Ideas: Upcycle



Upcycling. It’s a new word for a new year.

Story: Bridget Broihahn

Photos: Bridget Broihahn

Upcycling. It’s a new word for a new year. Upcycling has become a new phenomenon, too. In fact, it’s not even a real word — just yet.

However, from the baby boomers all the way down to the millenials, people have grasped the idea of repurposing, recycling and reusing what was old and making it new again. For the baby boomers, it could be representative of how they feel about themselves — still useful and perhaps reinvented — as retirees get back into the workforce with a second or part-time career. For the millenials, there is a sense of kitschy artiness to their reuse of old and making it new. Plus, the art of upcycling is also just plain ol’ recycling, and that is good for the environment, too.

The Champaign County area is full of resale shops, antique shops, consignment stores and boutiques that cater to the taste of “upcyclers.” There are even levels to the businesses, reflecting the level of repurposing of the products and, of course, the price.

Basic places like The Salvation Army, The Habitat Restore and Goodwill will clean clothing and wipe down merchandise to sell it to the public. There are great deals to be found in these places, too. With a little imagination and resourcefulness, there are many items that can be recycled and upcycled into new things.

The next level of upcycled merchandise is evident in places like Bohemia of Urbana and Texture Home in Champaign. Christy Camarca, owner of Texture Home, and her creative business partner, Stacy Wathen, take abandoned items and upcycle them.

“Things that have already stood the test of time will last as long as you want them to last,” Camarca said from her shop at 1107 W. Windsor Road, right by Sun Singer Wines & Spirits in the strip mall.

Camarca said that when furniture is already very old and still in reasonably good shape, it’s realistic to expect it to last even longer once it has been restored. She said that is where Wathen comes in. Camarca said that Wathen is a master at repurposing furniture.

“We both love to make and create things,” she said. “That we are ‘green,’ and that we ‘upcycle’ wasn’t our original plan, but it is a cool side effect.”

Tim Hutchinson, a sales associate and customer service expert at The Habitat for Humanity Top Drawer Restore, said that people will often visit merchandise a few times before they purchase it. He said that there are people that only shop their resale shop for that “one thing.”

“I have people that come in for records only, or giftware only,” he said.

The Top Drawer Restore aims to have the best of the best smaller items that come in through donations, like glassware and jewelry. The store is at 119 E. University Ave., Champaign. Jim Mahannah, director of the Salvation Army Thrift Store at 2212 N Market St, Champaign, said that they are trying some new approaches to merchandising at the store.

“We are displaying all of the clothing by color so it can be shopped easily,” he said.

Mahannah said he is excited for some really great changes to come.

Donica Flint, licensed interior designer for Custom Flooring and Interiors of Champaign, said that there are many ways to repurpose and reuse.

“Antique dressers can be turned into vanities. Doors can be made into tables, mirrors and wall decor,” she said.

A new look can enhance something to be reused.

“Many antique furnishings can be reupholstered to have a modern look,” she said.

She also suggested adding or replacing legs on old furniture. Try lacquering old prints or wallpapers onto old furniture. Maybe paint just the doors or drawers on a furniture piece, instead of the whole thing, and perhaps replace the hardware like the drawer pulls and knobs.

Flint said that old pictures and frames make great wall collages. It gives dimension to an empty wall.

Whatever the reason, it’s smart, it saves money and it’s “green” to upcycle, reuse and repurpose.