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Junk Shopping: Reuse and Redecorate

January 9th, 2008

By Barbara Kessler

When shopping for stuff for around your house, here’s one great green option: Don’t get anything.

sue-whitney-junkmarket.JPGBut that’s not always feasible. Even Thoreau needed writing parchment and candles. So let’s review the next best alternative, which is buying old things that have already been in service, preferably for years and years and re-purposing them into great new things that fulfill your yearning to create something from almost nothing — and spend almost nothing.

Most of us don’t do this very well. I once bought one of those rustic irons that predate electric irons, only to discover that its weight far exceeded my imagination for its reinvention. The best I could do was assign it bookend duty. How creative.

But some people really excel at discovering new roles for old bowls or creating décor dynamite from retired theater lights.

Take Sue Whitney, she’s got some terrific old Deco theater fixtures lighting her hallway, a German wash tub serving as her kitchen sink and an upside down, refurbished chair stylishly cradling her fireplace wood. And that’s just in her Minnesota home. On the road, this passionate, professional “junker” preaches the virtues of reuse by demonstrating an even greater array of kitschy, funky, surreal items.

At a recent home show in the Dallas area, Whitney demonstrated reasonable new uses for an old tennis racket holder (converted to a picture frame), a commercial film drying device (a clip-on photo or notes display rack), croquet balls (candle holders), an ice skate (vase), rubber gloves (a funky jewelry holder or road rage communication device, don’t even ask) or old books that have a nice patina but aren’t valuable first editions (turn them into a centerpiece with flowers atop as pictured, above, with Whitney).

Finally, she whipped out a urine collection jar (breathe normally, this was “new junk” sold as never-used medical surplus) suggesting that it could be used as a bud vase or for the unsuspecting, as a juice glass.pictureclipon.JPG

Whitney also told of flights of whimsy that resulted in a chandelier constructed of old barbed wire and candle holders created from old bed springs or a retired iron barbell simply turned on its side. She’s taken various parts of old hunks of furniture or store cabinets and rejiggered them into coffee or occasional tables. An old ladder serves as a bookcase in her uncluttered (ahem, at least in the photo) home office.

This woman is not just any junker. It’s a part of her heritage. As the youngest of six kids in a frugal Midwestern home, she learned the value of salvage early, foraging for materials to create a doll house for the hand-me-down trolls that her sibs passed down.

Years later, as a mom searching for an at-home business, she turned her junking hobby and instincts into a business, creating Junkmarket with co-founder Ki Nassauer. Junkmarket is a retail source for re-purposed furniture and accessories that operates a store in surburban Minneapolis and also online.

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