did it take to make the furniture?
It was quite laborious – because the timber particularly the rimu is quite brittle and old. It required a lot of care. It took a lot of time to sort material and handle it we were dealing with large quantities of material too. These were finely crafted objects and we had to acknowledge that in our pricing. A chair took at least a couple of days to produce.
What was the response like?
We had support from a lot of New Zealanders who wanted to buy our furniture we really struggled to keep up with the demand for a while there. We are a business and we have to survive to sustain ourselves but we are motivated by the social and environmental impacts.
We stopped making furniture around a year and half or so ago, the big reason was the market for the timber we were using went up again, so it wasn’t going to waste anymore – which was a really positive outcome!
Would Rekindle have happened without the earthquake?
Yes, it would have. We have a major problem with waste going to landfill in New Zealand.
We would have been looking at a different scale of waste perhaps rather than the post-quake context. But we would be responding to waste through creative re-use somewhere else if it wasn’t for here.
Where to now?
We’ve got a project coming up that’s funded by Creative New Zealand we’re supporting five designers or design teams to address waste through design for re-use. Basically, we’re looking for businesses around the country that are currently paying to dispose their waste. My role will be to put that waste in front of designers and support them to generate other solutions that prevent that material from going to landfill.