Junk is everywhere. Admit it: you have some unwanted furniture or building materials cluttering up your garage or closets right now, don’t you? Before you pull it all out and haul it to the dump, give that “junk” a second look. Is any of it awaiting a new life in your home? Chances are, if it’s just been gathering dust for the past four or five years, the answer is no, but that doesn’t mean your discarded items can’t live on. Somewhere, some crafty person probably has a use for the things you no longer need.
“Upcycling is repurposing,” explains Jill Kivett, manager of the Vancouver Home + Design Show. “When you recycle something, you don’t want it anymore, so you just throw it away, and you want it to be broken down into something that can be used in a different format, whereas upcycling is taking a piece and making it better—taking something that someone didn’t necessarily want and making it into something new, or different.”
For the 2012 edition of the show—at BC Place today through Sunday (October 11 to 14)—Kivett recruited five design-minded local bloggers to participate in the Ultimate Upcycle Challenge. Their brief was to find and repurpose something from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, a shop that sells new and used materials (think bathroom cabinets, kitchen counters, and flooring) it receives from builders, contractors, manufacturers, and homeowners.
As the bloggers discovered, there are things to be found at ReStore locations (there’s one in Vancouver, one in Burnaby, and one coming to North Van) that you would never expect. Tazim Damji discovered an old police-academy medical stretcher and two bolts of fabric, of which Kivett says, “I am absolutely dying to see what she does with that.”
If you are too, you can find out at Habitat for Humanity’s booth at BC Place, where all the challenge participants’ projects will be displayed. The Vancouver Home + Design Show also features seminars and exhibits covering everything from food to fashion. You might be inspired to do some upcycling of your own, or at least to go online and get some more mental fuel.
“There are some great sites out there,” Kivett notes. “Even just taking a piece of IKEA furniture and making it into something better; there’s a whole blog dedicated to what people have done with IKEA furniture. The cool part about Pinterest and these great DIY blogs is you can get ideas. If you do a little bit of research, then when you’re driving down an alley or walking around, you start to get an eye for it. You can see what it could be. You can see the potential.”
Blogger and colour expert Maria Killam saw the potential in a homely end table. Proving that sometimes the simplest solution is the most effective, Killam revived the piece with a fresh coat of paint. “I think my little painted end table in a bright kelly green is a great example of how you can take, maybe, a mismatched piece in a room, and if you paint it a colour that coordinates in the room, it can really suddenly make it work, turn into a focal point,” she says. “It’s fun thinking that this end table had a home in some other time and place in history, and now someone else can take it and paint it and make it their own and not have to buy something new. I think that is a really great idea.”
Kivett has caught the upcycling bug herself. She says that once your eyes have been opened to the possibilities, junk suddenly doesn’t look like junk anymore. “Friends of mine renovated a house in the Shaughnessy area, and they had this amazing light fixture,” she recalls. “It was gold, it was dusty, it was quite awful, and I was just, like, ‘I can totally see that in a different colour,’ so I cleaned it up, spray-painted it black, and it’s hanging in my bedroom. You could say one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, to some extent, but you’ve also got bragging rights. And I definitely do; when people come over I’m like, ‘I did that!’ ”