When creative upcycling fails

Joan Fieldstone | Improvement Center Columnist | November 17, 2016

I am a big believer in upcyling, recycling and repurposing to keep discarded items out of landfills. I'm just not very good at envisioning something that already has a specific function as something that can fulfill an entirely different one.

I need suggestions. The internet is filled with examples to guide me. DIY websites, blogs and Pinterest provide an endless array of good ideas for those of us who are creatively challenged when it comes to finding a second incarnation for used "stuff."

Unfortunately, some examples are pointless or just unappealing. There is, as a friend once told me, no accounting for taste when it comes to repurposing, which means you need to apply a critical eye to what someone else thinks is a really clever, attractive and effective reuse of old junk. Not everything should be reinvented as something it was never meant to be.

Painted furniture is not always an improvement

Painting furniture is not necessarily the best way to give it a second life. Distressing a beautiful piece that needs refinishin -- stripping, sanding and staining -- and slapping on some paint instead is sacrilegious at worst and frivolous at best, especially when the painter doesn't know what she's doing.

While browsing an antique shop today, I nearly cried when I saw a vanity table from the 1920's that had been painted three different colors -- white, magenta and mint green. And the once-beautiful but now tarnished metal and tortoiseshell drawer pulls, which were an essential part of the original design, had been totally ignored and looked grossly out of place.

Repurposing: what works and what doesn't?

There are some truly amazing upcycles to be found online such as piano bars repurposed from old pianos. And then there are some less sophisticated, but extremely economical and useful repurposing projects such as pallets turned into all sorts of backyard furniture and shelving. But not all repurposing can qualify as "up" cycling. Some projects get a definite thumbs "down."

By now you may be familiar with some epic repurposing and upcycling fails -- for example, the deluxe bar and toilet grill that utilizes the commode's tank as an ice chest for chilling beer -- and the toilet bowl for grilling burgers. If you're someone who thinks it's brilliant, don't invite me over for a barbecue.

Granted, I turned a chi chi cat litter box into a planter and to some that might be distasteful, but it didn't look like a litter box. And I wasn't using it to cook my dinner or serve my neighbor a beer.

That said, I have recently come across these repurposing projects that, in my opinion, earn a thumbs down for aesthetic appeal.

cheese grater

Consider: Would you put this cheese grater on your vanity to display your pretty, dangly earrings?

jet ski planterPink flamingos on the lawn are out; jet ski planters are in? Not sure this qualifies as upcycling -- unless your curb appeal bar is set very low.