Handyman building an environmentally friendly hobby for himself

Atef Ali, a Pakistani who was born and raised in Dubai, realised he was capable of reinventing unwanted bits of furniture and scrap when it came to building a crib for his newborn daughter.

Atef Ali’s hobby of turning old furniture into new pieces is becoming popular with his neighbours. Chris Whiteoak for The National
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DUBAI // Atef Ali discovered that he had a gift for carpentry while making a crib for his newborn daughter.

Now the Pakistani, born and raised in Dubai, is carving out an environmentally friendly pastime using recycled wood and scrap metal to make affordable furniture.

“From a young age I was always interested in understanding the dynamics of machines and carpentry,” said Mr Ali, 33, who works in a Deira hardware shop.

“Five years ago, when my elder daughter was born, we were living in a small apartment and didn’t have the space to keep a bed for her.

“I then made a wall-mounted folding crib for her, made from an Ikea bed discarded by my neighbours.

“This gave me the idea that a lot of people would be encouraged to get a bed like that as the homes are very small here and good, space-saving furniture would be required.”

Mr Ali, who lives in Ajman, said wood was expensive because most of it was imported.

“I decided to collect discarded wood and convert it into different pieces of furniture, such as wine racks and trays,” he said.

“I also use a lot of old scaffolding planks and pipes that were procured from scrapyards to make bed tables and TV panels.

“I even made an industrial lamp using worn-out pipes and fittings and made the tap into a switch to turn off the lights.

“Pallets, scaffolding planks, old furniture, water pipes, taps, discarded oil drums – all of these are easily found outside construction sites and industrial areas, especially Al Sajaa in Sharjah, where a lot of scrap dealers collect and sell this for a very good price.”

Mr Ali said his hobby really took off when his neighbours saw his work and started requesting that he make furniture for them.

“Shoe boxes, moon cribs, baby beds and wine racks are the most common requests from my neighbours,” he said.

Sudha Vailaya is one of his “customers”.

“Initially I didn’t know it was recycled material,” said Ms Vailaya, 35, from India.

“I requested him to make it because I loved the design and his craftsmanship, but when he told me that he is using recycled and scrap material I felt so good that at least someone is not harming the environment.

“It’s a win-win situation. I am not only safeguarding the environment but also saving money as the financial situation is not that rosy.”

Mr Ali claims that he can turn any furniture waste into something useful.

“Give me any discarded, broken and unwanted furniture and I will transfer it into a useful product,” he said of his skills, which he only charges a nominal fee for as he does it because he enjoys it and wants to be environmentally friendly.

“It is my humble contribution to save the environment and to promote sustainability. Let us save trees. Let us reuse things we discarded just because we don’t need them or we don’t like them. Let’s save the planet.”