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Upcycling: If It’s broken, It Can Be Fixed

Upcycling: If It’s broken, It Can Be Fixed

Upcycling is a fun way to freshen up your space, create a conversation piece, exercise your creativity and help the environment at the same time. Just be careful that you don’t become a hoarder.

You’ve seen the commercial ñ the forlorn lamp sits sadly by the curb in the rain. A man says, “Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you’re crazy. It has no feelings and the new one is much better.”

But to many, the old lamp is a treasure waiting to be upcycled into something special. Ditto for the old furniture and other discarded items in the trash, or at the local thrift shop. One man’s trash and all that.

Treasures-to-be can also be found in your own home. “Learn to look at things differently before going out and buying something new” or throwing something away, says Adam Fullerton, Toronto fabricator and upcycler extraordinaire.

Adam FullertonAdam Fullerton

Think outside the box. Can it be reused for another purpose? If it’s broken, can it be fixed or configured into something spectacular?

“Reusing is better than recycling,” he says. “It can also save you pennies along the way.”

Upcycling is a fun way to freshen up your space, create a conversation piece, exercise your creativity and help the environment at the same time. (Just be careful not to hoard, Fullerton says.)

It’s also a great way to spend time with the kids, with a variety of projects from beginner to pro.

Fullerton’s upcycling career started with lighting. He would rescue lamps from the side of the road, flea markets or charity shops and reconfigure them, sometimes adding scraps to turn them into unique light fixtures or other decorative pieces.

One of his early lighting projects was a wall sconce, made from chandelier parts, the base of a table lamp and interestingly shaped old jam jars.

He bought a glass bottle cutter and began to upcycle colourful bottles into planters, glasses, bowls and dishes. “It’s a great project for beginners,” he says. He collected corks and turned them into cork boards.

He used his welding skills to create more elaborate pieces, and also began crafting furniture with found materials. When he lived in England, solid wood doors, discards of renovations of old houses, were scavenged and transformed into frames for mirrors. “I collected as many as I could carry to repurpose. The middle panels were removed and replaced with mirrors and sometimes lighting was added around the door,” he says.

“I started upcycling in 2012, making stuff to sell but I’ve always been making something, taking things apart, and fixing them or taking the parts out to make something else.”

He says various past jobs, from car painting and restoration to construction, gave him experience working with different materials.

Fullerton grew up in a small village in the south of England and sold his light fixtures in London. In 2015 he moved across the pond. “I met a Canadian, now my wife,” he says. At first he worked in the garage, but most recently he moved up to a 1,200-square-foot studio of his own.

He creates products for use in residential and commercial settings. One shelf design, which can be used in either setting, has radiators as the ends with shelves made from found hemlock lumber.

His favourite go-to upcycling parts are from second-hand bicycles, where everything from gears to chains to handlebars are given new life. One of his first commercial projects was a bike rack made with racing handle bars to hold bike frames. “Inspiration comes from the piece that I find,” he says.

His “bike and fall light” includes bicycle parts and replicates the classic “rise and fall light” popular in the U.K. He says his great grandmother had the light in her house and he was always fascinated by the fixture, which could be raised or lowered using pulleys.

Fullerton pulley lampThe “bike and fall light” can be raised and lowered by pulleys.

Upcycling has also turned into a full-time business for Denis and Martine Chercuitte of My Old Cher on Wolfe Island, Ont.

After 36 years in the military, Denis retired and went back to school to learn the basics of building furniture. “Denis and I learned together refinishing (oil, paint and wax techniques) and upholstery (modern techniques),” Martine says.

Five years ago, they displayed their wares at the Wolfe Island Christmas sale. As soon as people realized they could have their furniture repaired and redone, demand began to grow. Two people at one sale wanted the same chair, upholstered in a whimsical fabric pattern with faces (one bearing a mustache and looking a lot like Denis, Martine says). Neither ended up buying it.

Martine and Denis ChercuitteMartine and Denis Chercuittte

The couple now gives a second life to other people’s cast offs and brings new life to pieces people want to keep. Many summer homes on the island are filled with furniture bought generations ago and now the owners want to upgrade the pieces.

Although it may seem more expensive to reupholster than buy new, compared to a modern chair of the same quality, it is still less to have a piece redone, they say. “If the frame is good, it can be rebuilt and look good for a long time.”

Chercuitte chairAn upcycled chair by Denis and Martine Chercuitte

Some people on the island donate items to the couple rather than paying to put them in the dump. One day after returning from grocery shopping, they found a cabinet sitting in front of a garage. Another time a man dropped off a chair he no longer had use for. After it was repaired and refinished, he was a little sorry he had given it up.

In the summer, the Chercuittes sell from their small boutique. They have also sold pieces in nearby Kingston.

For those contemplating an upcycling project, the Chercuittes suggest starting with a table or a chair that has an upholstered seat. As long as they are strong and steady, they’re a good place to start. Denis suggests taking a half-day or day-long upholstery course.

Never assume something is too old to be upcycled, Martine says. Ask before you scrap or dump it into a fire pit.

How to Buy the Right Ceiling Fan

How to Buy the Right Ceiling Fan

Let’s put a fan in the living room. Sounds easy enough, right? Now all you have to do is figure out the size and the style and the color and the function and whether or not you need a downrod, and how long that should be. Phew. That’s A LOT.

Having just been through this process, we have tips to share that will help you understand what to look for. Our pain is your gain!

Size matters

A 36-inch fan isn’t likely going to do a great job of cooling your giant great room, and a 72-inch fan might look out of place in a tiny bedroom (not to mention the fact that it might feel like a wind tunnel in there). Getting the look—and function—right has a lot to do with buying the right size fan for your space.

Consider the lighting

Does your space have decent lighting elsewhere or are you depending on the ceiling fan to provide good lighting for the room? Before you spend many aggravating hours searching online for the “brightest LED ceiling fan,” followed by an equally aggravating trip to a big box store that shall go unnamed, let us give you a little insight: Most fans without multiple exposed lights now have integrated LEDs, which means the light is built in to the fan and is not changeable.

While this may be cost-effective and convenient—especially if you’d have to climb a ladder to change the light bulb—it’s not great if you’re looking for a brighter light than what is included in the box. If you want one of those snazzy modern-looking fans  and you need a super bright light, you’ll probably need to MacGyver it or buy a fan without a light and then get a separate light kit without an integrated bulb. Good times ahead!

Match your style

Ceiling fans with integrated lights come in a variety of styles to match a variety of tastes. If you know you want modern, traditional, or transitional, by all means, Google it. If, in our case, you can’t find the function you want in your preferred style, you have to get a little more creative. Wayfair is a good place to look for brands and styles you may not find at Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Do the blades go in reverse?

One of the coolest (pardon the pun) features of many of today’s fans is the fact that you can run them in reverse, which forces rising hot air down and helps keep the room comfortable in winter. If this feature is important to you, make sure the fan you’re looking at has it, because not all do.

Do you need a downrod?

Downrods are necessary if you have tall ceilings. Ceilingfan.com has a great graphic that shows you how long or short your downrod should be depending on your room, but don’t forget to take your personal preferences into account. If you’re in a room that tends to run hot or faces west, maybe you want the fan installed a little lower so you can feel the air flow.

Read the reviews

While this was not so helpful in determining whether or not a light was bright enough (People have opinions, and, wow can they contradict each other!), it was helpful in weeding out some options that were wobbly when installed, didn’t come with a decent remote or any remote at all, or didn’t look like their picture in real life. You’re never going to find any product with a 100 percent approval rating nor will you agree with everything you read, but a “majority rules” type of deal is usually a pretty safe bet.

Condo Property Assessment

Condo Property Assessment

Question: I read your column faithfully and was hoping you could address a small issue/question I have. Recently, I received from my association a bill for property tax assessment challenges. It appears the association took it upon themselves to hire a property tax attorney, without notice to the homeowners (or at least, I never received any notice via certified or any other mail) that they would be assessed any amounts incurred in making the challenge. I was unaware it was legal for someone to protest your property taxes/property assessment without your consent.

Can you please give me your opinion as to the legality of the action of the Board? Did they have the authority to incur these expenses without my consent?

Did they have the legal right to initiate this protest on my behalf without my consent? I did not provide them with any power of attorney. Paul.

Answer: Paul. In a follow-up email, you told me that the attorney did, in fact, get your tax assessment reduced, and that you will pay the new assessment but are concerned about the process.

I had never heard this was being done, so I checked with several colleagues who practice community association law. Apparently, some large associations – as an accommodation to all owners – retain an attorney versed in real estate tax assessments, and that attorney files appeals for everyone.

However, I was advised that the attorney can only file an appeal for a homeowner who has authorized the appeal. Such authorization can be in a specific power of attorney that each homeowner signs, but apparently in some associations, the Bylaws specifically cover this by creating an automatic power of attorney.

Paul, you advised me that you are absolutely certain that you never provided the power of attorney, but have you reviewed your association legal documents?

If, in fact, you never formally authorized the attorney to appeal your real estate tax assessment, I am not sure what your next steps should be? Clearly, you can’t complain that your assessment was reduced as a result of the attorney’s involvement. Should you pay the assessment? I suggest that you send a letter to the board of directors requesting them to provide you proof that you did, in fact, directly or indirectly authorize the attorney to file the assessment on your behalf. If there is no such proof, then you have to decide whether to pay the assessment.

And, you may also consider sending a letter to the attorney asking for proof that you formally retained or authorized him to act on you behalf.

If the attorney cannot provide such proof, you may want to consider filing a grievance against the attorney before your state bar association. Attorneys are required to have a retainer or other agreement with a client before proceeding on behalf of that client.

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