The Repurposed Home Takes Curb-Shopping to a Fine Art
When was the last time you took a look at the old, cast-off furniture sitting in the corner of your basement or attic? You know, the pieces that were once useful and in style, but that haven’t seen the light of day for decades. Before tossing that chair in the dumpster, or letting that those end tables get musty in your basement, consider another option for your old furniture.
Lori Jacobsen, interior designer and co-founder of The Repurposed Home, can help you find new ways to use those seasoned pieces. The Repurposed Home helps customers use what they already have and make it new again. Jacobsen also does some serious “curb-shopping” to save classic pieces from the landfill.
Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Jacobsen about her innovative company, which is based in New Jersey but sells primarily on the web. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
JACOBSEN: It started when I got married 32 years ago. I found when people change their homes, they get rid of beautiful furniture. I grew up recycling and never wanting to waste anything, so if anyone offered me furniture, I took it. The pieces might not have been my style, or maybe I didn’t have a use for them at the time, but I kept them. When my family grew, and we moved into a larger home, I had extra furniture — like a china cabinet or another bed — available to repurpose to meet my home’s style and functional needs.
I started Lori Jacobsen Design, in 2001. As I became more involved with interior design, it was natural for me to put to use all the things I’ve collected. I found it was a great way to incorporate repurposed accessories into design projects. From that, The Repurposed Home was born in 2007.
When you’re passionate about things, you tend to go a little crazy, and in my free time I started to put together various pieces to make new accessories for the home. Now I have a storage room full of these pieces waiting for a home.
My passions for lessening wastefulness and for design have merged. Essential to our unique business philosophy is assessment. When we’re going to do a remodel, we assess the existing space, its systems, structure, and contents. We take all that into consideration, and then we consider what we can reuse, repurpose, or recycle for the job. We try to use things that exist on site before we go out and buy new.
BPGL: When you say “we,” who do you mean? Do you have a large staff?
JACOBSEN: I do not have a large staff. The Repurposed Home consists of me and my daughter. However, I have an incredible group of industry partners who help address my clients’ needs.
BPGL: Do you typically work on homes or businesses? Or both?
JACOBSEN: I’ve worked with some restaurants and health care offices. However, most of my repurposing is residential.
So far, the health care offices and restaurants have only been basic bottom-line budget. We do try to use a lot of what we have there in a different way. A lot of times, if it comes to window treatments or little things, the basic requirement is the bottom line — and time; they just want to get it done. We have to educate a lot of people as to my assessment process, and hopefully they have some time to take that into consideration, when it comes to commercial projects.
I find a lot of people are very excited about our residential work. With the economic situation, people are repurposing used items not only to be good to the earth, but also to save money. It’s very important to them to assess everything they have and be very conscious of what they are going to buy in the future. And that works out very well for me. I’m finding interest in reusing materials is high up on their priority list, which is funny, because, in the past, you couldn’t get people to reuse old things, ever.
BPGL: Are many people in this line of work?
JACOBSEN: There aren’t a lot of people here on the East Coast who do this kind of work, but this niche is growing fast. Whenever energy prices are high, people focus on this issue and make choices to increase their home’s energy efficiency.
BPGL: Do you refinish furniture with eco-friendly products?
JACOBSEN: We do. I use a soy-based stripper, non-VOC paints, milk paint, and milk stains, as well as a water-based protective finish. These products seem to work really well.
When I first started, I used paint strippers and varnishes that weren’t earth friendly. Between breathing fumes and staining my hands, it was pretty awful. The chemistry of stripping and painting has really evolved. I’ve been able to strip these pieces of furniture in a green way that works. If I go to a house, and a client has a piece of furniture they want to reuse, we are able to strip, paint, or reinstate it in an eco-friendly way.
BPGL: Who does your sewing?
JACOBSEN: My daughter and I do all our own sewing and put everything together ourselves. Having an organized storage facility helps the brainstorming process along, affording us the luxury of having materials at hand. I do have to outsource some of the labor in regard to reupholstering.
BPGL: I see you have quilts on your website, do you make quilts, too?
JACOBSEN: I love to sew, and I’ve made a lot of quilts. What’s beautiful about this business is that I get to put all my passions together.
BPGL: Do you use all organic fabrics?
JACOBSEN: Organic fabrics are used in some projects. However, my primary fabric supply comes from salvaging fabrics that are intended for the landfill. We have a great relationship with a furniture manufacturer that has an overwhelming supply of excess fabrics from previous jobs.
While dropping off a piece to be reupholstered, I wandered into the second floor of the warehouse, which was stacked full of leftover fabric that needed to be disposed of. The facility wasn’t working very hard to find someone to purchase or otherwise take the excess fabric off their hands; they were going to throw the surplus away. You see, they’re in the business of making furniture, and they don’t want to figure out how to get rid of excess fabric. So if someone doesn’t come along and buy the whole lot of it, it just sits there until the room gets full. Then they send it off to the dumpster. So I said, “Forget about making my furniture, I want this fabric.”
I take a ride every couple of months to the furniture manufacturer in hopes of finding fabric for clients or projects. I can’t take it all, unfortunately. I take as much fabric as I can, and keep it until I find the right use for it.
Knowing that this option is available is exciting for some of my clients. A couple of my clients now say, “Do you have any coordinating salvaged fabric? Can I use it for a couch?” So the word is getting out a bit, and they want to look at what I have and see if they can use it. That’s exciting!
BPGL: Do you have a showroom, or is your business entirely web based?
JACOBSEN: We decided we didn’t need to waste the overhead and energy on a showroom. Our showroom is our website. As a designer, most of my consultations are in house, visiting the site. Our line of home accessories is showcased on our website. But the difficulty is in getting the “foot traffic” needed to sustain our passion for repurposing and recycling!
We also have friends who sometimes showcase our work at their brick-and-mortar places.
BPGL: What is your most popular product?
JACOBSEN: The decorative pillows. I started collecting my husband’s ties about 20 years ago, never knowing what I was going to do with them. I couldn’t throw them out, because they are so nice. When the business started, I had a large stack of ties. Once the word came out that I was making pillows out of ties, people started to say, “I just cleaned out my husband’s closet, and here are some of his old ties.” So people give me a lot of ties instead of throwing them away. I keep them until I need them.
The next-most-popular items are the unique, usually curb-purchased, refurbished chairs. I find people throw out some really neat, good pieces of furniture, and I just pick them up. Once you match them up with the best-fit salvaged fabric and give them a good cleaning, it becomes so easy to see their beauty again. They’re statement pieces. The unique fabric choices coupled with the pieces’ unique stories make for good conversation. People just love them, and they build rooms around them.
BPGL: Do people have problems with the curb-shopping aspect of the items you repurpose?
JACOBSEN: No. The momentum for more eco-conscious living is building, and everyone is getting excited. It’s really a nice time to be a part of this. This is something I’ve been doing for a while, and now I can share it with everyone.
BPGL: Tell us a little about the accessories shown on your website. What is Boontonware?
JACOBSEN: Back in the day, cafeteria food was served on trays made of Boontonware. It’s a similar material to melamine. They have all these different colors. I thought it would be neat to couple the Boontonware with a circa 1950s dinette set we fixed up.
I had been carrying around this dinette set for years, and now the retro look is back. It was in great shape. All we had to do was get some nontoxic cleaner to clean the metal portion of it. We were able to polish it up really well and find a similar 1950-60s fabric to recover the chairs. But we wanted to put it up on our website and make it look really awesome. So we used the Boontonware from an antique store in upper New York State.
We also found a vintage tablecloth with similar colors. So we put all these vignettes together. The Boontonware seemed like a natural fit with the 1950s table and the tablecloth. We try to find pieces that have meaning to us, and could have meaning to our customers.
BPGL: What’s the most unusual thing you’ve collected for your business?
JACOBSEN: I was taking a walk one day, and I passed by a shop that was throwing away hundreds of record albums. For some reason, I just couldn’t let them go in the dumpster, so I packed them up in my car. I really had no idea what I was going to do with them. They were from the late ’80s and early ’90s, like early Madonna and Rolling Stones. I was able to find frames with a mat, and turned them into fun pieces of pop art. The whole album is in there; I don’t throw anything away. It’s cleaned, so it doesn’t get moldy — I have a special cleaner that is made to preserve albums for years and make sure nothing gets built up in them. It’s just a cool thing for teenagers to put up in their room or their dorm.
BPGL: What is your biggest challenge these days?
JACOBSEN: We’ve had the website up for two years, and we’re just now marketing it. You can’t just put things out there and expect them to be sold. Having a business and doing everything yourself is such a long process — and a big learning experience. I thought at the time I was going to get everything up [on the website] and get all the products out there, but we have only been marketing for a short amount of time. Prior to the marketing, there wasn’t too much action, unless I was able to get something displayed in a store. Now we’re just trying to get people to go to our website and be interested in the products there. We’re hoping that it will increase.