I discovered Natalie and Ben Mason’s Rebound Books a couple of years ago when I was visiting Melbourne and having a nosy around the wonderful Sunday Rose Street Markets. Their quirky use of turning used books nobody wants anymore into ‘new’ journals, diaries and sketchbooks is the ultimate in creative upcycling.
Their journals contain pages from the original book and the lined paper they use is printed locally by a carbon neutral printer using vegetable-based inks on paper that’s 100% recycled and Australian-made.
I spoke to Natalie the other day and discovered that while we both have an obsessive desire to hoard books, Natalie has found a way to give them a new life and a new purpose for a new owner. She may say, “there’s a fine line we walk between loving books and pulling them apart to make stationery” but what better way to preserve a torn, written-in, dog-eared old book that is destined for landfill? And by owning and using a ‘new’ Rebound Book, you can reminisce over the books you used to read as a child or have a chuckle at an old-fashioned, or just plain unusual, book title in the process.
It’s clear Natalie and Ben are passionate about and devoted to what they do and why they do it. Here’s what Natalie had to say …
Tell me about your backgrounds and where the idea to start Rebound Books came from?
I was self-employed in my own public relations business doing PR for the music business until 2011 and Ben was [and still is] working in before- and after-school care. Ben is also a musician and has played in a number of bands. He plays the guitar and a bit of everything really. He’s multi-talented – the kind of person that can hear a song and play it back to you on the guitar. I’m now studying library studies and that’s what I intend to do as my career – work in libraries.
Rebound grew out of a shared love of old books that we would buy and stockpile from op shops because the covers were so beautiful, the titles were so funny or it was an unusual linen cover – a great embossed image you could run your finger over. We ended up with this absurd volume of books and the idea of moving house and bringing them with us was appalling. We couldn’t get our head around moving such a volume of books that we didn’t use. I also have books from when I was in primary school. So every time we moved we’d quite gladly pack up my Trixie Belden and Enid Blyton collections and my Noddy books – the books I grew up with and bought with my own money. But when we got to the section of the bookcase with the big hefty hardcover tomes we hadn’t opened since we’d bought them, we found ourselves questioning why we were hanging on to them. In hindsight it was because we couldn’t bear to throw them away. Some books you capture and release – you loan them to somebody or give them to the op shop – but there are some books that you just can’t get rid of.
Concurrent to that line of thinking was that we were going overseas and wanted to take a travel journal with us. But going to the news agency proved fruitless. There were journals with pictures of the globe or a soft-focused bunch of flowers with calligraphy writing about travel experiences but they just seemed so unrelated to this overseas adventure we were planning on having. With those two thoughts quite separate in our minds, we had one of those light bulb moments: What if we could put a cover that’s so beautiful on an ugly travel journal? Suddenly you’ve created something that you need out of something that you would otherwise throw away.
And that has been, in the eight years following, the fundamental question that we ask ourselves every time we develop a new product or rethink or refocus on what we’re doing: What else can we do with this item before we throw it away? Every product is designed to fill a need and stop things being discarded entirely. What I bring to Rebound from my background in PR in the music industry is my business skills – my understanding of accounting, small business regulations, marketing, PR. Ben brings enormous creative ability – he can take the kernel of an idea and turn it into something you can hold.
So it was eight years ago that you started?
Yes, 2005. I think the idea was probably floating around before then but by July 2005 we had a business name, we registered it and were organised to start.
Do you both re-bind the books – is it just the two of you in the business?
Yes, we make everything from scratch. We have a number of guillotines, binding machines, and all sorts of hand tools, cutting tools.
Did you have to learn some of these skills or was it a bit of trial and error at the start?
It was trial and error at the start. We trialled a number of machines, guillotines, papers, and also there are so many types of books. There’s not one type of hard back book that’s produced in the same way so some are not suited to what we do. There’s definitely a lot of trial and error when you’re starting a new business and making a new product that you want to feel comfortable and confident selling to somebody else. We’ve had a lot of Christmases and birthdays where our family and friends got Rebound Books and they trialled them for us and we got great feedback from them.
Did you keep your day jobs for a bit?
I kept my PR business until 2011 and Ben still works in childcare. The past eight years have been on and off fulltime in the business. And we’ve had some casual staff – dear friends who’ve worked for us in busy times to help make one type of product, like the diaries that are seasonal and need to be released at a certain time of the year, which can be too much for Ben and I to do.
I presume you’ve long ago used up the books you already owned and wanted to find a new home for. Where do you source your books from now?
We only source from charity op shops – that’s a really important thing to us. Every purchase we make is a considered one. Even from our other suppliers like paper, binding wire and ribbon we use in the diaries. It’s important to us that the books have run the course of their usefulness for the person who owned them. But if they’re text books where the content is out of date or children’s books that have been scribbled on, or old books where the spines have come off – op shops have a really hard time trying to sell them as no one wants to buy an out-of-date text book or a book with missing pages. Op shops are increasingly finding they’re being given books they just can’t sell and then they’ve got a problem of what to do with them. Unfortunately, eventually they end up in landfill. What we try to do is buy and collect books before the landfill point. We don’t buy from second hand bookshops or buy books that will still be useful to people. I believe useful books should stay in circulation. I believe that so strongly I can’t stress it enough.
I assume you’ll be anti the Kindle and e-Books?
No, not at all. I think if people are reading, that’s fantastic. Any way you can access a book is a good way.
Have you found any interesting books or things within the books that you hadn’t thought you’d find along your travels?
Absolutely. I have a collection of books we found that will not be going anywhere, which we did a blog post on last year. We have copies of O. Henry short stories and we’re collecting Joan Walsh Anglund. She has a collection of books that are ‘Love is …’, ‘Friendship is …’ that were published in the late 60s and early 70s and have lined drawings in a Holly Hobby style with big hats and cute dresses. They’re just so divine – beautiful illustrations. We’ve managed to find 11 books by the same author in the same series. We find them so randomly. An op shop will sometimes package up a whole lot of hardback books for us because they know us and know what we’re looking for. Sometimes we can use what they’ve given us and sometimes we can’t but in the pile there’s still that magical discovery time. And often there’ll be something inside with which I just cannot part. I guess there’s a fine line we walk sometimes between loving books and pulling them apart to make stationery.
To answer the second part of the question: We’ve found everything from the flattened foil wrappers of Easter eggs, love letters, photographs with inscriptions on the back – wartime sweetheart photos, handkerchiefs, pressed flowers, newspaper articles (particularly if it was a book on a specific topic like the war or the navy), or dressing-making books with patterns in them. We have a large box in the workshop called ‘Things we found in a book’ and we always say one day we’ll have an exhibition. It’s a beautiful collection that other people have held – a snapshot into what that book was for them. It’s so magical to get a peak into someone else’s experience with a particular object and how they used it.
What would you say has been a highlight since starting the business?
I guess getting that opportunity to see how other people use books, and then to adapt that to what we actually, practically do to the books. So in our diaries, for example, we’ve recently put pockets inside. People put things in their books so it makes sense to respond to that – to create a piece of stationery that looks like a book but is also a diary and has a pocket to hold those tram tickets, receipts and things you don’t want to let go off or have fall out of the books. The diaries also have place markers in like a bookmark.
One of my questions was going to be: What does a typical day involve? But you’ve answered that already by saying you juggle other jobs as well, so I suppose no day is typical?
It changes all the time. Sometimes we only have evenings to spend on Rebound and sometimes we have full days and sometimes we have a day together. This morning, for example, before Ben went off to school he made a number of sketchbooks and I made a number of small envelopes. While we’re both in the workshop we get a chance to discuss our workloads, how best to make the custom orders. We respond to typical customer inquiries by phone, maintaining our online website – adding new stock or writing a new blog post and doing the nuts and bolts, administration things. It’s a bit production and a bit admin.
So what do you in your spare time?
I like to cook a lot and read and spend time with my family and friends. Cooking is probably a big part of my life.
What can we expect from Rebound Books in the future?
More of the same, and yet everything’s different. It’s funny in that the mechanics of our process is the same but every front and back cover and every page we keep from the original book that we put inside the journals and sketch books is different. So it feels as if we’re doing the same thing over and over but we’re starting from scratch every time.
What about a ‘who’d have thought’ moment – have you had one of them?
Sometimes a ‘who’d have thought’ moment is ‘who’d have thought someone would get rid of this book?’ Maybe my biggest moment is standing back from the business and looking at Rebound and thinking, wow, eight years, who’d have thought that, really? It started off as such a separate part of our lives and now it’s become the central thing. Our only consideration for the future is: How will I fit Rebound around everything else [in our lives]?
Rebound Books attend various markets in Australia throughout the year and their next ones are:
Arts Centre Market, Melbourne
Sunday 7, 14, 21 April, 10am – 4pm
Arts Centre Lawn, St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Finders Keepers, Melbourne
Friday 5 April, 6pm – 10pm
Saturday 6 April, 10am – 5pm
Royal Exhibition Building, 9 Nicholson Street, Carlton
Bowerbird Bazaar, Adelaide
Friday 3 May, 4pm – 9pm
Saturday 4 May, 10am – 5pm
Sunday 5 May, 10am – 5pm