7 reasons that recycling old building materials is growing in popularity (plus the blog in the news)

Coming to your hometown newspaper, maybe, soon: An Associated Press (AP) story on the growing trend of homeowners stalking places like the Re-Store for used building materials that they can re-use or re-purpose. Writer Melissa Dutton interviewed for this AP story after she landed on my post about a kitchen countertop made out of recycled bowling alley wood. The bowling alley was at “my” Re-Store in Springfield, Mass.  Melissa was a sweetheart, and we talked and talked and talked on the phone. I am a good talker, and though only a bit of the interview made it into the final story, I remember warning her that IMHO the trend to use recycled building materials was on the rise for, like, seven converging reasons –>

  1. Time = money, and these days, folks likely have more time than money, so it pays to search out less expensive solutions rather than throwing money at a problem…
  2. The incredible growth of the Re-Store network…
  3. Environmental consciousness, in this case, concern about landfills and in general, wastefulness…
  4. The impact of etsy.com, which has been such a big influence in terms of showing the power of “upcycling” aka adaptive reuse… Yes: People have fun doing this, like the story says, once you get into it, it can be a very creative endeavor…
  5. The growth of the internet is putting much more decorating and design advice and ideas in front of people… in reality, there is no “dominant look” today — it’s “anything goes” in terms of how you choose to decorate. You can now “find your community” much more easily – giving you affirmation that the way you want to decorate is “okay.” Compare this just a generation ago, when it was like Better Homes & Gardens and Sunset and maybe a few more magazines. Today, the market has fractured into a gazillion pieces all because of the voices now made available via the internet.
  6. Relatedly, the continuing acceptance of the idea that vintage is cool and that original patina can be even better than refinished.
  7. Finally, there’s a lot of Stuff to recycle and repurpose. Like, there’s a whole new genre of TV shows related to packrats (or worse, but then I don’t want to judge harshly, because I have 200 rolls of wallpaper in my basement).

Here’s a link to the story on CNBC. Let me know if you see it in your paper 🙂

Also, I searched through my archives, and here are a few more fun stories about “upcycling”:


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  1. says

    Very cool Pam, now you’re CNBC related…woo hoooooo

    I love the whole hunting, saving money, finding things no one else will have.. and if what you bought has a story? all the better.

    ps: since you put that spoon chandelier on your site, I’ve been hunting and pecking for spoons so I can make one. I fell for it as soon as I saw it.

  2. CouldBeVeronica says

    Love that article. Too bad they didn’t include thumbnails or links to some of the projects they discussed.

    A comment on your bullet point #5–Yes, exactly, I believe everything you say is indeed happening. On the flipside, the opposite is simultaneously happening–the proliferation of renovation and realestate themed shows has pushed a neutral, big box (i.e. “greige”) aesthetic all over North America. These shows seem to have an audience and influence beyond what Better Homes had when I was growing up in the 70’s, so that new houses or renovations all seem to look alike. One of the remarkable quailities of older, unrestored houses, in my experience, is their diversity. They use materials and colors that make them instantly identifiable as products of their eras; yet within these parameters, people showed remarkable creativity and individuality in decorating and building their houses. I can’t help thinking that when we look back on houses built in the 90’s and aughts, we won’t say “How ’90’s! Look at that beige and granite!” but instead something like, “Why was everybody the same back then?” And much as the trend toward granite is ostentatious and tiring, that granite is often the only beautiful, enduring, hardworking material in houses built in the last 20 years. I can’t wait to see how retrorenovators, recyclers, and creative design enthusiasts, nurtured in their communities on the internet, repurpose and restore all that granite decades later!

      • Kelly LeBel says

        Yes, quality all the way! I lived in a cookie cutter new home about 5 years ago. Now I’m in a 1966 Ranch….much happier, I tell ya! They just don’t’ make a lot of homes like they did back in the day. This home won’t be crumbling anytime soon.

  3. Amy Hill says

    I think another reason folks are reusing old materials is because that’s what works best when renovating an older home. People are moving back in to cities from the suburbs for ease of commute and the more intimate home-town feel. Gentrification is the word! Keeping your older home as original as possible preserves it’s charm.

  4. says

    There was a bowling alley that was burned down due to arson not too far from here. I got in contact with the owners about reclaiming some of the lane wood and he was more than happy to hear this. However, the insurance company had the property locked down for the investigation and he said he would call me when it was opened up to access again. I never heard from him. Super bummed too. I wanted to do our entire living room floor in lane wood.

  5. says

    OMG, that greenhouse is amazing. It never ceases to amaze me what some people can come up with.
    I agree with your 7 points, Pam. I think the “coolness factor” is a big driving point for myself. I like things that are different, weird, unique. Also the costs are low. Win win all around!

  6. Tami says

    I’d add to your list the superior quality one finds in old materials, whether it’s better workmanship or extinct materials (old growth timber, for example). You just can’t find things you need anymore. I have long stockpiled everything from brass screws to salvaged beadboard to red pine flooring and more just so I can match what’s in my old home.

    But materials recycling is being examined at all levels now. I’m a grad student in landscape architecture and one of my studio colleagues is writing his thesis on a comparison between using recycled vs. new materials in a site design, covering all aspects including cost, ease of use, feasibility, aesthetics, durability, etc. His committee chair is one of the main authors of the Sustainable Sites Initiative, so his work will add to the body of knowledge supporting materials recycling efforts. So you’re in good company!

  7. says

    Does anyone remember the original This Old House? That was one of the things that started my interest in vintage. It started during a recession when money was tight and interest rates were high. It was all about making do, re-using and repurposing. It was about sweat equity and what a homeowner could do themselves to fix up their houses. Now it’s all about the fanciest thing they can buy and have someone else put in for you.

    Although the energy efficiency on some items may be better now, I find the older ones are made much better and were built to last.

  8. Gavin Hastings says

    Can I add: QUALITY at Re-Store?

    Remember the chapter on House Shutters?

    The Big Box will sell you staple-joined thin pine shutters which will fall apart and warp in one season in New England (I know)-and sell them to you for $59 bucks a pair. Odd sizes extra..
    Re-Store has millions of heavy-duty shutters in every size available…Most of these Items have lasted at least 75 years, and have another 100 left in them. $5 a pair!

  9. says

    Hi Pam, great article! I think people with older homes are also very interested in historical accuracy – not so much renovating, but rejuvenating, and this often means taking a house back to its “roots” after those super 80s or 90s renovations. And the best way to do this is sourcing original materials. I’m currently on the look-out for a 1966 Thermador double oven in good shape 😉

  10. says

    I like finding things that are the same year as my house (1960). It just seems like a better fit. Congrats on being in the CNBC story – cool!

  11. jkaye says

    My husband and I feel comfortable in older homes, with older posessions, and seek out older materials for our improvement projects because it’s just the kind of environment we grew up in. It just feels right. We saw our parents working to make improvements on the older houses we grew up in, and they felt good about it. A big difference is, our parents didn’t seek out older or used materials. But then, the materials they could buy were “real.” Real wood, real metals and not plastic painted to look like metal, and so on. One of our bathroom sinks has the original 1959 faucet, and even though it looks sort of grungy, it just works and feels so much better than the plastic thing in the other bathroom (that will be replaced some day with something more “real.”)

  12. nina462 says

    love it! love the bowling alley – who wants granite? pfgh!
    am firing up the fireplace for the first time tomorrow night! especially since the chimney sweep said it was the best made fireplace he’d ever seen – gotta love my 65 ranch! (the fireplace is so big I can sit in it – for giggles, I’m going to have my picture taken in it – prior to putting the wood in!).

    love this article – we don’t need to buy “green” stuff to be really “green”.

  13. Robyn says

    I never realized how “green” I was until I began trying to gather and collect as much of the unwanted architectural items from the 1950’s homes here in Northern VA as I could. I just thought I was being “historical” and now I am seeing how my (someday) recreating my beloved Crestwood home with all this will leave a smaller footprint. I have even gone so far as to grab a set of the original steel casement windows that someone replaced with vinyl. I know many will fuss me for the efficiency but I have read all sorts of info on how to make these as energy efficient as the vinyl things, and I just saved a little more petroleum by not buying more vinyl/plastic. Just love those narrow sight lines and the way the frames allow for large sills. I have been a big supporter of our local version of the ReStore called ReBuild Warehouse. Great folks who care and are always looking out for donated stuff from the older Springfield homes.
    Thanks Pam for bringing more awareness of how our love for Retro, helps keep our planet a bit greener too.

  14. says

    I have been in love with old forever, new old things are fab. My daily life is surrounded with old stuff. The term up-cycle is new but the idea has been around for a long time.

  15. Jackie says

    I am so happy to have both a re-store and Buffalo Re-Use in my city. My style is at best eclectic, doesn’t matter what is it or what era it’s from if I like it, it goes. Love re-thinking uses, looking for doorknobs to turn into curtain hooks used like a curtain tie and hooks for my bedroom. 🙂

  16. says

    I love the idea of making something new from something old. While I hate to see historic structures come down, I appreciate the creative souls who give new life to the materials that are left behind after the destruction. Just today actually I came across a group of guys who are making furniture and other items from old building materials (http://apieceofcleveland.blogspot.com/). I would love to have my kitchen counters done in reclaimed wood… The bowling lane counters are so neat!

  17. nina462 says

    oh Robyn….about your windows! I took a rehab clinic in August and the guy stated that homes built from 1900 – 1960’s were meant to be repaired, not replaced. there are many ways to help with the inefficiency of older windows. First, have them recaulked. Or use the many layers (blinds, sheers, drapes) to help direct the flow of cold air from entering the home. Learn how to repair your windows – it’s so easy!

    Be sure to tell people that if they ever hassle you about not having efficient windows.

    I replaced my lovely windows just before I found this website – and I mourn the day they were put in. I did however have the foresight to save my old windows. I’m keeping them and will have them replaced when I win the lottery.

    • Robyn says

      Thanks for the info and encouragement, Nina462! Everyone I know thinks I am nuts for loving my steel casement windows, but I am a diehard fan. I recently referred a company from NY who restores vintage steel windows to Pam for a possible addition to the resources list, and maybe even an article someday on why it’s so important to keep the steel in place, versus buying into the replacement window industries (overly inflated) claims on how energy sucking they are. I’ve been reading info online from even The National Park Service on the importance of restoring and repairing these instead of replacement and like you said, there are all sorts of ways to make them energy efficient as well as reducing our environmental footprint by avoiding more vinyl being marketed. The are also more historically important since those windows are part of the “fabric” of a house designed with them originally. I’m sure sorry that some folks haven’t had as much luck with their local ReStore sites. ReBuild is the best here in the DC area. They even have vintage colored bathroom fixtures at dirt cheap prices. Guess where I will be heading for my future pink and/or blue tub/toilet/sink items? Love some of the ideas folks have for reusing previously discarded items. Best to All, especially our Web Mistress!

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