Reuse Inspiration Contest proves everything old is new again when creative types get to work


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Tiffany Harkleroad loves books. Her house in Kittanning is covered with them -- even the floors.

"Some people thought it was sacrilegious, but for me it was a labor of love," said Ms. Harkleroad (tiffanyniekro@gmail.com), who reviews hundreds of books each year for her blog and Amazon.

Her two-month project -- coating stairs and hardwood floors in the living room and hallway with polyurethane, varnish and pages torn from five books -- made her a winner in the renovation category of the third Reuse Inspiration Contest sponsored by the Post-Gazette and Construction Junction. It also earned her and her husband tickets to today's sold-out Big Pour beer festival, a fundraiser for the nonprofit retailer of salvage and surplus building materials in Point Breeze.

The Harkleroads' classic floors (they include pages from Charles Dickens and Jane Austen novels) were one of seven projects honored for creative reuse of recycled materials. Two others won in the renovation category: Daniel Harper of Monaca for his unique kitchen redo and Jonathan Weaver of Park Place for a bed made from aluminum light fixtures.

In the art category, the winners were Iris Ramos of Homestead for "Dr. Frankenstein's Laboratory Light"; Cory Bonnet of Ohio Township, who paints Pittsburgh scenes on old oak doors; Jane Freund of Forest Hills for pottery incorporating shards of glass and ceramic; and Scott Allman of O'Hara for knives made from lawn mower blades.

Mr. Allman (scottallman@hotmail.com), who hammers steel to relax from his work in medical sales, was also named the overall contest winner.

"As a hobbyist bladesmith, I find it rewarding to only use materials that have served a previous function," he wrote in his entry.

Several years ago, he heard about blacksmiths reusing mower blades and began seeking them at Construction Junction or from mower repair shops. He cut the steel into strips, heated and hammered them to make small pocket knives, chisels and other tools. For this contest, he made a large kitchen knife and fork. As a gift for a friend, he made a knife whose handle included oak burl from fallen trees, a pin from an iron gate, a fragment of deer antler and copper from old electrical wire.

"I believe in the wabi-sabi philosophy," he said. "My knives have a little rougher quality, some imperfections."

Items made from recycled materials are rarely perfect, and that is the key to their charm. Here are the stories behind the other winners:

Iris Ramos

A regular at Construction Junction, Ms. Ramos (buythat@aol.com) once turned a glass shade imbedded with chicken wire into a lamp and called it Sea Anemone. This time she found among some gaskets an odd steel cylinder marked $1.

"It was this lonesome piece and I said, 'This is so cool!' "

She added a $4 pendant light kit and a discontinued Ikea light bulb that looked "like a fireball or atomic particle" (50 cents). "Simple, unique, on a poor man's budget," she wrote on her entry. "Seeing the light every day."

Jane Freund

Ms. Freund, who grew up in Squirrel Hill, did traditional wheel-thrown pottery until about 10 years ago, when potter Jimmy Clark piqued her interest in more primitive pieces that included fragments of china and glass. Since then, she has focused on pinch pots, which she describes as "organic forms that begin with a ball of clay and are then shaped by pressing, pulling and scraping the sides of the pieces.

"I embellish each piece with found china and glass shards, bottle caps, rusted metal wire and nails. The pots are fired in a sawdust-filled kiln in my backyard, which gives them a smoky, primitive look," she wrote in her entry.

Ms. Freund (mejaneclay@gmail.com), a member of Associated Artists and Craftsmen's Guild of Pittsburgh, also sent a photo of a red clay mask she made in Mexico that includes river glass, old wire, African beads, metal drawer pulls and bottle caps and pieces of broken pottery she found between the cracks of cobblestone streets in San Miguel de Allende.

Cory Bonnet

Mr. Bonnet didn't know what he was going to do with the three single-panel oak doors he found at Construction Junction three years ago. But they reminded him of the heavy doors in his elementary school's library -- and they were beautiful. So he bought them and kept them in his studio.

A year later, he decided to use them for an entry in Tree Pittsburgh's Arbor Aid competition, which required that all artwork include salvaged or reclaimed wood. On one side, he painted in oil a view of the Strip District from across the Allegheny River. The other side has a winter mill scene. The following year, he painted another door with scenes of the old St. Nicholas Church on Route 28, since demolished, and the Shenango Coke Works on Neville Island. In these paintings, Mr. Bonnet (corybonnet@gmail.com) tried to incorporate the distinct rays and grain of oak into the skies or water.

"It makes my work really easy. I let the grain dictate where the highlights, shadows and reflections are," he said.

Daniel Harper

Though Mr. Harper entered the renovation category, the truth is that his century-old house in Monaca, Beaver County, was more like new construction -- it had no kitchen. The industrial designer said he "wanted to create something artful, mindful, unique and affordable" with as much repurposed material as possible. Considering the list of items that went into his kitchen, he apparently met that goal:

• Cabinet doors made from old windows and drawer faces from repurposed wood.

• Slate counter tops that once topped a pool table and sideboard legs from an old furnace.

• A 70-year-old Chambers stove and floors salvaged from an old house and boxes in a steel mill.

• Dining table made from an old trough left in a barn that once stood next door.

His wife, Kelly, approved each of the items but the couple did have some disagreements over colors.

"I'm kinda strong-headed," Mr. Harper (dan@daniel-harper.com) admitted.

Jonathan Weaver

Mr. Weaver, who moved here from a Philadelphia suburb eight years ago, said he had never slept on anything more than a mattress and boxspring on a frame before he built this unique aluminum bed with a 5-foot headboard. He's so pleased with the result that he's now working on matching nightstands.

The union electrician didn't immediately think "bedroom suite" when he saw 14 8-foot-long light fixtures during a demolition job. But he liked their industrial look and started designing. Two solid weeks of cutting and assembly yielded a very heavy queen-sized bed that wowed fellow members of Local 5 when he showed them photos on his phone.

"That turned out amazing," one said. "How did you get them so clean?"

He had scrubbed away 20 years of grime with Simple Green to reveal a soft brushed finish that worked well in a bedroom, he said.

So how does it sleep?

"It's not uncomfortable," said Mr. Weaver (jonathanweaver79@gmail.com). "When you put a pillow against the headboard, the metal is kinda soft."

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Kevin Kirkland: kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.


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