From Trash to Treasure

By Topher Paterno, topherpaterno@gmail.com

 topher transformed the old painted wood from his front porch (below) into this entryway console. Photos by topher paterno.

topher transformed the old painted wood from his front porch (below) into this entryway console. Photos by topher paterno.

Sometimes I just can’t let things go. Perhaps it’s residual from being the second youngest of nine, where I was always given “repurposed” clothes, toys, and shoes. I never knew that when I was cobbling together old bikes in the garage, that I was preparing myself for my present life as an artist. Now that I’m an adult, a real furniture maker, and a real artist, I do eco-friendly interior design projects, kitchen remodels, built-ins, and custom furniture pieces.

When we moved to our Burleith townhome, I saw this as an opportunity to not only exercise my design/build muscles with an almost complete solo remodel, but I wanted to showcase some eco-materials and make a small statement regarding construction waste, up-cycling, and the whole "repurposing" thing.

Treasure2

While I was able to recycle about 95 percent of my two demolition dumpsters, I did hold on to a lot of stuff.  (Apologies and thanks to my neighbors who put up with the Sanford & Sons backyard for a while). I held on to all of the remaining windows, decking, bricks, and even some of the old 2x4s that didn’t go back into construction. Old 2x4s got sliced, bent, and laminated for use in a lamp. The plaster lath I put aside was used later as a wall covering in our home. Some old bricks are now a lamp-base, and our former front deck is now our entryway console. 

When I did have the help of family or friends, they thought I was nuts when I would separate out a “special” chunk of brick, to be used for a lamp later on.

 Brick lamp materials salvaged from a remodel demolition silently speak to how we look at “trash.”

Brick lamp materials salvaged from a remodel demolition silently speak to how we look at “trash.”

I turn most of this trash into treasure at my studio at 52 O Street NW, where I hold classes to teach people how they can turn their “trash” into treasure. I also teach classes in furniture design and skateboard building (teenagers and “adults” love these). There is no experience is required, by the way. So, if you come into my studio you may see a hodge-podge of de-nailed plaster-lath, old windows, and giant stumps or sections of trees. I see wall treatments, unique mirrors, side tables, and lamps. At some point, you will too.

By the way, the end of the school year always has me trolling the dumpsters, and with all of the building going on in DC, and even in our own neighborhood, I cannot help but drive slowly through the streets and alleyways looking for that next great piece. So don’t be surprised if you see me shoving a large tree trunk into my van or struggling with a chunk of concrete. You might even lend a hand. Think of it as your way of supporting the arts.

Topher Paterno teaches in the interior design department at the Corcoran School at George Washington University. He holds an MFA in furniture design from the Rhode Island School of Design and is a LEED Green Associate.