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Old Hat Turns into Nouveau Decor

Feb 19, 2013 10:04PM ● By Anonymous

“Together we collaborated and made a design for a shelf,” says Colleen Sullivan, operations manager of a furniture restoration shop in Odenton. “She was very pleased when it was complete.” The shelf became a unique showpiece in the woman’s home, one of many eclectic furnishings appearing in homes across the country. Repurposing—or “upcycling”— items for decorative use is a growing trend powered by creativity and sustainability. Hunting for items to repurpose is a bit like hunting for treasure. It might take a long time, but the results can be rather dazzling. Depending on the size and scope of the project, some homeowners employ the services of a professional restorer or designer, while others implement the idea themselves.

A reclaimed whiskey barrel makes a perfect all-seasons patio table.

Some repurposed items once lived in garages, attics, or basements. Others were discovered in yard sales, flea markets, or antique shops. After some light refurbishing, many aged furnishings can be given new lives. Wooden benches can be stacked and used to shelve books or decorations, and stools easily double as end tables.

But some the most cleverly repurposed home décor takes patience and creativity to develop. A lobster trap or a captain’s wheel might provide the perfect base for a glass-top table in a room with a nautical theme, but such pieces aren’t often found in garage sales. Locating nautical items might require several visits to boat yards, marinas, or specialty shops.

Or perhaps you’re in pursuit of a wrought iron gate to serve as an ornate headboard in a French country bedroom. Browsing online for iron suppliers is a good way to begin the search, and local landscapers might provide additional tips. Once the piece is obtained, an interior painter can give it a classy faux-finish.

Repurposed items can enhance an outdoor porch or patio, too. A wooden stepstool will support a few levels of potted plants, and a claw foot tub can become an outdoor cocktail table when covered with a glass or wooden top. Such items can be found in antique stores, but might require some refinishing to enhance the look of the finished product.

This antique chest with drawers was given a distressed-yet-colorful finish and is now a decorative piece in a bedroom.


Old wagon wheels, horseshoes, and other farm equipment are often exciting finds at flea markets and antique shops. With a fresh coat of paint, such items find new use as decorative elements in homes and gardens.

Big ideas usually require time and money to execute, but materials that already exist inside the home provide plenty of opportunity for small-scale redesign. “I often take what my clients have and give it a new look,” says Paula Henry, owner of an interior décor store in Baltimore. “It depends on what I find. Sometimes I can make something new right on the spot.”

Henry has created tables from doors and nightstands from chairs. She occasionally partners with a professional restorer to complete the design, but such services aren’t always needed, she says. “A lot of my clients are crafty and redesign things themselves,” she says.

But you don’t have to be naturally crafty to include repurposed items in your home, for inspiration is rather easy to come by. Home decorating networks and publications have embraced the growing trend and often run do-it-yourself segments or columns. The increasingly popular website is chock full of home décor ideas that riff off repurposing items. A quick search yields thousands of user generated ideas. And owners of local consignment shops not only have selections of unique items, but also clever ideas on how to repurpose them.

Local designers sometimes collaborate to decorate showrooms or show houses with themes centered on sustainability and repurposing. One such project was the Maryland Green Designer Show Home in Gambrills, which was open to public tours this past November. The designers who furnished the house focused on reusing natural materials and repurposing used items to create an environmentally friendly interior.

Molly Merkert, owner of a staging and interior design firm in Severna Park, designed the foyer. She collected old rags to create a woven bench seat to put near the front door and used oyster shells to decorate a plain mirror.

But some of the best inspiration comes from casually browsing through shops and sales, Merkert enthusiastically says. “When I work with clients, I don’t purchase items for them, but I sometimes go shopping with them and I spend my time in there with them,” she says. “It’s a very good way to develop ideas.”

Lobster trap-turned-coffee table. With light refurbishing an old wooden lobster trap can be transformed into the centerpiece of your living room.