charis williams | salvage sister

We love nothing more than getting friendly with some power tools, so you can imagine our joy when we were invited to join crafty legend and ‘Salvage Sister’ Charis Williams for her first wood workshop here in Brighton. Famous for her appearances on Channel 4’s Fill Your House For Free with Kirstie Alsopp, we grabbed five minutes with Charis away from the workshop to find out what she loves about Brighton, skip-searching and the seaside.

Where do you live in Brighton/Hove and what do you like about the area?
I grew up in Hove, and I’ve lived all over Brighton throughout my life. I live in Bevendean now with a bit more space and room for a workshop in the garden! People are so friendly in Brighton, my neighbours are lovely and have got to used to the strange salvage lady who is always collecting weird things and hammering away in the garden. Brighton is such an eclectic place, anything goes, normal is strange – I fit in perfectly!

In the designer world, you’re now known as ‘Salvage Sister’. How did that name come about?
I was given the nickname ‘Salvage Sister’ during filming of Channel 4’s Fill Your House for Free and I guess it stuck. It is a pretty good description of what I do, as I’m all about turning salvaged materials into beautiful and useful items, empowering other women to pick up a power tool or learn to metalwork – and teach the boys a thing or two!

For anyone that hasn’t seen you on Fill Your House for Free (shame on them), what’s it all about and where do you come in?
The show is all about making over homes with upcycled furniture and materials. I would go out in my van and peruse skips and building sites or reuse centres, coming back with a bounty of items to repurpose into fantastic homewares that would be loved and cherished for many years to come. It saved the homeowners a lot of cash they didn’t have to buy these items new, and it saved a great deal of materials from landfill.

You once taught Kirsty Allsopp how to make a planter on stage in front of 200 people, using a pallet. How did you find that?
Yes, that was great fun! I had to multitask – make the trough, show the audience how it’s done and teach Kirstie – all while she asked me lots of questions! Kirstie is always fun to work with, she is a law unto herself and scares the men around her which I find very amusing. She also wears heels all the time no matter what she’s doing, I’ve tried getting her in a pair of steel toe-caps, but she’s not having any of it.


What’s been your biggest scavenging find?
I can go out for a couple of hours and come back with the van full to the brim of useful materials; there is so much going to waste if you look. I built my workshop myself entirely from reclaimed and salvaged materials I found for free from building sites, reuse centres, Freegle and Freeads, and the builders I know. I collected all the boarding needed for the whole exterior and roof just from one site! All the materials were found in Brighton and all for free just by making friends, being polite and asking nicely – most people are more than happy for you to take away the things they no longer want because they get in the way and can end up getting waterlogged and damaged.

What about your weirdest?

The weirdest find had to be the time I cleared out a sex dungeon in Kemp Town. There were all sort of chains and whips and a pivoting table with shackles attached! Needless to say, I made sure I kept my gloves on until the whole lot had been hosed down.

What’s the best thing you’ve upcycled to date?
Now, that’s a hard one, as every time I upcycle something I think its the best make yet! I’ve turned a BMW wheel and brake discs into coffee tables, cricket helmets into lamps, various mannequins into shop displays and made garden sculptures from scrap metal but my favourite? Maybe my iMacquarium – yes, I turned an old redundant iMac G3 into an aquarium!

Have you got any tips for salvage-spotting hot spots in Brighton & Hove and/or how to haggle?
Yes, you can usually find skips where there is scaffolding, Harris fencing or some signs of building work; the scaffolding makes it easy to spot from way off. There are great sites likeFreegle and Freecycle, and the TrashNothing app if you are looking for things for personal use. There are also recycling centres like The Wood Store in Brighton and Richardson and Sons metal recycling, plus many charitable organisations that deal in secondhand furniture – I love Emmaus in Portslade. Sometimes, places like these may have free items they need to move in a hurry. Always be kind and pleasant and you will get the best of people and be able to seal a good deal.


When you’re not diving into a skip, what do you like to do in Brighton & Hove?
There’s always so much going on it can be hard to keep up! There’s always live music or a festival on somewhere. I love my food, working out and being out in the fresh air – with the seafront and the downs on my doorstep I’m spoilt for choice!

And finally, what would be your perfect day in Brighton?
It’s the simple pleasures in life – the perfect day would be a sunny one (obvs). I’d take my little Jack Russell Buffy for a long walk over the Downs before hopping on my motorbike and going for a cruise along the seafront and into Brighton’s quirky North Laine for a bit of vintage shopping to pick myself up some bandanas and checked shirts – a girl can never have too many! Then lunch on the seafront and a stroll along the shore, maybe even a dip if it’s warm enough. The perfect evening would involve lots of dancing and hanging out with friends as the sun sets.

Charis is leading a series of fab workshops at the Brighton Wood Store over the next few weeks. We’d highly recommend the pallet planter workshop. Find out how to book here, she’s got everything from planters to pet beds and you can get 20% off any course by using the code ‘upcycle20off’!


Photo credit: Stuart Grimwood