By: Candice Caldwell
(images by: Julia Brenner)
I started blogging about upcycling and repurposing in 2009. However, I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. I’m intrigued by the potential in things with no apparent value. Things other people throw away. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in apartheid South Africa, surrounded by ingenious repurposing, driven by need or poverty. And then there's the influence of my very creative, very frugal parents who still scoff at the idea of buying things that can easily be “made.”
Take this background, add a dose of woodworking experience, then imagine me as a poor graduate student for seven years. If I wanted something, I had to get it cheap or free and fix it myself. This meant that almost everything I owned was one-of-kind and had my sweat and a story attached to it. I was really proud of these things. I also had to leave many of them behind. Between the ages of 23 and 30 I lived on four continents - over time, I learned not to get too attached to stuff or feel too intimidated by having to start again without it. And now I’ve come to trust that the world often provides what you need if you keep your eyes open for the potential in things.
What I know for sure is that I love having stuff that was more discovered than purchased. Today I’m going to share with you how my relationship with things plays out in my home. In part two, I’ll try to give you my answer to the question “why do we hang on to the things that we do?”
My feeling that the world will provide is especially true in Chicago, my home since 2003. In this city, people donate things by placing them in the alleys. Often, right when I need them! For example, the unusual, bamboo-legged desk I sit at every day. My neighbor was taking it out to the alley when I intercepted him. He was delighted to hand it off to someone who was gushing over it! I used beautiful, handmade paper and modpodge to cover the original linoleum top. Otherwise, it's in the condition I received it.
The neighbor who handed off the bamboo desk offered me the vintage suitcases too. I didn’t know I wanted old suitcases but I gleefully accepted them. The alley provided the console table in my entryway and a black metal plant stand that’s now a green and gold bookshelf in my living room.
Walking home one night, I almost fell over a couple of dresser drawers abandoned on the sidewalk. The drawer fronts were 1.5 inches of solid wood. I had no idea what I would use them for, but I took them for the wood. Ultimately, I paired one drawer front with a mirror I found at a local salvage warehouse and that's the upcycled shelf/mirror setup you see here.
Sometimes, need drives you to make something out of nothing. Most recently, what I needed was a kitchen organizer of some sort. So I made one out of a branch, a leather-belt and plastic bottles. It was easy and cost next to nothing.
I arrived in the US in 2002 with two suitcases - the rest of my stuff was in another country. I moved to Chicago in 2003 with a car, a guitar, the same two suitcases and a few sentimental things that survived the end of a relationship. I never got the rest of my stuff and I now understand what a gift that really was. And as I look around my home today, I see it as a representation of second chances. I’m grateful I’ve been given them, and grateful to have stood still long enough to do the same favor for things.
You can find Candice on her blog: The ReFab Diaries.