Friday, February 10, 2012

LOOKING BACK AND FORWARD - Recycling, Upcycling, Repurposing

One of the things I have been doing for years is "up-cycling" vintage items.

To save space in this blog, and help me to stave off carpal tunnel, check out Wikipedia's definition of the word HERE.

I come across all kinds of cool junk....and to most people, it is just that...junk.

And, frankly., it is that to me, also...BUT, it the operative word is COOL.  It is junk with obvious POTENTIAL!

Pretty much 99% of the junk around has potential in my eyes.....which can be a problem....think HOARDER.

No, no, I am not a hoarder by definition (a pack rat, maybe), though I am sure those who do not know me (and some that do!) believe I am. The thing is, I can get rid of items without remorse. It is all for sale, or can be disposed of if needed to be...even (HORROR OF HORRORS) dumped in the trash.

Experiences in my past, stressful, soap opera-esque and as unimaginable to some as they may have been, have hardened me to getting rid of things when required.

But, this blog is not about that. For the curious, yes, you shall get a chance to hear/read about some of those experiences...some day. You might have to buy my/one of (future) book(s) to read about them, but they likely will be revealed at some point.

So, that junk you got with the good stuff in that auction lot, that estate clean-out, that scrap pick up....yes, it is all TREASURE..and salable merchandise, if you know how to go about making it such!

I will offer you some of my unique takes on this sort of thing in videos and future blog postings.

Imagination & creativity are important to survive in this need to maximize your profits. You can't always afford to donate the rest of that "box lot" to the thrift store.  Word of caution to those getting into the junk biz, if you don't have an imagination, nor are creative AND inflexible in your thinking, well, forget the "junk business" in its entirely and go work at a Rotten Ronnies....otherwise you are on a road to going broke.

Things I used to view as junk are now valuable. Not because I can upcycle them, but because my knowledge had increased AND times have changed.  As an example of times changing, those mass made/marketed tacky 1960s, 70s, and 80s stuff is now collectible and desired by certain segments of the market. My stepdaughter has fallen in love with 1970s love seats and couches...and I don't mean those ones with funky, nigh end designer patterns......I mean GRANDMA'S/AUNT MAUDE's couch.... with the not-really-paisley, shiny green fabric, with copper or gold thread, stiff button tufted upholstered things...the bad Victorian-esque copies of every 1970s/early 1980s household.

I can see the appeal, but that is because I have learned to observe those younger buyers, and what they would have seen at Grandma's & Grandpa's...the fondness I think may well grow from that exposure. We gravitate to things that have been imprinted on us early early we have no or little recall of the time or place. You likely messed your diaper while lying on one of those couches...

Early thought "ahhh...of that feels good...such relief, and is so warm....."

It is probably a good thing idea we don't remember the exact thoughts and moments that drive some of our  interests....shrinks out there would have a field day and get wealthy off of the books of comedy they could write. Besides, it is already a bizarre world....we really don't need it to be any more bizarre.

When looking around, and thinking about it, my upcycling past reveals valuable things I have destroyed.

I have made lamps from vintage parts for years.  I take apart lamps of all kinds, and re-envision them.  I have disassembled an uncountable number of 1950s/60s/70s floor and table lamps.

Before you start screaming BLASPHEMY, BLASPHEMY, BLASPHEMY, hear me out...

Many were rough, incomplete, plain or damaged anyway, though some were repairable, but not salable, even when in mint condition. There was simply no market for them. All they were was an old, out of fashion, cheap, second-hand lamp.....and the parts in them were of more value than the $2 (or less) that I might have been able to get out of them. The sockets in some of them were worth more to me as repair parts for my 1920s/30s/40s designer 1950s lamps I restored. Lamp parts have not changed all that much in 100 years, by the way. I have seen 1970s parts used in the 1980s...take this chrome 1970s "Ball" lamp, as an example:

I have seen identical steel balls to the one used on this goose neck....but on 1980s lamps & light fixtures. They are the IDENTICAL part, some being plated or painted a different color.  Then, in the 1990s they popped up in other lamps, and even right now are being used to make "repros" of those same 1970s "Mod" chrome ball lamps and light fixtures, as well as assorted "retro" lamps and light being incorporated into "brand new" and "ultra modern" styles of lighting. Just look closely in the lighting sections of various big box stores, and specialty lighting stores. Take notice of these things, it will help when you are are picking!

Take this cool piece as another example:

The 1950s "atomic era" floor LAMP what I am referring to....not the flamed motorcycle helmet, mannequin, out of print VHS movies or other stuff in the photo!

Congrats if you did spot that stuff...ya got a picker's eye!

If you were to take this lamp apart, pretty much most of the identical parts in it have been used in lamps 30 years it's senior, some even older.  Even the identical shape of glass shade has been made before. Change the colors, angles, styles, use of the parts, etc, and VOILA you have the "latest thing" the "modern" lamp....again, and again, and again.

There really is nothing that is a brand new, a never-thought-of-idea...not in its entirety, anyway.  If you pick most things apart, do some digging into the past, you will find that those things are copies of forgotten old, reintroduced, revised, reinvented, recycled ideas, plans, designs...rehashed, reassembled, combined with other ideas, etc.

Many parts in the lamp manufacturing industry 50 years ago are still being used (and newly manufactured) right now....they might have a different color plating, a revised use, etc, but they are essentially the same part...some lamp companies produced so many or one part that they are still using up parts that were made up to 40 years ago!

Read up on  CHASE Copper And Brass, who essentially maximized the potential of this concept, and used it to survive in the 1930s. They used old plumbing parts and other "dead stock" they already had in inventory to create lines of Art Deco decor items, kitchen items, etc. The retail/manufacturing industry did not ignore Chase's and similar firms' successes with the idea....and it was not a new idea to begin with.

Here is a lamp I made years of my favorites I kept for myself.

I realize it looks old. For all intents and purposes it IS varies in age.....the parts ARE all old...but they vary in vintage. I'll go over the parts in another blog posting. Let's see if you can figure out what valuable piece I scavenged some of the parts from. (HINT: Think EAMES ERA designer!)

Other dealers, pickers, artistic/creative types do/have done this sort of thing. One fellow in Winnipeg (Manitoba) who dabbled in this business, made some similar sorts of lighting. His lamps are wonderful in design, fantastic even.  They tend to emulate the 1880 - 1920 eras of lighting. This fact is in part because of, but not solely due to, the use of vintage parts. However, 99% of the population would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a legit, factory assembled, circa 1900 piece and many of his "made-up" lamps.  He didn't mark them in anyway, and many were done 20, even 30 years ago (or more?), so have now acquired a bit of patina even, making it tougher to nail down their origins.  He was just that sort of fellow; maybe thinking along the lines of purposely passing them off as old, or perhaps just didn't care, figuring this is a "buyer beware" sort of business.

It is really too bad he didn't sign all of his creations. My thoughts on that are not actually so much a concern with them being mistaken as "real" old lamps or even as restored originals. Personally, I look at this "re-creating" things as a real art, as it does take talent, and a natural instinct for design. It is not easy for "Joe Blow" to source the parts, and put them together to make a piece look "right" and pleasing to the eye. His "art" will likely never, ever be recognized of acknowledged now. His pieces may even end up attributed to some designer/artist who died 50 years prior to him. He will not receive due recognition as the true artisan who actually created the piece.

 I signed, and usually dated, all the pieces I created and/or modified heavily. I usually marked them as being "RE-DESIGNED" or "RE-CREATED." This one is from will see it has already acquired a bit of a patina already....I hand polished them, as I like a softer tone to the brass, and didn't clear-coat them, so they would age naturally, and evenly. You could say their natural aging is part of my artistic vision.

I am still creating cool lamps and "functional art" as my time permits. I've always leaned toward an industrial look, and now industrial is "in", so I will be leaning harder that way. I like keep my pieces refined, not crude, but still industrial...sort of a "Steampunk" look at times. Most of the sculpture/projects are in piles of pieces, waiting for that certain "perfect" component to pop up to make them complete, or bring them one step closer to completion.

"Spare time" is a scarce commodity in a hardcore picker's life!

I'll post some pictures of the creations as they are done, in this blog, for your enjoyment!

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