Trash To Treasure

Winter 2014

Vintage repurposing gives new life to old items in unexpected ways. The sky’s the limit when it comes to potential uses for old yardsticks, plant stands, screen doors, gardening tools, and buckets. Flea markets are treasure troves and local thrift shops are a forager’s paradise. 

Pinterest and Tumblr® brim with creative ideas for transforming goods that have seen better days. A chunk of ancient, red barn siding becomes a wall hanging. Old metal bedsprings take on a second life as a wine rack.

DIY and home decor bloggers specialize in “repurposing” and “upcycling.” Some do it for fun. Others do it for a living, selling their wares in shops and online boutiques such as Etsy™, which is an Internet haven for buyers and sellers of repurposed goods.

The repurposing trend has even hit reality TV. Ever watch “Flea Market Flip” on HGTV®? Contestants vie for the most creative trash-to-treasure items, which they repurpose and then sell to the highest bidder.




South African designer Katie Thompson of REcreate has a special flair for transforming the ordinary to the extraordinary. She calls herself a “hoarder of all things useless, impractical, broken, colorful, and shiny.”

Among Thompson’s innovative designs are stunning, one-of-a-kind chairs recycled from vintage suitcases.

“I’m sure we will eventually run out of suitcases, which is fine. People will always be throwing things away. So maybe in 10 or 20 years, my business will be making things from old laptops or cellphones,” she said. “There will always be something to repurpose.”


Beverly McCullough is a self-proclaimed “California girl, wife, and mom” who loves to create. She authors the Flamingo Toes blog and newsletter.

“I love creating new things out of old or vintage items. It gives them new life, and it’s so fun to find new ways to use antiques or thrift-store finds that people don’t want anymore,” she said. 

She especially enjoys the thrill of putting a new twist on retro styles.

“It saves money to repurpose items from thrift stores. I don’t feel so bad about repainting furniture or cutting into grandma’s doilies when they aren’t my grandma’s doilies,” she said.



McCullough’s favorite repurposed item is her Silverware Starburst Mirror (make one yourself tutorial).

“The silverware was from a set we received as a wedding gift but didn’t use anymore,” she said. “I love that the silverware decorates this sweet mirror, and I can see it every day.”

McCullough once spotted an old, chicken-wire door at a garage sale for $5. 

“I may have hurdled several small children to snag it before someone else did,” McCullough joked. 

She painted some oak frames and added simple vases that hold fresh flowers for the unique wall hanging.


Milwaukee, Wisconsin, artist Julie Schnoll of Julie Schnoll Designs scours antique shops and flea markets for vintage buttons, earrings, sweater clips, and shoe clips. As she preserves the integrity of the old pieces, she incorporates modern elements to create one-of-a-kind bracelets, earrings, and necklaces.


“My favorite thing is to find some forgotten item, research its origin, and then incorporate it into something completely different,” she said.

Each salvaged piece comes with a story – a history that may be known or can only be imagined. Inspiration is born, and a new story begins. 

Some clients bring old jewelry that has been sitting in a box for years, having belonged to a close relative who passed away. 

“We sit down and talk about the piece, the person they want it to be made for, the meaning of the person who owned it, and come up with a plan to create something new and exciting. It is rewarding to see a client able to enjoy and wear the same piece of jewelry she remembered her mother wearing when she was younger,” Schnoll said.

Nostalgia drives Schnoll to buy repurposed items herself. Take this vintage tin that holds her knitting supplies.

“When I was a kid, Charles Chips would deliver to our house in Massachusetts,” Schnoll said. “I spotted this vintage tin at a flea market 10 years ago, and it brings back great memories every time I see it.”


Most likely, you won’t need to look far to find an item with repurposing potential in your own home. My husband recently removed our old, weathered mailbox from its post and tossed it in the recycling bin. Inspired by the creative souls interviewed in this article, I marched to the garage and retrieved my rusty treasure. 

It will make a great birdhouse.


Where do you find your treasures?

Everywhere! I love to scour flea markets and antique stores locally and wherever I am traveling. I also go to trade shows and search for unique items online. I have met many wonderful and unique people who find many of the items I buy. These friends are always on the lookout for items I may find interesting.

How do you incorporate repurposed items into your jewelry?

My business began when I came across vintage items that I imagined being used in a different way. I can take vintage shoe clips and turn them into fun, modern bracelets. I can transform sweater clips into elegant earrings. Rhinestone brooches can be made into sparkling new necklaces. I always try to incorporate the old with the new. I use vintage buttons as closures on leather-cord wrap bracelets. I even display my rings and bracelets on vintage knitting spools and croquet mallets.

How does the “nostalgia” add value to your creations?

I always try to keep the integrity of the original piece as I want to enhance and preserve its history. 

I especially enjoy when clients bring me “ugly” jewelry items that have been sitting in a box for years, having belonged to a close relative that passed away. Often, they cannot believe it was the same item they brought me. 

Of all the pieces you’ve repurposed, which is your favorite and why?

My favorite piece is always the one I am currently working on. I really enjoy the process of seeing what develops as I work – almost as much as seeing how much my customers enjoy the end results! That always puts a smile on my face.


By Cheryl Gross, Kentwood, Michigan

As an avid antiquer who loves repurposing, I have many such examples in our home.


By Debbi Russell, Creekside, PA

For my most recent project, I dried some flowers from an October wedding of some friends. Then my husband built an enclosure to fit onto the back of an antique window. Once the wedding flowers were dried, I created an arrangement within the framed in window and gave it to the newlyweds to enjoy for years to come. It is my hope that every time they look at this gift, it will remind them of one of the most important days of their lives.