Reimagining Waste: Lee Brennan on Recycled Materials

In a second interview with Lee Brennan, we explore an underpinning element at Lee Brennan Design (LBD) – a consciousness about waste. Last time, Lee spoke to us about design, collaborations and how Lee & LBD came to be ; now, we unpack the how.

Frank in addressing and weighing the realities of reimagining recycled materials, we fall face-first into Lee’s wider views on sustainability and how waste, not sustainability, is the anchor point for LBD.

The Character in Waste

Lee doesn’t hesitate to admit that during his early years in commercial construction, the amount of waste he saw was disturbing. In creating LBD, he chose to run his studio differently.

Today, he takes pride in his work being the opposite of wasteful, with every piece of furniture born of recycled timber.

Recycled timber has the benefit of already being dry and tested by time and, more, these unique slabs of timber have inherent character.

In terms of designing – or re-designing – these pieces, Lee says reverence for veteran materials plays the biggest role.

‘We start with the material and try to listen to what it wants to be.

Authenticity is the greatest attraction of all.’

Allowing the timber to speak for itself is vital to the result. Each piece has its natural variation and incorporating new materials rarely has the same impact. Lee says, ‘Apart from the waste factor it just makes my job so much easier as it already offers character, and creating character is very hard.’

Images of Lee Brennan's work including the use of repurposed timber and recycled metal jewellry.

The Reward is Far Greater than the Struggle

Finding quality recycled timber has become more challenging.

It’s a juggle dancing between the needs of the business (it’s crucial to always have a large supply in the workshop), sourcing (always have your ears and eyes open) and storage, but Lee’s only regrets? Leaving timber behind: When you see something interesting buy it!’

Not that recycled timber comes without its challenges. With age and patina comes character but it requires a sensitivity to shape it into something new. There are nails to work around, sections that splinter, and weathered colour that can make things tricky. In saying that, he notes the age means it’s also easier to trust.

The trick to a piece, Lee explained, is identifying what you like about it, working around that and keeping it as the feature.

Sidestepping into sourcing materials for the Jewellery, Lee finds himself in a nice case of swings and roundabouts with waste in the construction industry.

‘I would say our jewellery is about 70% recycled materials.

The bulk of jewellery is crafted from stainless steel which can be found quite readily from old construction waste a little goes a long way with small items like rings. Builder friends often deliver me old pieces of steel.’

At the end of the day, ‘the reward is far greater than the struggles.’

Consistency Over Hype

Lee says, ‘We go out of our way to not be wasteful and… Even though it (sustainability) is part of our ethos I would rather not myopically portray our brand as sustainably focused because I know that hypocrisy will inevitably bite back.’

While Lee and LBD have a proven track record of being resourceful and sustainably minded, Lee is straight to the point with his concerns about the sustainability ‘hype’.

‘I personally have more and more issues with blanket claims of sustainability… There is a lot of faux virtue and hypocrisy being thrown around a subject that is very complicated.’

While some might have their heart in the right place, Lee sees spaces where certain attitudes and individuals around ‘sustainability’ lead others astray, to act contrary to their values.

We find Lee’s approach to sustainability refreshing – being aware, engaged, and wary while still taking action to reduce waste in a consistent, genuine way.

See LBD works here in Noosaville at their Showroom, Foundry.