Unexpected Upcycling

Incorporating reclaimed and recycled art into the home

By Siri Pairin

Brad Brautigam’s house is full of unique vintage treasures disguised as functional home items.

An Appleton firefighter, Brautigam finds inspiration in the abandoned pieces he comes across at garage sales and antique stores and uses them to create functional lamps, tables and furniture.

One of his latest pieces is an eight millimeter movie projector turned into a lamp. To properly combine lamp and camera, Brautigam had to take the projector apart and rewire it so that its new function was safe and useable.

“It took a lot of engineering where I had to really find a clever way to hide all the wiring and to redo it,” says Brautigam, “The challenge was exciting.”

The challenge was to compose a balanced and aesthetically pleasing piece. “People have been making lamps out of stuff forever,” he says, “I didn’t want it to be cheesy at all.”

When working on more intricate electrical projects, Brautigam advises DIY-ers to let professionals handle the more complicated aspects of wiring to ensure safety both when creating and using the finished product.

Leslie Wilson and Christa Vogt from Neenah’s Bellwether Interior Design believe that Brad’s camera-turned-lamp idea could be applied to any object.

“It keeps those items around and keeps those items useful,” says Vogt, “They don’t end up in a landfill or someone’s basement.”

For Brad, upcycling isn’t just about creating new function out of old pieces, it’s about preserving their history and highlighting their charm.

“The world is full of old things that have been set aside or are sitting unused,” he says, “It’s a shame to see it go to waste when it can be brought back to life as a thing of beauty.”

Following the trend

The benefits of incorporating reclaimed functional art into a home runs almost as long as the list of possible functional art projects. These pieces provoke conversation, tell stories and preserve history.

Rather than shopping at department stores for new furnishings with no originality, home owners are searching out special pieces from unconventional places and renovating with their own two hands. By salvaging from junk yards and rummaging at thrift stores, anyone can give old treasure new purpose and their home new life while simultaneously saving resources.

An evolving business

After watching their collection of old sinks, baseboards and pieces of tin ceiling expand to a considerable size, Jeff and Robin Janson established Urban Evolutions, a company dedicated to repurposing vintage materials for home restorations and construction.

“It’s about resourcefulness,” says Robin, “We like things that no one else has.”

Urban Evolutions recently started producing multi-purpose shapes out of reclaimed heart pine, hemlock and Douglas fir timbers. The shapes, used as end tables or stools, start out as a square shaped log. This log is then skinned and leveled by a portable saw mill in the lumberyard behind the Urban Evolutions warehouse. The timber, squared and cleaned up by the saw, is then sanded and either coated in a finish for outdoor use or topped with wax for indoor use.

The final product embodies a fusion of functionality and artistry. Available in both rectangular and rounded styles, these shapes can serve as both a practical table and an accent art piece. For Robin, recycling materials to make furniture can breathe new life into both home decor and artistic passion.

“You go by someone’s house and they are going to tell you all about this crazy coffee table that they put together and found and finished,” says Robin, “They’ll just babble on and on about it.”

With the increasing popularity of utilizing up- cycled materials, Bellwether and Urban Evolutions agree that reclaimed wood is the way to go.

“Those timbers have been around forever so they’re going to withstand the test of time” says Wilson from Bellwether, “And then essentially you’re recycling, you’re upcycling; you’re not just cutting more trees down.”

Ode to Reclamation

Appleton art teacher Sarah Boge, uses reclaimed materials not only to help reduce consumption of resources, but also to challenge herself as an artist.

“It causes a person to be creative when you’re given a supply and told ‘Ok, now make something out of this’ because there are so many ways that it can go,” says Boge.

That’s exactly what she and her students had to do when they acquired an old cello from Instruments for Art, a component of the All City Strings Festival Silent Auction that provides old and defunct instruments for repurposing.

With the help of former Appleton art teacher Spencer Rotzel, Boge and her students decided to turn the old cello into a table. After careful planning, Rotzel mounted the hollow, faceless cello body onto three cello necks. The necks, used as table legs, were supported by two diagonally-set bows. Boge and her students lined the hollowed-out inside of the cello with handmade paper and installed other old string instruments for decoration.

The finished table sold at the All City Strings Festival Silent Auction in Appleton.

Boge and Rotzel agree that utilizing left over materials to create art not only fosters creativity, but forces artists to think resourcefully.

“When I do furniture, there’s always left over pieces of wood,” says Rotzel, “Rather than just throwing it in the fire place, I save that.”

For Boge, the blending of recycled materials emulates the properties of art.

“Art comes from all different cultures and locations,” Boge says, “It is a melding of ideas and a genesis of new ideas.”

Bellwether deemed this one-of-a-kind table a conversation piece and valuable heirloom.

“Any designer can go out and buy new furnishings,” says Wilson, “By creating and putting in things that are either repurposed or reused, it’s just more interesting. It tells more of a story.”


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