Downcycling

Having recently moved into a new home, I found I needed a few furniture pieces to fill in some gaps presented by the new layout. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, my tastes are rather basic and my budget is small. My only criteria are that it be made from “real” wood and have a dark finish. I tend to shy away from Colonial Revival, particle board and whatever that horrible stuff from the 80’s is called.

I usually start with thrift stores and antique shops but in recent years, I’ve noticed the quality of what is available leans towards the aforementioned decorating “no-no’s.” So, I turned to my other tried-and-true friend, “Craigslist.”

You can find all kinds of things on “Craigslist” from escorts to spaghetti-stained Tupperware and everything in between. Wooden ducks and geese, hand-painted, adorned with plastic flowers being somewhat of a staple. It is however, a great resource for finding undervalued furniture, especially antiques in need of a little TLC. I’ve discovered though that it has become the new marketplace for ”crafty people” and they are trying hard to sell their upcycled items.

We all know what recycling is about. “Upcycling” was born from that. You take an item of no value and you turn it into a “value-added” item, meaning that with some cleverness, artistic flair or craftsman skills, you create an item that once again has value or purpose.

I was looking for a small hallway table on “Craigslist.” I found two in fact, a matching set. It was advertised as an “upcycled” Duncan Phyfe, mahogany, dining table that had been sawn in half. It was painted turquoise with several layers of epoxy applied for a “durable finish.”

I also found an Art Deco dresser, with Bakelite knobs and rosewood veneer. Not the entire dresser, of course, just the drawers. They had been spray painted  a lovely chartreuse and it comes with a $2.50 Walmart pillow placed inside and sold as a “dog bed” for the reduced price of $15. “Dog bone” stenciling has been applied to the outside. “It’s just darling.”

In an unrelated search, I found an old, Mexican, hand-tooled leather purse.  It had been “upcycled” by an “artist” who had riveted beer caps all over the outsides in an artsy arrangement.

Upcycling is what you do with junk. You find something that has no value and ask yourself how you can keep it from going into a landfill. If you have an old chair that is taking up space, maybe it is ugly or in disrepair, you should first try to sell it. If it is so horrible that no one wants to buy it, you can place it on the curb with a “free” sign attached to it. If that fails, donate it to your local Salvation Army or Goodwill. Save the receipt for a tax deduction. Someone out there with little money would be more than happy to have your junk.

If your Uncle who owned a bowling alley dies, leaving you five-thousand bowling pins, first contact bowling alleys who might want to buy the whole lot. If that doesn’t work, try to think of practical uses for them. Maybe use them in landscaping? Bury them inverted and use them to edge garden beds. If you do a good job, you will have no problem offloading the remaining pins to friends and neighbors. Before you decide to invest in lamp kits and light bulbs to make five-

thousand bowling pin lamps, you should ask yourself are you really adding value to this item or are you destroying the value that someone else may place on this item? Is there a market for this “upcycled” item? Will the chemicals and components I am applying add more hazards when it does finally reach the landfill?

If you shop thrift stores and flea markets and buy items to “upcycle” you are doing just the opposite. If an item is for sale; it already has value to someone.  There is someone out there who could benefit from that $5 bookshelf, not the $5 bookshelf you have “upcycled” into a $50 lime green plant stand.

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value. It is not the process of buying a useful item and turning it into something that’s “just darling.”

by Louise Russell

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