Don’t Throw That Out!

Upcycling Storage & Workspace

Upcycling takes time, money, and space. As I mentioned in my blog, The Art of the Find, the seasoned upcycler assembles materials over time, not necessarily having an immediate idea or need at the point of collection. It’s therefore wise to carve out space to store your treasures, letting them breathe and take on a life of their own. If the storeroom concept worries you, have no fear. There is a method to the madness. Creating a designated upcycling workspace allows you to do the following:

  • Enjoy the beauty of your ensembles.
  • Treat your treasure trove as an act of upcycling in and of itself. For example, store your upcycling cache in a dresser traditionally used for clothing.
  • Get inspired! Displaying your upcycling wares may very well nurture your next project.
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One of several collections I scour to make teacup chandeliers and pique-assiette mosaics.

When designing your upcycling workspace, consider these eight elements:

1) Make a list and check it twice.  Create a list of items you’d like to collect and note possible upcycling projects using these items. It’s fine to just start accumulating and let the collection govern your projects, but your initial inspiration can be a helpful guide. Keep your list in a pocket-size notebook or on your phone, so you have a reminder when you’re out and about.  Not sure what to collect? Here are some ideas:

  • Retro fabrics and linens
  • Vintage sheet music
  • Magazines
  • Comic books
  • Broken costume jewelry
  • Salvaged wood
  • Discarded furniture
  • Cracked/chipped china and pottery
  • Children’s toys
  • Vintage tools
  • Old hardware and/or plumbing fixtures

2) Out of sight, out of mind. Cabinets and dressers are a perfect storage solution for upcycling materials as well as tools and supplies. A vintage find such as the card catalog below is an upcycler’s marriage to the modernist architecture principle, form follows function (which means the shape of an object is based on its intended function or purpose).  Savvy collectors recommend labeling the storage drawers and cupboards, so you know what’s in there and can easily find what you need when working on a project.

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Photo credit: Erol Ahmed

3) Keep a tally of your upcycling projects. The best advice I ever received was to document my projects. When you sell projects (or if you are anything like me and give them to family and friends), you’ll be glad to have documentation of pieces no longer in your possession. I recommend upcycling an outdated Rolodex with a photo on one side of the Rolodex card and a materials list on the other. Tabbed index cards and a recycled shoebox work just as well.

4) Consider vertical space. Shelving of any kind is a smart storage solution; it can also be an upcycling work of art. Simple shelving constructed with galvanized steel wall standards and fast-mount shelf brackets is both a practical and affordable storage solution. I love the look of open shelving to display stacked plates, cups and saucers, objet d’art such as Capodimonte vases, wooden boxes, wicker baskets, and vintage cans. See this post’s image of my china stash. I collect teacups to revamp old and outdated chandeliers. I also collect miscellaneous plates and the use the broken shards to make pique-assiette mosaics.

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5) Containers. Look for containers in a variety of sizes to hold trinkets and treasures. I have amassed a collection of cigar boxes, because I love the look of them stacked on a shelf. Cigar boxes are also great storage containers for sewing materials such as lace trimming, hemming tape, and ribbons. I also collect mason jars for display purposes, often finding the oddest-shaped jars at estate sales and thrift stores. Jars in general are the perfect container for showcasing small collections of shells, beads, or buttons.

6) Assemble your tools and supplies.  Upcycling requires a variety of tools and supplies such as drills, woodworking hand tools, jewelry making supplies, paints/stains, glues/mastics, paintbrushes and applicators. The more items you upcycle, the more tools and supplies you accumulate. The key to efficient upcycling is organization. Tool benches and tool boxes as well as wall mount panels or pegboard ensure you have access to the right tools and supplies; they also keep clutter to a minimum.

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Photo Credit: Kelvyn Ornette Sol Marte

7) Design your workbench. Upcycling = hands-on work, so you want a sturdy table to withstand manual labor. Whether you build your own workbench, buy used, or purchase a ready-made one from your local hardware store, here are key attributes to consider:

  • Comfortable height whether you are seated or standing
  • Easy access to electrical outlets
  • Ability to wall mount for stability
  • Easy access to tool boxes and wall-mounted tools
  • Clamps and/or vises for mounting work to table (so you can work with both hands)
  • Proper lighting (ceiling lights, work lamps, and/or portable work lights)

8) Create a wall collage. Give careful thought to an ever-changing pin board or memory board of photographs, magazine clippings, pictures, and inspirational quotations. A collage will stimulate your upcycling work environment, providing the immediate energy you need to get going on your projects.  Also hang a calendar of events, making note of flea markets, pop-ups, and art shows you plan to attend.

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Photo credit: Frederik Danko

Share your upcycling storage and/or workspace on Instagram #dontthrowthatout.