Image 2. Fresh paint: The Pink House carries not only second-hand furniture but Annie Sloan Chalk Paint for giving old pieces a new look.
Image 3. Bright idea: repurposed lamps wait for a new home at The Regeration Station.
Photos by Max Cooper
It may seem like upcycling has been around forever. In Asheville, that’s a distinct possibility: Consider the prevalence of DIY crafting, clothing swaps, free boxes, yard sales and street-side scores on trash day.
Upcycling (the word) is jargony. Where recycling means breaking something down, upcycling means adding value to a used object by embellishing, repurposing or transforming it. Upcycling (the practice) is age-old: Pre-Industrial Revolution, it “was a fact of life,” according to an article in Entrepreneur magazine. “Fabrics were separated into fibers like wool and cotton, broken down again and spun into new products. Henry Ford even practiced an early form of upcycling, using the crates car parts were shipped in as vehicle floorboards.”
Again, kind of what Asheville’s been doing forever, only now there’s a nationwide trend to back it up. Website TrendPulse.com says, “Appearing at retail are more and more new ways to upcycle old but good and solid pieces of furniture.” And the Re-Do It Design website named “upscale upcycling” among 2012’s interior deign trends.
Cycling up and sizing down
Local resellers like Steve Slagle (owner of Nothing New in east Asheville) and Pam Brock (co-owner of The Pink House in north Asheville) agree that upcycled furniture is a national trend. “Most people can’t ditch the furniture they have and go out and buy all new,” says Brock. The ’08 recession underscored that reality for many, though for Slagle, that downturn presented an opportunity.
He had opened a used furniture store in the 1990s, a business that was almost instantly successful in terms of clientele and response. But Slagle struggled to fill a 6,000-square-foot store and eventually shuttered the shop to move on to more lucrative opportunities. Still: “I literally dreamed about used furniture, because I loved it,” says Slagle. “I dreamed about it for 11 years.”
And then the economy took a downturn. People were looking to downsize their possessions, and someone mentioned consignment to Slagle. “That was an aha moment,” he recalls. “You can take your store and fill it up with the inventory of 500 consigners.”
Nothing New also pulls its inventory from estate sales and from individual sellers. “Art in today from a local family downsizing,” the store posted on its Facebook page recently. The collection included signed work by Austrian landscape artist Hans Figura.
Brock and Pink House co-owner Sherry Campbell also find inventory at estate sales and auctions, and occasionally on Craigslist (they also use the classified network to sell items). They don’t take consignment, mainly because they like to move furniture and decor around their shop, and they like to have control of the look. Brock and Campbell understand the ins and outs of consignment, though — they started their business (then called Shady Lady, selling lamps and “small stuff,” according to Brock) as a booth at Sanctuary of Stuff in Woodfin.
Four years ago, the duo decided to break out on their own, renting a small house on Weaverville Highway. They describe their landlord as laid-back — “When we told him we wanted to paint the house pink, he didn’t flinch,” Campbell remembers.
It is pink. And it feels homey — a happy jumble of mismatched furnishings and accessories. A copy of Ray Price’s For the Good Times (on vinyl) shares space with china cups and saucers and cigar boxes.
Though each resale store has its own look, there are similarities. The biggest sellers at the Pink House are “dressers, chests of drawers, desks and night stands,” says Brock. And at Nothing New: “Sofas, chests of drawers and dressers as one category, and bookcases are the top-three sellers, consistently, from month to month,” says Slagle. Maybe it’s the small closets in Asheville’s plethora of 1920s-era homes, but local used furniture shoppers love drawer space.
“Fun and funky and unique”
And recycling. They love recycling, whether it’s for economic or environmental reasons. The Regeneration Station takes that idea a step farther — the shop, open since last summer in the River Arts District — is an offshoot of Asheville Junk Recyclers. Both businesses are owned by Tyler Garrison. The parent company hauls away junk. You know that clutter in your garage and basement? “We’ll remove anything from anywhere,” says Regeneration Station store manager Kim Allen. They’ll move it and, better yet, they’ll keep about 85 percent of it out of the landfill.
“We have a partnership with Goodwill, so if we get things like clothes and books, we have a Goodwill trailer that we fill up,” says Allen. They also use online network Freecycle.com, which allows its members to give away unwanted items. As for what the Regeneration Station keeps, “Our shop is mostly home decor and furniture,” says Allen.
Thanks to the Asheville Junk Recyclers, the Regeneration Station also has a supply of scrap material (wood, bed rails, broken shelves). “So, people can come in and make works of art, or craft things,” says Allen. Artists and furniture refinishers have the option to sell their finished products (old records molded into snack bowls, a wooden shelf turned into a bar cart, one-of-a-kind wall sculpture) in the shop on consignment — right now, about 10 artists work with the Regeneration Station.
As for the secondhand furniture: “We sell a lot of dressers, bookshelves and tables,” says Allen — no surprise there. But buying trends aside, what the Regeneration Station gets excited about seeing come into the shop is “anything that’s fun and funky and unique,” says Allen. “We like finding creative new uses for any little item.”
The Pink House has another way to make everything new again: paint. But not just any paint. This is Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, which has been available in Europe for more than 20 years, and in the U.S. for four. The decorative paint requires no prepping or priming of the furniture: Just brush it on and go. And the Pink House is its only retailer in WNC.
Finding the paint morphed the Pink House’s image a bit. Now one room of the business has become the space where painter Shelby Londenberg transforms old dressers and headboards. The Pink House will sell paint to the DIY set, or repaint furniture that customers buy at the shop or bring in from elsewhere. “There’s a creativeness to it, to say, ‘I painted this,’” says Brock. “In a couple of years, if you get tired of it, you can repaint it.”
“It’s like the painting has gone viral,” says Londenberg. “It’s all over Pinterest.” Pinterest.com is a virtual pinboard or scrapbook whose members collect and share images online. Want upcycled decor inspiration? Join Pinterest.
Or just stop by any of the Facebook pages run by the Pink House, the Regeneration Station or Nothing New. Those online showrooms reveal a constantly revolving and evolving playroom of homegoods. The Regeneration Station posted a three-piece, ‘40s-era bedroom suite for less than $300 not too long ago. Meanwhile, Slagle is on the hunt for the next cool thing.
“You open a garage door and you find 20 or 30 things that they’re planning to take to the dump,” he says. “You’re like, ‘Wait a minute. That’s 20 or 30 things that someone can use.’”
Slagle says it’s a benefit to both his business and the seller, and sometimes junk turns out to be treasure. An old table might be from a special maker, or a style that’s in demand. Midcentury modern pieces do especially well in eclectic Asheville, says Slagle. “What Grandma thought was a $20 ice bucket, we sold for $100,” he says. The seller, who was going to throw out that ice bucket, walks away with $50.
“I like that we don’t have to go to the dump, and we don’t require [someone in China] to build us something,” says Slagle. “It’s a good thing all the way around.”
Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.