Reusing things is deeply rooted in our American DNA, but lately it's gained a new cachet.
AKRON, Ohio — What many people consider junk, Peggy Jacob and Carol Perry see as possibilities.
They can hardly bear to pass up an auction, an estate sale or sometimes even the curbside trash. To the two friends and business partners, those sources are treasure troves for their passion for repurposing.
The two operate the Hoarders Quarters in Barberton, Ohio, where they sell the used and off-price goods they’ve gathered. Many of those things they just clean up for resale, but what gives them the most satisfaction is finding new uses for old stuff — turning the end of a daybed into a garden gate, for instance, or making a birdbath from parts of old lamps and ceiling lights.
“You just stand back and go, ‘What use can I make out of this?”‘ Jacob said.
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Reusing things is deeply rooted in our American DNA, but lately it’s gained a new cachet. It’s no longer just thrifty or even green to find creative reuses for salvage; now it’s also stylish.
For Jacob, it’s almost a compulsion. She sees a ladder and envisions a pot rack. She buys a TV armoire and imagines a puppet theater.
Perry admitted she was less of a visionary than her partner at first. Her motivation was just the thrill of the hunt. But when she turned some old bed parts into a bench, she knew she’d caught the repurposing bug.
Apparently consumers have caught the desire to own those items, too. Salvage chic is a big draw for customers of Hazel Tree Interiors, a West Akron, Ohio, business that encompasses home décor, picture framing and interior redesign, said Karen Starr, who owns the business with her husband, Jon Haidet.
Starr and Haidet sell items on consignment from a number of artists who specialize in repurposing — items such as a mirror made from a Firestone tractor tire mold by Russ Ensign, a 1960s end table decorated with a surfing scene by Teresa Bosko and a cocktail table made from gears, wheels and other steel parts by Michael McAlear.
Starr said she’s seen a big increase in interest in recycled items over the last year, although she’s not sure whether it’s because people like the green aspect or they’re just drawn to the look.
TV undoubtedly has fed the trend. Shows centering on salvage have proliferated on cable — “American Pickers” on the History Channel, “Cash & Cari” on HGTV and “Picker Sisters” on Lifetime, to name a few.
Amy Hughes, features editor at This Old House magazine, is the author of the new book “Salvage-Style Projects” (Oxmoor House). Hughes loves the creativity involved in taking items out of their usual context and turning them into things for her home. “It does make a design statement,” she said.
Hughes relies on magazines and design books for inspiration. She also keeps an eye out for other people’s projects. When she sees one she likes, she’ll snap a picture with her iPhone.
While some people see salvage and envision a use for it, Hughes often works the other way around. She’ll identify a need and then go looking for the parts to create it.
For example, when she wanted a wall-hung bedside table for her compact New York apartment, she headed for a salvage yard. There she found a pair of porch brackets and a roof slate that were perfect for the project.
Sometimes, though, she just can’t pass up a find, even if she’s not sure what it will become. That was the case with a butler’s pantry door she salvaged from someone’s trash, a door with beautiful wood grain and a wax finish she wanted to showcase. She’s thinking of turning it into a door for an ironing board cabinet, thanks to a suggestion from a follower who responded to her call for ideas on her book’s Facebook page.
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Salvage expert Amy Hughes offers these tips for finding and repurposing old stuff:
— Steal other people’s ideas. Look through design books, tear out magazine pictures, snap photos of projects you like.
— Bring that inspirational material with you when you shop. It’ll help you show sellers what you’re looking for.
— Dress to get dirty. Wear dark colors when you shop, and bring hand sanitizer.
— Take measurements. Jot them in a notebook to take with you, so you’ll know an item will fit.
— Pack a field bag. Hughes recommends filling it with a tape measure, work gloves, a hammer to tap in popped nails and a flashlight for examining items closely. A smartphone is handy for taking and emailing photos, arranging deliveries and comparing prices on eBay.
— Consider the shape and the original purpose of the item for clues to a new use. For example, an old door casing could frame a mirror instead of a door.
— Ask salvage dealers for ideas on what to do with an item. Some even offer related services, such as carpentry and furniture stripping.
— Pick the brains of creative friends. You might post a picture of a find on Facebook and ask for ideas.
— Shop with a buddy. Not only can your friend offer ideas, but you’ll also get better deals by buying multiple items.
— Remember that everything is negotiable, even in a store. Dealers expect you to bargain, but keep the conversation respectful. “If you negotiate down, you should buy it,” Hughes said.
— Look things over carefully before you buy. Things can be scratched or damaged after they’re priced, so make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.
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EASY SALVAGE PROJECTS
Easy projects from salvage crafter Amy Hughes:
Message center: An old wood medicine cabinet is the starting point for a wall-hung message center. Hughes used a cabinet that was missing a mirror and painted the door with chalkboard paint, but you could paint right over the mirror instead, she said. On the inside, add cup hooks for keys and peel-and-stick cork to the inside of the door for tacking up messages. Use the shelves and cubbies inside for storing stamps, note pads, envelopes, pens and the like.
Picture frame: An old window frame makes an unusual display for your favorite photos. You can just adhere the pictures for the back of the glass with clear, double-sided tape, or set off the photos with mats cut to fit and taped in place. Use archival tape if you’re using original photos, or just make prints on your computer. Cut the mats yourself, or have a picture framer cut them for you.
Towel rack: Porcelain cross-style faucet handles make interesting hooks for hanging towels in the bathroom. Mount each handle to a board by first attaching a dummy door spindle to the board and then fitting the handle and its escutcheon (the decorative plate that covers its base) over the spindle. Hughes added a shelf to the top of the board and inexpensive iron brackets that are new but look old.