Used But Not Used Up
By Eli Wallace
It takes more than a coat of paint and a few belongings to turn a house into a home. That elusive ingredient—character—often comes with years of memories and decorative fine-tuning, and it can’t be purchased at a home-goods store.
“That was my initial motivation for getting into recycling and repurposing,” explains Jane Glotzer, Louisville’s first maker-in-residence and owner of Plain Jane Design. Glotzer’s background in interior design led her to look for ways to make beautiful home-worthy pieces that didn’t cost much or require brand-new materials.
After trying her hand at repainting old furniture, reupholstering and crafting new pieces, like eyeglass cases made from fabric samples, she discovered a passion for mosaics.
Mosaics can be designed from discarded china plates, tea cups, pebbles, bottle caps, marbles, buttons, seashells, beads, ceramic, household tiles, scrap glass and other repurposed materials. “Mosaic really lends itself to recycling and being greener, and the
range for home and garden pieces is limitless,” Glotzer says. Her rule of thumb is to seek out free materials. She likes to find things in her own home, at flea markets, and even on the side of the road.
While there’s nothing new about repurposing old and discarded items, Boulderites love upcycled items, says interior designer Susan Cloar of Design Studio Interior Solutions in Niwot. “This (upcycling) concept has been alive and well for years,” she says. “It’s been known as ‘antiquing,’ ‘repurposing,’ ‘shopping at home,’ ‘helping friends and family declutter,’ ‘treasure hunting,’ et cetera.” The possibilities are endless if you have a good eye and a knack for weekend projects, she says.
Upcycling is more than a cheap alternative to buying new goods or an eco approach to reducing consumption. It continues to resonate with people because of the strong connection makers have to their finished pieces.
“Honestly, every piece I’ve ever made is my favorite,” Glotzer says. “I take everything I reform from something that literally was in the trash or headed to the trash. There’s so much life left in things. They’re used, but not used up.” Indeed, an old shovel with a broken handle became a work of art after she painstakingly applied rows of differently colored mosaics to the spade.
When integrating upcycled items into a home, Cloar recommends starting small. “A little bit goes a long way,” she says. “A piece per room might be a good place to start. Too much at once, and the whole attraction of the reclaimed piece might be lost in terms of not showcasing its appeal and luster. It’s best to allow a reclaimed piece to keep its aura of uniqueness.”
Cloar believes repurposed pieces can integrate into any décor. Use your home’s existing colors and textures to guide you in creating an upcycled piece that works with the room. If you need ideas, the DIY community on Pinterest is a starting point, and the Internet is full of bloggers sharing creative projects.
“Anyone can do it,” Glotzer says. “It’s all about developing an eye to see the potential in things. Look for what might be possible.”
Few upcyclers approach their work with the same panache as steampunk artists.
“Steampunk art combines the lush aesthetic, handmade craftsmanship and exposed mechanics of the Victorian machine age with modern technology,” explains local steampunk artist Mike Whiteman-Jones. “It often features anachronistic or retro-futuristic fashion, architecture and machinery as people living in the 19th century might have envisioned them. Think Jules Verne and H.G. Wells meet Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.”
The fusion of science, electronics, fantasy and art has given rise to a subculture that’s manifesting itself in videogames, television, literature, and movies such as BioShock, Thief, Hugo, The Prestige, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Wild Wild West. And it’s led to some unique upcycled creations.
Whiteman-Jones keeps hundreds of eclectic parts lying around to make creations like the “Baskerville” (pictured below), a desk lamp he crafted from a battered antique radio case and brass lamps and candlesticks.
“The radio case dates to 1937 and it was badly water damaged. The base had split, the plywood sides had separated, the veneer and finish were cracked and peeling,” Whiteman-Jones explains. The Baskerville’s main light was fashioned out of a discarded banker’s lamp and inverted candlesticks he found at thrift stores. Its glowing front panel was cut from stained glass and backed by flicker bulbs from old Halloween decorations. He then added copper tubing, brass switches, a voltmeter, a brass magnifying glass, and a modern USB charger to pump up the contemporary-electronics steampunk aesthetic.
His best advice to aspiring steampunkers: “Look at every part or element from another perspective, whether it’s a cheese grater or a piece of pipe. Almost all objects can and should be used in ways they weren’t intended to be used in order to create something unique.” —E.W.
Discarded wooden shipping pallets are versatile and easy to upcycle. Try this beginner-friendly project to transform an outdoor wall into a vertical pallet garden.
1 wooden pallet in good condition
1 small roll of landscape fabric
Plastic sheeting (roughly 48-by-48 inches)
2 large bags of potting soil
Optional: water-resistant paint or stain
1. Clean the pallet and sandpaper any rough areas. If staining or painting the wood, do this now and let the wood dry thoroughly.
2. Place the pallet facedown, pull the landscape fabric tight across its surface and cut to size. Be sure to cover the whole back of the pallet, as well as the sides. Use a staple gun to secure the fabric to the pallet’s edges and center. Repeat this step with a layer of plastic sheeting to ensure soil and water stay inside the pallet.
3. Turn over the pallet and fill it with potting soil, then add plants of your choosing between the slats. Perennials and succulents are popular choices. Pack soil tightly around the root balls to secure plants into position and water thoroughly.
4. Give the plants a week to take root before placing the pallet garden upright. Remove the fabric and plastic from the top of the pallet, so you can water there and it will trickle down to all the plants.
5. Use brackets to securely attach the pallet garden to a wall or fence. Another option is to lean the pallet against a sturdy fence or wall where it isn’t exposed to wind.