When you think about upcycling — the noble act of creatively repurposing objects otherwise destined for the tip — what's the first thing that comes to mind?

I bet it's that bloke you always see on Trade Me asking 500 bucks for a bar leaner cobbled together out of old pallets, or could it be Sally Ridge, cheerfully sticking plastic rhinestones to an old lamp base with a hot glue gun?

The last thing most of us would imagine is a proper designer, somebody with some form of credentials and expertise. Certainly that's the last kind of person you'd expect to find on a reality show, so often the domain of the overconfident amateur. But TV still has the ability to surprise and delight, and Design Junkies, which began on TVNZ 1 on Thursday night, is a surprising and delightful exception to the rule.

The six contestants include a sculptor from Wellsford, a helicopter pilot-turned furniture designer from Wellington and a young guy with a design masters, also from Wellington.


The first episode's brief, set by host and popular artist Shane Hansen, was to make a coffee table out of bits of old house, sourced from Burrell Salvage in Grey Lynn.

Never before — not even on the villa season of The Block — has the word "balustrade" featured so heavily in a New Zealand reality show. Everybody seemed to want to incorporate some (checks dictionary) ornamental railings into their table. Ex-pilot Leilani and Wellsford woodworker Rupert had exactly the same idea, but amicably sorted it out before Leilani found something even better: an old wooden headboard.

What a treat to watch people with creativity, skill and expertise do their thing on TV — it really should happen more often. How nice to see contestants on a show like this sharing tips and giving each other a helping hand, the host dispensing priceless advice and encouragement as well as nagging everybody about the time limit. And how cool is that massive workshop they're using at Unitec? If that doesn't make you want to take up a trade, nothing will.

The finished products were all impressive pieces of work — except, it has to be said, for Kere's, which was an absolute shocker. The young design graduate was inspired by his flatmates to build a thing with crate bottles for legs, a blackboard top and fluorescent pink trim. He was rightly chided by Hansen and politely slammed by the judges, but took it like a champ, and will bounce back — lucky for him there are no eliminations on this show.

Still, that prize of a spot at the Milan Furniture Fair looks a long way off when you see the quality his competition.

Design Junkies
7.30pm Thursday, TVNZ 1