It takes a special something to look at a pile of trash and see treasures — but if you can do it, you just might be an upcycler.
Upcycling is similar to recycling in that items are reused to keep them out of trash cans and landfills. But, instead of creating a completely new product — like, paper or bottles — upcyclers use their hands and their minds to create fun, interesting and beautiful items from found pieces.
Artist and Baltimore resident Kirsten Lapointe says she uses found objects in her home and her work. She has upcycled desks, vanities and tables — all from things she or her husband found on the street.
“I’m a born trash picker. Every time I see something that’s shiny or interesting,” Lapointe says. “It must be part of my creativity.”
Lapointe and her husband teamed up to create a mosaic table from a table base she found on the street. Even the floor of her house has been repurposed. They took up carpet and found that the floor beneath didn’t look so nice, so they painted it.
Lapointe frequents stores like Goodwill looking for interesting objects for her artwork. “Kitchy stuff, earrings, old books,” she says. The found piece can be an inspiration in itself or it can help flesh out an idea she has already been working on.
“Sometimes I have a piece and I’m waiting to be adding to it. Sometimes I’ll find something that inspires me to create.” Lapointe doesn’t really buy repurposed objects from a store, but she loves to take inspiration from stores to create things on her own. “If I saw something else repurposed, I’d steal the idea and try it.”
Upcycled pieces are what Shannon Haddaway sells at her Eastport store, Twisted Sister. The store specializes in home décor treasures that Haddaway and other artists create — mostly from found pieces. They’ve been in business for four months.
“I’m a picker,” Haddaway says. “I find stuff on roadsides, or people contact me.”
It all started when she was a stay-at-home mom, looking to use ideas that she found online, on websites like Pinterest. “I love using my hands to make something. There’s something in me that makes sense, like I don’t have to look at directions – it’s just building something.
Haddaway says that there is a certain magic that comes from turning trash into treasure. “You’re so proud of what you did. It’s pride. I think that’s how all of our artists feel.”
Gail Kramer and the rest of the folks at the Barn Show in Gambrills sell a lot of upcycled objects, too. They go to auctions, have things given or sold to them, or even go on trips looking for old and unique items someone else may have considered trash.
“We always say that people have so many choices now on where they spend their money,” Kramer says. “We are very aware that our customer base is looking for things that they can’t find in a regular store. We value saving history.”
Kramer says that people who shop at her store can find things that are special just to them. One customer purchased some old gauges because they reminded her of her father, who had worked in a factory. Another customer, a woman named Edy, was overjoyed to buy a vintage Edy’s ice cream sign.
“There’s always something for everyone at the barn,” Kramer says.
Where to shop:
The Barn Show: Find kitchy and eclectic finds at the Barn Show. Located at 3250 Bottner Road, Gambrills. Store hours are by appointment only. For information, email email@example.com or call Gail Kramer at 410-903-1583.
Twisted Sisters: Pretty, usable items for your home. 21B Riverview Ave., Annapolis. Store hours are Monday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m..
Refabulous: Custom built and refinished furniture. Call 443-965-7958 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Gypsy Vintage: Vintage furniture and salvaged home décor. Only open one weekend a month. 5911 Southern Maryland Boulevard, Lothian. E-mail email@example.com
Sandtown Millworks: Handcrafted furniture made from salvaged wood. Visit their show room by appointment only. Located at 1200 Steuart St., Unit 1115 Baltimore. 21230. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 410-929-5816.
Red Dresser: Recycled, repurposed, and renewed home furnishings. Find them at 93 Mayo Road, Edgewater. https://thereddressermd.com/
Found Studio: Repurposed art from a Baltimore artist. Find everything you need online at: http://www.etsy.com/shop/foundstudio
Written by Lisa Snowden-McCray