A few months ago I was contacted by Jerri Cook of Countryside Magazine about my love of repurposing. She was working on an article and asked if she could do a phone interview with me. I, of course said yes. They were kind enough to send me two copies of the magazine so I could see my article. I was hoping it would be online so that I could link to it so that you could read it too. The newest issue is now available online but my article is not. I scanned it for you to read. I apologize for the poor quality.
For ease of reading, scroll down to a text version of the article.
I heard from Lori, the other great re-purposer in this article.
Check out LoriDanelle.com.
I am really pleased with the article. Speaking to Jerri about what I do was a lot of fun. She was eager to listen, and if you know me very well—you KNOW I was more that willing to rattle on about what I do and why I do it!
Do you subscribe to Countryside? Did you see my article?
Below you will find the word document sent to me by Countryside Magazine.
A life repurposed
By Jerri Cook
In the simplest of terms, repurposing is the art of using something for a purpose other than the one it was intended for initially. As it turns out, repurposing isn’t just about finding new life for objects which might otherwise go to waste. Repurposing applies to lives also.
My repurposed life
Meet Gail Wilson, a pre-kindergarten teacher who, after 19 years of introducing four-year olds to the wonders of learning, found herself out of a job when the school closed. “I thought I would teach until the day I died. I really did. And the school closed, and there I was thrown out into the big bad world. I was at an age where I didn’t want to go start a new career, so I just picked this up.”
Her first repurposing project was a bench she made from a discarded dresser. “That thing haunts me,” she says with a chuckle. “That was a curb find. One drawer in the bottom. The other two were sitting beside it all busted apart. Somebody had already half-way made it for me. The top was already off, the drawers were already out. I just finished it.
“I kept the front of the discarded drawers and used them for the back of the bench. I put a piece of plywood on top of the remaining drawer, attached the two drawer fronts to the back and put some trim around it, and added some paint. The cushion in the picture is just a piece of foam with a pillow case over it (see photo). I used the top of the dresser for a small table. It didn’t take long at all.”
She sold the bench shortly thereafter at a yard sale. “I couldn’t believe it. An older couple saw it sitting there and bought it. The lady needed it for their bedroom because she couldn’t get her shoes on comfortably while sitting on the bed, and this was just the right height.” That’s when Gail knew her life had been repurposed, and years later, the bench is still reminding her of how she began. “That bench is the most searched item that brings people to my blog,” she says. “If I would have known that back then, I would have dressed it up a little!”
Gail started blogging about her repurposing projects, and other repurposers started responding. “I love the blogging community. I don’t know if I blog so I can do the projects, or if I do the projects so I can blog. We’re such a fun community and a close community. Most of my friends and family don’t get me. Some of them do throw their “junk” my way, but they don’t get me. One relative told me they just threw their old furniture into the burn pile. Who burns furniture just because it’s broken? We’re such a throw-away society these days,” she sighs.
“My cousin is my biggest cheerleader. When I told her about your e-mail, she said she wished Aunt Jean was still alive. She told me Aunt Jean was smiling down on me right now. Aunt Jean subscribed to Countryside until the day she died. Even after she went in the nursing home in Michigan, her kids made sure they took it to her when it came. Isn’t that something?” she asked.
While re-purposing is good for the environment, Gail is quick to point out that for her, the rewards are not limited to commercial environmentalism. For Gail, it’s about respecting the quality and effort of those who came before her. “I’m not green, but I do feel good when I pick up furniture on the side of the road that still has life to it. Especially older pieces. Older furniture was built better. It still has years of life left in it. The community I’m in online, they understand where I’m coming from because they appreciate that not everything is disposable.
“I’m going to a blogging conference where I’m going to meet for the first time a lady who I first met on message board five-years ago. I started blogging and she started following, and our friendship grew. Now, we talk on the phone a couple of times of week.”
Gail’s blog, My Repurposed Life (www.myrepurposedlife.net), has helped her build a small business focused on repurposing. “I sell my items because I like to build. I love doing what I do, but it overtakes my house. I have a booth at a local shop so that I can sell the stuff. The blog has become financially rewarding, finally. The money allows me to purchase some things. Before, I would only use curbed items. I would go junking looking for things people threw out when they were remodeling.”
So, how does Gail “see” the next purpose of something that has been discarded? “I wait for things to speak to me,” she says. “Sometimes, I literally have to take something and lay it down and turn it upside down to see what it will be in its new life. I really like changing discarded things into something else. Doors, windows, beds, anything I can get my hands on for free.
“If I can’t get it for free, then I have a limit of $5 for anything that I’m thrifting. If I can’t get it for $5 or less, I pass. It stops impulse buying, and you don’t have to live with regret because you did something you shouldn’t have.”
“Take the candelabra (see photo, on page 79) on my blog, for instance,” she says. “That was a curb find. It’s a pendant light that I turned upside down. I wait for things to speak to me. Sometimes, I immediately know what it is going to be. Other times, I just have to wait for it to come. With that one I just knew it was supposed to be upside down. I’ve never had a pendant light, so for me it just seemed it should be upside down.”
If you’re looking for ideas or directions for a repurposing project of your own, visit Gail’s blog. “It contains a tutorial for everything I’ve made,” she says. “I think of it as a free e-book, complete with pictures and instructions.”
And don’t fret too much about tools. You’ll only need a couple to start with, and you’ve probably got them lying around the homestead. “I started out with a small compound miter saw,” explains Gail. “I did just purchase my third saw, because as I get more advanced, I do more intricate things with larger pieces, but to begin with, you won’t need anything fancy or expensive.”
A re-maker of things
Like Gail Wilson, Lori Danelle Wilson (no relation) found her life suddenly repurposed. She and her husband bought a small house in Nashville, which they planned to fix up and sell when they were done with college. That’s not how it went, though. The house became their home when their two daughters showed up. The Wilson family would live in the home for six years. “We touched every surface. We didn’t just put up some curtains and live there. We put meaning into everything we did there. I loved my daughter’s room. It became a very special place.
“I pulled out the carpet and painted the old floor white. I made, repurposed, or re-birthed everything in that room,” she explains. “The dressers in my girls’ room came from my husband and his brother’s rooms when they were young. I love knowing the stories that go with them and how much the story adds value. It’s better to re-breathe life into a story than going to Pottery Barn and buying something new made to look old and has no story attached.
“I enjoy unearthing the treasure and finding the beauty within it. The little table and chairs were my mom’s then mine, and now my kids, same with the rocker. I made the hanging bookshelves and the quilts on the girls’ beds. It makes the quilts more valuable because I made them. They have value besides the money I paid for the material. It’s not like that when you buy it already made.”
Lori also built the toddler beds in her girls’ room for next to nothing. Made out of pallets, the beds add a simple country charm that no big-city furniture chain could ever match (see photo). You can find the instructions for making these simple beds on Lori’s blog, Lori Danelle—Paper Cut Artist and Maker of Things (www.loridanelle.com).
While pallets are widely available for free, Lori cautions against random scouting for pallets to be used in your home. “ You probably shouldn’t just pick one up alongside the road. You don’t know what it was carrying. You don’t want to bring harmful chemicals into your environment. You can’t tell what was transported on it unless you observe it for yourself. And you can’t tell if it has dangerous chemicals in it unless there is an IPPC stamp. My pallets come from a company that doesn’t use chemically treated pallets, but if you don’t know your source, you have to be careful.”
Because of repeated pest infestations linked to shipping products made from wood, the United Nations enacted the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) which creates a voluntary global standard for wooden shipping and packaging material. Wooden pallets and shipping crates manufactured after 2002 in the United States carry the stamp. If the wood has been heat-treated to kill pests, the initials HT will appear somewhere on the pallet. If it has been fumigated with Methyl Bromide, the pallet will bear the initials MB. (See photo above.)
The pallets Lori and others are concerned about are the ones marked MB. Methyl Bromide is a potentially dangerous chemical, and children should not be exposed to it, certainly not through use of furniture crafted just for them. The good news is that MB has been phased out of use in the U.S. since 2010. The bad news is that there are plenty of older and unmarked pallets out there. As Nina Saltman from The Improvised Life (www.improvisedlife.com) points out, “Most common pallets that I am familiar with are not pressure treated, or treated in any way. They are usually C-grade lumber material with many flaws, known as checks, pits, and knots. “ It might take a little effort to find heat-treated pallets to repurpose, but it’s far better to be safe than sorry.
For Lori, repurposing not only saves her money, it makes her appreciate her own abilities. “On a selfish level, I love to hear people say they love what I make. I like it when people are shocked that it is still possible for an individual to make something of value. We’ve moved so far away from valuing the things we make ourselves, I really appreciate still knowing how to do the things I do. I sew. I make my own furniture. I make beds out of pallets. I love the satisfaction of not having to go to the store for everything. I like the uniqueness of the things that I do. If I make a quilt for my child, nobody else is going to have that quilt.”
Lori’s family has moved to a larger home outside of Nashville. She misses her old home. “Our new home doesn’t have our character, but we’re starting over. We’ll touch every part of this house too.”
Finding your own
Both Gail and Lori were confronted with profound changes that altered the purpose each thought they had in life. Yet, unlike so many who crumble when confronted with unplanned change, both of these women decided to look at the whole situation differently. They re-focused and then repurposed. When you visit their blogs, you’ll find ideas that will inspire you to look at things a little differently. Repurposing is part journey, part workmanship. Change is the engine that drives them both.
Reprinted with permission, Countryside & Small Stock Journal, May/June 2012. Visit them at www.countrysidemag.com and on Facebook.