Designers: Up-cycled items should have purpose

By Josette Keelor

Whether you’re looking to save money on decorating, dress up a dull color scheme or use the several retired items collecting dust in your basement, repurposing or up-cycling could be for you.

You might not know the practice by name, but you’ve seen it: antique lanterns turned into lamp pedestals, electrical cord spools re-imagined as coffee tables or wall shelves made from suitcases. Up-cycled items are improved to be better than they were before, but Pat Koch, owner of PJ Designs in Woodstock, said repurposing doesn’t have to go that far.

“Sometimes when things are used in exactly the same condition, we call it repurposed,” she said. The difference is using the item in a new way or a new place, like a bedroom dresser as a living room sideboard or a small kitchen table as a sofa table.

Customers she’s encountered tend to do this when they move or downsize.

“They have more or less space than they had in their old life,” said Koch.

At Family Thrift Shop in Front Royal, owner Nikki Cameron has sold several vanities customers buy to turn into night stands by separating the two sides from the middle section.

TV armoirs were being wasted until people thought to use them as dressers or wet bars, she said.

“People love just old doors, and they’re turning them into kitchen tables,” Cameron said.

LaMishia Allen, of Winchester, turned a couple of hollow core doors into plush headboards after finding them free through, a website where people can find or get rid of items for free.

Since moving into her home in 2011, Allen has repurposed several items. She discovered the talent out of necessity when she realized all her money went into buying the house she now needed to decorate.

She called her style “champagne taste on a beer budget,” and until the right project comes along, she’ll wait as long as it takes.

In spring 2012 she turned an old dresser into a buffet server for $10 — the cost of paint stripper after she got the dresser and paint for free. She used a paint roller and supplies left over from other projects.

Last week, she made two plush headboards from two hollow core doors she picked up for free, spending a total of $41 on batting, a mattress topper, wood trim for edging, nailhead trim and an Ikea curtain panel for fabric on one headboard, and $26 on the other headboard, which did not include nailhead trim.

But finding things for free and knowing how to use them are two separate tasks.

Allen considers herself a crafty person, but explained she learns by trial and error, watching YouTube videos or asking a carpenter friend for help on the harder parts. She drew inspiration for her projects from photos on Pinterest and blogs like The Creativity Exchange, DIY on the Cheap and Knock Off Decor.

At The Big Yellow House in Winchester and its sister store, The Yellow House Too in Stephens City, sales of vintage furniture have been climbing in the last year or two, said Jason Longworth, whose family owns the two stores.

“A lot of people like the ’70s look,” he said. ‘That’s coming back into style. Old records are coming back — popular again.”

Many of his customers look for well-built furniture made decades ago to use in various ways around the house. At his own home, he dressed up a bathroom by adding a sink to an old bedroom vanity, an idea Koch also said she’s seen in her work.

“When people come in and they want us to help them, it’s about reusing a piece in a new setting,” Koch said — or trying to reuse something they love, “trying to do something to it,” she said.

“Use driftwood as bases for tables,” Koch said. In place of coffee tables, “you see funky old pieces of metal like farm equipment.”

But she said people can take repurposing too far.

“Think about it,” she said. Ask yourself, “Would I want that in my house?”

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or

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