They are the screech-on-the-brakes, back-up-the-car, I’ve-got-to-have-it tattered angels of the roadside. They are not for everyone because not everyone can see what they can be.
Like the long, narrow coffee table that sat on the curb waiting for garbage day. Whereas other passersby might have noticed the dirt and the yuck-brown veneer top, Sappho Griffin saw the shapely legs and perfect dimensions. She balanced the table awkwardly across the handles of her son’s stroller—pushing little Arlo and her treasure up one of Bedford, Nova Scotia’s steepest hills and into the garage. It’s destined to become an upholstered bench for the foot of her bed.
Or the giant ball-field spotlights that Suzanne Hickey plucked out of a big junk pile during an evening stroll in central Halifax. “I saw something shiny,” she grins. She returned three more times that night last summer—hauling four massive lights out of the trash. They’ve since been cleaned, rewired for home use and enjoyed as chic, industrial salvage.
Call them what you will—upcycled, salvaged, scavenged, pre-loved—they’re pieces with a backstory and a chance at a new life.
“I’m drawn to things that are neglected and have potential,” says Griffin, a furniture and kitchen designer with Henhouse, formerly located in Halifax’s Hydrostone neighbourhood. A mom of three young children, she now runs the business from her home-based studio in Bedford. “The things that catch my eye are made so well. I can re-imagine them. I think it brings character to your home to mix up new things with found things and there’s always a good story to tell.”
When Christopher Gillis and Craig Dauphinee, partners of the interior decorating business Ottoman Empire, were setting up house in Charlottetown, they searched for used pieces at rock-bottom prices that they could use to furnish their home. But after they flipped their house, then flipped it again, their mix of antique and “junktique” furnishings was less about their shoestring budget and more about their signature décor style.
In fact, with both of their previous homes, the new owners bought the houses along with their entire contents. As well as their current home in downtown Charlottetown, Gillis and Dauphinee have a summer retreat in Lequille, Nova Scotia—the former St. Alban’s Church. It’s their biggest recycling project to date. “When you find the right mix of elements, you’ve got texture and character, too,” says Gillis. “And people are intrigued by absolutely everything.”
Gillis and Dauphinee get their best finds at junk stores, estate auctions, flea markets and yard sales; they’re always on the lookout for Island political memorabilia and furniture by Mark Butcher, a notable 19th-century P.E.I. cabinetmaker. But they also believe some of the most unique pieces are already in your home, just waiting for a fresh glance and a lick of paint that will transform them. Kijiji listings, the curb on garbage day and contractors who are gutting and renovating homes are also great sources of affordable furniture pieces and reclaimed materials.
Suzanne Hickey and Steve Anderson discovered they both loved the process of re-invention—a passion that cemented their relationship in love and in business. Little more than six months ago, they launched relove (www.relovehalifax.com)—an online store for the furniture and lighting pieces they pick up and refurbish in their shared Dartmouth studio (that is to say, their living room). They send out an email for each item as it becomes available and it is often snapped up within the hour.
“Each of us separately had been thinking of this for a long time,” says Hickey. She has a degree in interior design but was doing contract work in marketing and public relations. Anderson is a graphic artist who went back to college to get a diploma in carpentry.
“We found this niche as re-designers at the point where modern meets vintage,” says Anderson. As well as refurbishing pieces, they are creating their own relove line of furniture made from 100-per-cent recycled materials, such as floor and fence boards.
Their living room is the best example of the relove aesthetic. Hickey sits on a Mad Men-esque chesterfield that she got on Kijiji for free and had reupholstered. Similarly, Anderson’s Danish side chair would be perfectly at home in Don Draper’s office; it was a junk store steal at $70 and recovered in leftover fabric from the couch. Other furnishings include a teak credenza, a chrome-plated-steel end table with a reclaimed fence wood top, a squat retro lamp and a long white coffee table with storage, one of the prototypes for their line.
“This couch that people were ready to throw out—picture it in its original purple velvet—is the piece I love the most,” says Hickey.
The story behind their pieces is what their new owners love, too. They make deliveries in person, just so they can see their clients’ reactions. “People love hearing the story—what it looked like before, what it was used for,” Hickey says. “I think it adds a layer of joy to a really wonderful piece.”
The art of upcycling
Upcycling is the process of converting something destined for the trash into something new and better. So where do you look for something to upcycle without actually heading for the dumpster?
Fifty-Mile Yard Sale: This is the yard sale to trump all yard sales, held the first weekend after Labour Day in Nova Scotia’s rural Musquodoboit Valley.
Curbside Give Away Weekends (held this year June 7 to 8 and October 18 to 19): Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) encourages people to put unwanted household items at the curb for other people to rummage through and take what they’d like. That’s how the three French doors with crystal handles found their way to Aimee Swikit’s Artisan Upholstery Studio in Bedford, N.S. (swikit.wordpress.com) With their frosted panes and soft grey distressed finish, the doors have been converted into an elegant backdrop for the before-and-after shots of the furniture pieces Swikit reupholsters.
Kijiji’s free classifieds: When Aimee Swikit and her young family moved into their rambling Victorian house in Bedford, N.S. Swikit scoured Kijiji looking for affordable, quality pieces that she could fix up and reupholster. That’s how she found her cool, art deco-style sofa now recovered in soft blue chenille. Because she’ll only reupholster furniture with “good bones,” Swikit scans Kijiji listings daily and shares the best finds on her Facebook page (facebook.com/ArtisanUpholsteryStudio).
Architectural salvage: Cody Stephenson and Anna Sprague have been building their “Frankenstein” home in Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S. over the past five years using materials from dismantled commercial buildings. They made a rock-maple stairway from the floor of a bowling alley, a porch from warehouse timbers, and walls from Superstore fruit stands. “It’s been a lot of fun and it feels great knowing what we’ve done,” says Stephenson. “But I swear ‘reclaimed’ is a euphemism for hard work. We’ve pulled out nails. We’ve planed and sanded. Most of the time, the material is not recognizable from what it was because we’ve fussed over it so much.”