Recycled or Unusual Materials Kick Up Home Remodeling

(This post doesn’t cover food or wine but it might still be of interest.)

recycled doorsRecycled barn doors used in the home are now hugely popular in remodeling.

(This article appeared in the San Jose Mercury-News and its affiliates on May 28, 2014.)

Crawling out of the standard-materials groove when remodeling — the counters must be stone or tile, the floors must be wood, yada yada — opens up a brave new world of possibilities. It can save a lot of money, too, and deliver environmental brownie points.

Just ask Janet Hall, co-founder, editor-at-large and “materials maven” at the popular renovation and home-design site, Remodelista. She and her site curate a wealth of mind-bending ideas, many of them coming from the cutting-edge decorators and architects who are constantly seeking never-seen-before concepts for the home.

“Some motivating factors include budget considerations,” she says, “Plus, an effort to reduce consumption and repurpose items people already have in the home or that have been used by someone else. Also, to add personality, creativity and originality into the design.”

Imagine a multi-hued herringbone floor made from dirt-cheap steel. Old leather belts as curtain rods. Rustic barn siding as countertops. Inexpensive piping as modernist light pendants. Hall’s mantra is “Recycling, repurposing and reusing,” she says, with ideas only limited by one’s imagination.

tape accentColorful Japanese washi tape used as inexpensive room accents is popular today, particularly among artistic renters without much money.

Familiar material, unfamiliar use

Burlap — that super-inexpensive, rough, neutral-toned fabric of feed-sack fame — is having its moment. Remodelista shows this humble material used as window covers, table runners, room dividers and more. Particularly unexpected was the elegant atelier at last year’s San Francisco Decorator Showcase from designer Antonio Martins that not only had burlap walls but an eye-popping floor constructed from bluish, mottled, cold-rolled steel in a herringbone pattern that didn’t look like metal at all.

steel floorsThis gorgeous herringbone floor by designer Antonio Martins is made from rolled steel, which is super cheap.

“We like plumbers pipe, especially if you want a vintage, farmhouse kind of look” for consumer-constructed curtain rods, explains Hall. For something sleek and modern, she points to another DIY project: a small, avant-garde pipe pendant that can be built for $60.

curtain ties

Leather ties used to hold shower curtains is a creative alternative to the usual.

Leather lacing, strapping or old belts are a Hall favorite. She suggests folded leather strips “for an instant kitchen or dresser pull upgrade,” along with using straps or belts as close-to-the-wall curtain rods. Combined with soft linen panels, this creates a clean look at low cost. Another unusual use for leather is as shower curtain rings — just put leather laces through the holes and tie them around the rod to achieve country chic.

leather rodsUsing old leather belts or straps to hold curtains gives an interesting look to a room.

Popular right now — particularly among young renters looking for cheap, non-permanent decor upgrades — is colorful Japanese washi tape, says Hall. It’s more commonly used to wrap gifts but, “You can use it for a simple wall graphic in bright colors,” she reports. “Or you can use it as a visual headboard where you don’t have a headboard.”

tapeWashi tape is a favorite of avant-garde decorators.

Other kinds of tape have been used for witty decoration, Hall explains, like a rug outline with masking tape — including tape “fringe” — or linear designs with black tape to dress up white cabinets. “It’s really fun and cool. It gives oomph to a room when you can’t afford a rug,” she says.

tape rugWhite tape is used to create a “rug” complete with fringe in this modern loft.

New materials rescued from the dump

“What goes around, comes around” is a good metaphor for some of today’s most interesting new materials. They’re made from such substances as recycled glass, paper products and cast-off tires turned into — just for starters — backsplash tiles, counters and floors.

Hall notes that a mini-movement has begun that champions the use of lab materials in the home, particularly counters sometimes made from trash. For example, sources of the epoxy-resin-coated fibers in Richlite composite surfaces can include post-consumer waste, recycled blue jeans, coffee chaff and even banana peels.

paper countersThis counter made from Richlite is lower cost and very practical in a kitchen.

Counters from companies like Richlite and Trespa TopLab “are heat resistant, nonporous, durable and warm-to-the-touch,” Hall reports, while also being inherently antibacterial. After all, counters built to function well in chemical and biological laboratories can stand up to the rigors of kitchen usage and can sometimes be found for just $15 per square foot.

Recycled tires that once graced the landfill or smoldered in unsightly heaps are now appearing as commercial-grade rubber flooring from firms like Activa Rubber and RB Rubber. The Remodelista site is a big booster of such flooring, which comes as sheets or tiles and is durable, non-slip, colorful and relatively inexpensive.

rubber floorFlooring tiles made from recycled tires is a practical solution for kitchens and baths.

Tile made from recycled glass has been around for awhile but the number of vendors and product choices just keep accelerating. Not particularly cheap but decidedly beautiful, glass tile — and now counters — at least can burnish one’s environmental cred.

glass tileRecycled glass tile — some with an iridescent gleam — is popular as a backsplash.

New uses for old wood

“The whole reclaimed wood thing has become huge in interiors,” says Hall. Starting off years ago on the high end, socialites might have bragged about their fancy new floors taken from an old French mansion. Today, however, “It’s not about pulling something in from a Louis XIV chateau,” she insists. A whole used wood industry has sprung up and “it’s become more mainstream and more affordable.”

wood counterRecycled barn wood makes interesting counters with low maintenance.

Getting lots of attention at the moment is reclaimed redwood fencing. According to Hall, “It’s gone into the furniture world and it’s gone into flooring and it’s gone into walls and it’s gone into counters.”

Reusing barn wood is also top of mind among Remodelista readers, she says. “Who ever thought of barn siding as countertops? You’ve seen it as flooring but what a fun idea to add some warmth to a bathroom. You get texture and personality using barn siding as a bath counter.”

According to Hall, weathered barn wood used in such an application has already been “finished” by years outdoors so it can be installed as-is, offering virtually care-free maintenance along with being “endlessly forgiving of whatever you do to it.”

 barn doorSliding barn doors are a handsome and practical solution. 

“‘Sliding barn doors’ is a term people search on our site all the time,” says Hall. “Not only is it visually appealing but it’s also a huge space saver” because these doors don’t have an intrusive door swing, she explains, rolling on hardware above the door to cover the required space.

While never listening to a slammed door again was certainly an appealing idea, Celina Tracy of Palo Alto had more in mind when she started looking at reclaimed wood in the midst of a recent major remodel of her family’s home. She needed a way to separate the family/entertainment room from the kitchen and dining area but the door solution proposed by her professionals for this large expanse wasn’t appealing.

door openCelina Tracy’s “door of doors” was made from five old salvaged doors.

“I thought it would look like a conference room door,” she grimaces. Plus, it would have cost a bundle. A habitué of thrift stores and salvage yards, she selected five old solid-wood doors — two with small windows — and had them connected and painted, then built in as a large pocket door. The result is attractive, effective, saved her about $2,000, but has some intangible benefits as well.

Says Tracy, “We think about how the doors have been around so long, made from these old trees. Their history gives the entire door substance, adds character to our house and has become the most unique detail of our remodeled home.”

pocket doorTracy’s old doors slide easily into a pocket in the wall and were engineered to be light enough for her children to move.


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