Show and sale an ‘upcycling’ dream

By Angela Long

Published July 5 2016

It’s an hour after closing time and SIRCH Community Services’ Thrift Warehouse prepares to re-open its doors. The Stan Russell jazz trio warms up. Sin a Bit Bakery arranges mini cupcakes. SIRCH executive director Gena Robertson surveys the bouquets of lilies and sweetpeas the veggies and dip arranged in crystal goblets.

“Colin and Justin are on their way” she says.

But it’s the six graduates of SIRCH’s Chic and Unique Furniture Upcycling course who are the real stars tonight. The students are showing off more than 40 items they created during 12 weeks of transforming the “drab into fab.” The pilot course made possible by a $75000 Ontario Trillium Foundation grant taught adult students basic carpentry skills and upcycling techniques. Four mentors shared their expertise in mosaic construction antique refinishing and environmentally-friendly paint and wax finishes.

Upcycling – when discarded furniture is transformed into something of greater value – is what Robertson calls a “really hot trend.” Judging by the number of people at tonight’s Chic and Unique Show and Sale she’s right.

Interior designer Erinn Higgins has just bought three pieces. Higgins who recently moved to a stone farmhouse from downtown Toronto wanted to contribute to the local economy.

“I read an article written by your mayor urging city people not to do a Costco run” she says. “I’m impressed by SIRCH and wanted to support them. Colin and Justin are a bonus.”

Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan of Cottage Life and Cabin Pressure fame are also supporters of SIRCH.
“We buy loads of stuff here” says McAllister. “And we love upcycling.”

McAllister describes a 1950s office table they bought at Thrift Warehouse for $30 that’s been stripped and sanded into a console table gracing their cottage’s sunroom.

These are the kinds of techniques student Jan Blacktopp from Keswick was hoping to learn when she rented an apartment in Haliburton for two months in order to participate in the course.

“It was well worth it” she says. “There’s nothing else like this offered anywhere.”

Blacktopp had never built anything prior to the first day of the course. And now she stands in front of a garden bench she made from discarded lumber. She constructed angels from shutters chalk boards from old frames a coffee table from pallets.

“Cammy gave us free range of the store” she says. “It was really fun to walk through and pick out anything we wanted to work on.”

Cammy George manager of Thrift Warehouse and course co-ordinator is busy placing hand-written “Sorry I’m Sold” signs on the students’ pieces.

“We’ve already made a lot of sales” she says. All of tonight’s proceeds will go “right back into SIRCH and the community” says George.

The program was so successful they’re thinking of offering weekend intensive courses.

“Stay tuned” George says and places another sign on a window bench painted “butter cream” that’s been “distressed and antiqued with a natural wax finish.”

It’s just these kinds of pieces that Don Pflug the course’s antique-refinishing mentor loves best. Pflug has been making the old new again for 30 years. Upcycling isn’t a trend for Pflug it’s a philosophy. The 79-year-old always sees the potential in a piece that’s “been through the mill.” He knows the story of what lies beneath whether it’s an old ice box or a kitchen hoosier.

“I’m not impressed by any of the new furniture” he says. “It doesn’t look warm.”

On this midsummer evening Pflug and his fellow mentors can leave knowing six new upcyclers will be bringing a touch of warmth to the living rooms of Haliburton County.