The Afterlife of Old Aircraft: Decor Inspiration
When you love jets as much as we do at Air Charter Service there’s something special about a story where a decommissioned plane ends up as art, rather than in a scrap yard.
Although many parts are scrapped, the trend of upcycling has become increasingly popular in the UK and numerous aircraft parts have been redesigned and reimagined into wonderful pieces of art or furniture in private homes and corporate spaces today. Now, aircraft that were once a distant memory, can be brought back to life through their parts, with a new purpose and trendy look for modern day use.
READ MORE: The lifecycle of commercial and private aircraft.
Most aircraft are simply broken down for parts, their history lost and their service forgotten but, happily, this isn’t always the case. Besides those that end up in museums or private collections, sometimes these graceful ships of the sky are repurposed for use in homes and public spaces. Below we’ll look at a few examples of how this takes place and speak to a few like-minded souls who’ve found creative ways to keep a plane in service.
We spoke with Jon Salmon who is a Corporate Communications Officer at AirTanker – which supports the RAF with tactical air transport and air-to-air refuelling operations and asked him a few questions about his experience with upcycling aircraft parts.
ACS:What made you decide to repurpose plane parts?
Jon:I saw work by some US companies (like MotoArt) that do this on a large scale, such as turning engine cowlings (covering of a vehicle's engine) into beds, or whole wings into tables. I figured that it would be a fun project if I could get hold of the right part of an aircraft.
ACS:What type of plane was this and how did you acquire the parts?
Jon:I purchased a cabin trolley from Air Salvage International at Cotswold Airport. They had stock from airliners that they scrap and I believe that my trolley came from an Airbus A310.
ACS:Does this particular model hold any special meaning for you?
Jon:The aircraft model itself doesn’t, but the knowledge that the trolley has flown around the world, being used to feed thousands of people over many years is quite special. A few months after finishing it, I was walking around Hong Kong at night and found a shop selling brand new trolleys for home use. Whilst they looked smart, clean and very professional, they certainly didn’t have the character or history of a real, slightly battered airline trolley.
ACS:What do you love most about your retired plane furniture?
Jon:I like the physical presence of the piece. When lit up, it provides a very interesting feature in the room and is actually quite a practical piece to use. It is very much a talking point when people see it, and very useful for storing things (in my case, wine and spirits).
ACS:Are you a big fan of aviation in general and if so, how did you get into it?
Jon:I have grown up around aviation all my life, and have been flying since age 18. My parents were both in the RAF and my sister is a Breitling wing walker so, overall, my family has covered lots of areas in the aviation world!
ACS:Would you recommend this for others?
Jon:Absolutely! Why buy manufactured furniture when you can spend time (and some money!) to create something completely unique? You can acquire parts through people like ASI, Everett Aero, or just search around on eBay.
ACS:Did you set this all up yourself? Tell us a little about the process.
Jon:The process was very time consuming, because of the way I went about doing it. I could have merely left the trolley the way was, however, I decided to repaint it and polish the metal edges to achieve a mirror finish. That required many hours of sanding, then polishing properly with a drill-based polishing kit. I fixed a chopping board to the top, fixed blue LED strip lighting inside and bought wooden shelves, which I cut to size in order to make shelves to fit wine bottles etc.
Thanks for sharing your DIY passion with us Jon!
Now that we’ve had a little inspiration, let’s talk about what’s possible and how to get started.
Upcyclist is a website reporting on artists and designers who incorporate reclaimed materials into their creations, and offers plenty of inspiration on this growing area of interest.
Decommissioned aircraft offer an abundance of reusable material. Entire aeroplanes are known to have been upcycled into habitable spaces, such as the Jumbo Stay hotel in Stockholm, but there is also infinite potential for upcycling aircraft parts into new and exciting products that make ideal gifts for flying enthusiasts. Due to the nature of the material, there’s an inevitable, industrial bulkiness to what they become in their second life, so items such as this conference table made from an engine is best suited to a large space that can carry off a feature piece.
The high polished sheen of this antique propeller, however, is extremely elegant. Not only a collector's item, it also makes for a beautiful sculptural work of art as a standalone piece. Aeroplane chairs can be a fun addition to a living space or home office. Ideal for kicking back and relaxing, they're the perfect choice for a home cinema.
My favourite example of aircraft upcycling is F-Light by French architect Paul Coudamy, which is a suspended ceiling light made from the interior walls of an Airbus A320. Items like this create a sense of surprise and delight, as well as being good for the environment.
Deco Mag is a design-led, eco-interiors online magazine. In their own expert words, they deal in “upcycling the old to sourcing ethically sound and beautifully-made new products”.
Redundant planes obviously offer huge amounts of metal, predominantly aluminium, for anyone with ideas and metalworking facilities; and at Deco we've been fascinated to see an inspiring range of related upcycling projects.
These vary from furniture – stools, cupboards and tables – to roofs made from 747 wings, while the bodies of the planes themselves offer potential for living, either as homes, holiday homes or even hotels. The Costa Verde hotel in the Costa Rican jungle, for example, is beautifully-appointed inside, but there’s no doubt that you're staying in an aeroplane because what you see from the outside is a Boeing 727 resting on a 50ft plinth.
Going back to the small scale, we like the work of German aviation enthusiasts Aero-1946 (aero-1946.com), who started off making one-off shiny stools from the riveted aluminium of decommissioned helicopters. They've expanded into sideboards and an aviation toolbox, and say what you like about aviation metal - the thousands of rivets give it quite a distinctive look.
And let's not forget those thousands of trolleys that have been pushed up and down plane aisles. These trolleys are slender yet tough and capacious; and now you can have one in your own home thanks to Italian company Trolle-Iacobucci. They refurbish and decorate vintage aircraft trolleys into drinks cabinets, bathroom or kitchen storage units - all perfect for the bijou interior.
That said, we’d like to thank our contributors for jumping in and adding their insights on this sustainable unique design trend which is actually known as Upcycling. Over time we at Air Charter Service have developed our own expertise in this regard, naturally and our love of planes has transferred seamlessly to our own offices:
From the boardroom
To the lounge
To our bronze plane above the coffee table which was made by Erik Lindbergh himself.
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