From waste to art

By Donisha S Basaiawmoit
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” goes the saying. Well, Upcycling is just the way to the making of that treasure! Unlike recycling, upcycling turns old and used items into priceless new items without breaking them down. It is a fresh and innovative way to turn junk into reusable objects.
While it is still a budding concept, it has slowly made its way to the city in recent years. Shillong’s Dylan’s Cafe and ML05 Cafe use this creative method to revamp their interiors. Vatsalla Tibrewalla, owner of both cafes, gave us an insight into the making of these themed cafes and their journey in upcycling.
Situated in the heart of the city, Dylan’s Cafe is one of a kind that pays tribute to legendary singer, songwriter and poet Bob Dylan. ML05 Cafe is also a themed cafe at Upper Shillong, “on the outskirts amidst nature”. It celebrates Shillong’s love for cars, bikes and food.
What makes these cafes unique is the effortless interior designing. It all started in December 2015 when Dylan’s was conceptualised. Both the cafes were designed by Deval Tibrewalla, Vatsalla’s brother.
The dance floor of Shillong’s first nightclub, Platinum, found a new purpose on the walls of Dylan’s when Deval Tibrewalla chanced upon the then useless wood panelling. It now decorates the interior at Dylan’s adding “character and a nice story to the walls”.
Ever since, upcycling became a crucial part of the cafes. What started as a convenient option has turned into a passion to make better use of the waste/unused material that they as a business generate.
At Dylan’s, on the steps leading to the cafe itself are some upcycled records that are hung on the wall. The records go well with the musical theme of the cafe. The antique records which no longer dance on gramophones hang above the staircases providing a perfect backdrop for a quick selfie.
Hanging beside the records is a huge portrait of Bob Dylan. Known as the “Scourillage Dylan”, it is an artwork recently made by Guwahati-based artist and crafter Kasturi Sharma who goes by the handle Muskymiris on Instagram and Facebook. As you would have guessed, it is made up of upcycled products.
Dylan’s owners collected an assortment of waste at the café, including used straws, old coasters, milk cartons, coffee dregs, old CDs, pencil sharpenings (from schools) which were later used by the artist to make the stunning portrait. Kasturi Sharma has also made another interesting portrait of Bob Dylan by using the method of ‘Quilling’.
On the beautifully furnished
balcony at the cafe hangs another upcycled product. It has become a popular ‘photograph booth’ among customers, both young and old. It is none other than the panelling of light bulbs that trace the balcony wall. Originally lanterns that were discarded from The Polo Towers Hotel rooms, they now light up the cafe giving it a homely feel.
The list of upcycled items goes on with egg baskets, kettles, guitars and even the NH7 Bacardi Weekender mugs.
The egg baskets are creatively used as shades for the bulbs hanging at the café and they fit right in. Who would have thought!
Kettles would usually be used to boil water or tea. One might think that they would be useless once broken, but not at Dylan’s. They are now used as flower pots! Hanging along the front of the reception desk, these kettles are another element that adds to the homeliness of the place.
Broken guitars have also found their place on the walls of the cafe. They are more than suiting of the musical environment that the cafe aims at achieving.
The tiny detail of an NH7 mug being reused as a flower pot is an example that one can upcycle just about anything.
At ML05, the Tibrewallas wanted to celebrate the automobile theme that the people of the city can relate to. It is the love for cars and bikes that led to the birthing of the cafe.
The interior designing of the cafe is again mostly based on the concept of upcycling. It uses old machinery, trunks and scraps from vehicles lying around as props adding a quirky design element to the space.
Registration number plates hung at the entrance of the cafe sway in the wind to the ‘motorised’ theme.
Ever wondered if a steering wheel can be used as a door handle? The answer is yes it can! ML05 has a steering wheel placed on the entrance door staying true to the theme.
On entering the cafe, one would assume it to be a haven for car and bike lovers. There is a Royal Enfield bullet hanging from the ceiling of the cafe on sturdy chains and it certainly is an eye catcher. It is also upcycled from a non-functioning automobile to an aesthetically appealing prop at the cafe.
There are automobile parts which were rusting away at a scrap shop being used as decorative elements as well.
A section in the cafe has old trunks upcycled to coffee tables. These are used in their authentic form leaving them old and with a story to tell.
Upcycling for Dylan’s and ML05 comes as a cost-efficient way to reduce waste. It is also a creative way to clear up storage space. Besides being a business strategy, upcycling also establishes an emotional connection with old things for the owners. In a city booming with cafes in the recent years, Dylan’s and ML05 definitely stands out as most customers are astonished by the way these cafes are done up and how they have “sustainably and aesthetically upcycled a number of items”.
Social media is no stranger to them with over two thousand followers on Instagram and Facebook. “We receive a lot of good feedback on social media and otherwise,” Vatsalla said. It is no wonder since they have managed to turn the available space into an eye-catching and an almost nostalgic haven.
They also recommend upcycling to anyone who has a flair for reusing old things or those who simply hoard items at home by turning them into fun and decorative pieces either at home or elsewhere.
For example, last year during Christmas the cafe owners used old olive and pickle jars to create beautiful candle holders. “It was easy to do and worked beautifully as a centre piece.”
Upcycling is a useful way to spend one’s leisure time or even to fully commit to it full time. One can find unending imaginable ways of converting what would be rubbish into interesting and fun objects that instantly add design and vibrance to any dull environment.
It is also cost-effective that makes it an even more approachable method for any person from all walks of life. And not to forget, it is environment-friendly, most ideal for nature lovers and environmentalists who crave for a fun project while contributing to saving the planet.