Posts Tagged are you a storyteller?

Finding the Love of a New (Salvaged) Toilet – A Volunteer’s Story

Lately, I may have been judging my toilet too harshly. At this point, we’re barely even speaking.  But I’m upside-down in my bathroom once again, and it’s literally staring me in the face. My bathroom’s too small; I can’t escape it. I’m trying to not think about it, but there it is again:

My toilet is a ticking time bomb. That thing has got to go.

I finish blow-drying my hair upside-down and set myself right-side up again. Once I’ve broken eye contact, if I’m really honest about it, I’ll admit it: My old toilet’s probably … perfectly fine. It’s adequate for its purposes; everything works, and, although I have no real way to know for sure, it likely does the job just as well as any other average toilet. In fact, it’s probably a little better than average. My bathroom’s done in yellow tile with one thin, pale blue stripe of tile running around the room at about shoulder height. And there, running around the top of the toilet tank, is an almost perfectly matching, thin, pale blue stripe. I mean, whoever installed the toilet went out of their way to make sure it matched. Nice! I’m someone who appreciates attention to detail, but if it were me, I’m not sure I would have gone to the trouble. If I were a little more generous some mornings, I’d at least give my toilet extra points for style.

But then, as I was volunteering down at The RE Store the other day, I saw it: my dream toilet. And unlike the last time I saw it glittering under the hot lights of a showroom floor, it’s at a price I’d actually be willing to pay for something I spend so little time with. And as an added bonus, it’s salvaged, which is one of my favorite things. Unfortunately, the very fact of its existence has begun to make me uncharacteristically discontent. As a result, every time I’m alone in the bathroom, looking at that thin, pale blue stripe through a curtain of damp hair as I move the blow-dryer around, I’m just a little … unaccountably … suspicious.

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The object of Christine’s affection – American Standard Hatbox Toilet at The RE Store: $100.


Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not one of those people who buys things for no good reason. Every time I read a magazine article that tells you to replace your fill-in-the-blank with an environmentally sustainable fill-in-the-blank, I automatically edit the sentence in my head to say, “When your fill-in-the-blank is no longer even vaguely useful, not even as a planter (or a coat rack, door prop, garden ornament, etc.), consider replacing it with an environmentally sustainable fill-in-the-blank.”

But then, every morning it’s the same thing: I’m upside-down in my bathroom, blow-drying my hair, and I start to notice things about my toilet that no one should ever be close enough to their toilet to notice. There’s a faint stain on one of the bolts holding it to the floor that just might be the beginning of rust. Is that rivulet of moisture running down the side of it the beginning of a leak, or is that just general moisture from the shower? Is that a hairline fracture starting along the base? I squint at it, swirling my hair out of the way with the blow dryer. Uh, no. It’s just a … well, never mind.

The point is, I’m trying to not let some fancy toilet sway me from my staunch conviction to not consume needlessly. But some mornings, based on whatever imaginary flaw I’m sure I’ve just spotted on my perfectly innocent toilet, I’m filled with less conviction than others. I’m kind of hoping someone will restore my relationship with my tried-and-true by snatching up my dream toilet at The RE Store, so the next time I’m upside-down in my bathroom, my toilet and I will be on speaking terms again.

Come see what might become your object of affection at the stores this week!  Special thanks to Christine Clifton-Thornton for authoring this article.

Posted in: Stories about people, Stories about stuff

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The Evolution of a Slab into a Shed of Salvage Inspiration

by RE Store Rockstar and customer, Karen Anderson

The slab for this shed has had many lives before becoming the foundation for this latest project.  It had been a dog kennel, held a rabbit hutch for awhile, and finally, it was an area for a chicken coop.  The dog moved inside permanently – she was way too much a part of the family to spend time in a kennel!  The rabbit was sweet but found a little girl to love her more than my rambunctious boys.  We loved the fresh chicken eggs and how cute the little ladies were, but they also found a new home with a sweet, older immigrant, who promised to give them a good home.

After the chickens left, the kennel sat empty for a few years, until Eric decided that he could use a tool and lawn mower shed.  Frankly, I think he just didn’t want to bust up the concrete slab.  I didn’t see the need for the shed, but decided that if I was going to look out my main living area at it, it was going to be stylish.  I’d gotten the door from The RE Store when we’d done some remodeling a number of years ago.  It is from Garfield High School, and I like to think it was graced by former students Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee. MLK, Jr. spoke there, and I wonder if he may have walked through it too.  It ended up not working for the house, and sat much like the poor rabbit my children had ignored.  It grew mildewy and dingy – out of sight and out of mind. But when the shed project came along, I knew the door would have to be a part of the project. (The moral of that anecdote is that if something at The RE Store speaks to you, get it!  You’ll find a place for it).

I’m very proud of our funky, little shed.  As the shingles were all leftovers, they couldn’t complete the entire siding.  I’m glad it turned out that way because I think the metal siding gives an eclectic and more “architectural” look. Other building materials include leftover lumber and OSB.  I also think the way the pieces of lumber don’t “match” gives the shed an interesting, organic look.

New items include the flashing, the “barn door” hardware and the windows.  The windows! I love their “orbi-ness”.  They were made by a local glass artist, Marcus Knowles, who is also a teacher that I got to know when he was teaching as a long-term substitute at my children’s school.  The windows are multiple glass layers thick with copper foil fused between them in the kiln.  They have a strong depth to them, and depending on the light and my mood, they remind me of planets or salmon eggs.  At any rate, I’m very happy Marc was willing to take the project on because I think they turned out beautiful. I was a little taken aback by the price of the new “barn door” hardware, although I do like the look of it.  Since building the shed, I’ve seen a couple of great examples on the internet of people re-purposing sliding closet door hardware for this purpose, both indoors and out.  (I bet you can find it regularly at The RE Store in the extensive closet door section)

I considered taking a picture of the interior of the shed.  It’s completely unfinished, but thought maybe a peek at the “bones” would be helpful to somebody.  But, alas, the shed that I didn’t think was necessary, is already packed full of stuff – mostly my “junk” mind you – and just one lawn mower and a few tools.

Happy building – remember the 3 Rs, and live in peace.

Thanks so much to Karen for this guest post and a great story of an inspiring little shed! 

Posted in: RE Store Rockstar Project, Stories about stuff

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One man’s junk is another man’s musical instrument

Guest post by Doug Banner

Doug Banners instruments on display

Doug Banners instruments on display at The RE Store in Bellingham

I am always surprised at how often people tell me that they are not artistic or creative. In our culture you must have exhibited in a gallery or performed to be called an artist. I play at playing music and music keeps me sane or at least as sane as I can be in this sometimes-crazy world. I am therefore a musician and so are you. Your heart keeps great time. Music is a great way to come together in community and share joy. I have played with people in Japan, Thailand, and China where our only common language was music and everybody had a great time.

In making instruments from recycled and repurposed materials I achieve several goals:

  1. I take stuff out of the trash stream. My wife laughs when I wont let her throw out old salad bowls and wooden spoons.
  2. I make instruments that sound good, are relatively easy to learn to play, and are affordable. Many people shy away from learning to play music because cheap instruments usually sound bad and good instruments are too expensive.
  3. I have fun creating usable art for public consumption. If it’s not fun, why do it, Right?
Doug Banner's Satori flutes

Doug Banner’s Satori flutes     Photo by John D’Onofrio

The RE Store is my primary source for materials and I draw my inspiration and design ideas from indigenous instruments from around the world. I spend a fair amount of time in the plastic pipe section. My didgeridoos are the least expensive and easiest to make and the most difficult to play. They’re made from 1.5” to 2” PVC pipe. I have heard $100.00 didgeridoos that don’t sound as good. My Santori Flutes, modeled after Native American Love Flutes, are made from ¾” PVC. I add wooden mouthpieces turned from wood I find in the scraps bin. The great thing about the Satori flutes is that they are indestructible. Throw one in your backpack and you’ve got music in the wilderness. Practice 15 minutes a day and you’ll be sounding pretty good in just a month. The Fujara, a Slovakian overtone flute, is both difficult to make and difficult to play but it’s so odd that just having one will draw attention.

I am always looking for 1” x 12” boards and door skins or thin paneling to build box drums known as a Cajon (sounds like ka-hone), tongue drums, or anything else I am inspired to try. I also use paneling and large plastic drainpipe to build great sounding conga drums. Reclaiming wood is a lot of fun for me. The instruments seem to have a special feel to them. It’s almost like the wood is saying, “Thanks for not throwing me in the fire.”

I find my greatest limitations to creating and playing instruments is my own imagination and my willingness to try new things. My bamboo Zither is an example. I didn’t know how to play it or even if it would sound good, but I gave it a shot. It worked and sounds great. I am sure more of those are on the way. Even if it sounds trite, you don’t know what you can do until you try.

~ Doug Banner

You can view Doug’s musical instruments on display in the Meridian windows at The RE Store in Bellingham through August, 2012.

Doug Banner is a professional storyteller and multimedia artist that plays music weekly with the Monkey Puzzle Orchestra. He also uses many of my instruments in his storytelling performances and can be found online at

Posted in: RE Store Rockstar Project, Recycled art and trash fashion, Stories about people, Stories about stuff, You can do it yourself

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Jacob’s Ladder from reclaimed materials at the Spark Museum

Bill Englander is an out-of-the-box tinkerer. His most recent project was building a Jacob’s Ladder for the newly rebranded Spark Museum in Bellingham. We will just let Bill tell you in his own words below the video…

As a boy, I had two grandfathers who each taught me the fine art of tinkering and repair.  Grandpa Englander whiled away his retirement gleaning old wooden wall phones from the early 20th century, removing the innards, and turning them into radios by installing newfangled transistor radios in the 1950s.  Grandpa Hastings could and would repair anything and everything.  Grandma had a cartoon framed on her kitchen wall that summed up Grandpa’s handiness: amid a background of ringer washers, Model-Ts, and old appliances, an Old Woman says to an Old Man holding an antique toaster, ” I KNOW you can fix it – you can fix anything.  I WANT A NEW ONE!”

Jacob's Ladder - base of unit

Jacob's Ladder for the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention by Bill Englander

I probably saw my first Jacob’s Ladder as a kid watching the original Frankenstein movie on TV.  All my life I wanted to build one; it was just too cool for school.  In 2008 I purchased a used 15,000 volt neon transformer, which sat on a shelf until the summer of 2010 due to my innate fear of electrocuting myself in the process of pursuing my hobby.  Finally, I got up the nerve to begin designing my first ladder.  I scrounged an old rectangular radio case from the Museum of Radio and Electricity, purchased a motion sensor, touch switch, sockets, switches, lighting parts, and miscellaneous neat-looking stuff, all from The RE Store, and tinkered off and on for three months to the finished product.

The current ladder (pun intended) was created for the renamed Spark Museum of Electrical Invention with generous assistance from The RE Store, which supplied the futuristic-looking cap on the cylinder, the cap on the base, and all the brass bling on the base.  The borosilicate glass protective cylinder is a pipe salvaged from a secret bio-weapons laboratory in Downtown Bellingham located in the Spark Museum’s “basement.”  Sherwin-Williams donated the five-gallon you-know-what base;  CDI Signs supplied the transformer.  Radio Shack was nice enough to sell me the blinking LEDs and resistors.  Other parts were scrounged from my electrical box-o-goodies and “elsewhere.”  I put about 40 hours into this one.

Jacob's Ladder - base of unit

Jacob's Ladder - base of unit

I volunteer at the Museum.  I noticed a year ago that the popular Jacob’s Ladder on exhibit was – in a word – fried.  The device creates ozone when it operates by burning air – O2.  This is of course great for the stratosphere, but bad for anything metallic, ’cause ozone is corrosive,  especially the metal in the Jacob’s Ladder enclosed in a Plexiglass box, such as it was.  The poor thing literally ate itself.  The new version includes a proprietary “Ozone Drain” (a plastic tube) that removes the ozone by gravity, as it is heavier than air.  The original design of my replacement ladder turned on by motion (The RE Store’s proximity sensor switch); the Museum expressed concern the ladder might continually cycle “ON” due to patrons flocking to it like bees to a flower, and subsequently go nuclear without warning.  So I ripped out the motion sensor and replaced it with a switch and a timer cannibalized from the dead ladder.

Giving up my baby (the newly completed Jacob’s Ladder) felt like losing a favorite shoe.  But I’m pulling out of it, and designing my next creation; I just hope it’s an 8 1/2 Left.

~ Bill Englander

Posted in: RE Store Rockstar Project, Stories about people, Stories about stuff, Video posts, You can do it yourself

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Shoji Salvage – Screens From Reclaimed Fir Beams

Designer/Builder: Jacki DeVincent

Project Title: Shakti Shoji Screens

Salvage Materials: All of the wood elements

Project Description from Jackie: We were able to make a group of 8 Shoji doors for a couple in Greenlake out of Reclaimed Fir from The RE Store in Seattle.  There was this group of  6″ x 12″ Fir beams that had been hanging in a parking garage, mostly to hold conduit.  They’d been painted and were pretty aged when we got them, but the grain looked tight.   It turned out to be perhaps the finest Fir I have ever seen.    Beautiful VG Fir was lying below,  with grain too fine to count rings without magnification.  It was dry, straight, stable and wonderfully light – perfect for Shoji screens.

I still have some material from these beams and use it on other smaller projects when I can.  I am delighted that something this special and precious could be brought to light again and appreciated for the beauty in function that it brings.  Whenever someone wonders about the quality that can be found in recycled lumber, I pull out one of these pieces.  Places like The RE Store make this possible.

Posted in: RE Store Rockstar Project

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A RE Store Rockstar – tells a story

This comes from Nancy Connolly, who spoke to us in person at the Phinney Home & Remodel Fair.  The story seemed to good not to broadcast:
“My fabulous RE Store story is about my door knob and lock.  I have a 1950’s home with a very classy door knob mechanism – no knob on the outside, and a deadbolt kind of thing on the inside – brass and very interesting looking.  This broke one morning recently and it was very dismaying – not only would the front door not lock, but it didn’t really even fully latch without it.  I took the thing off the door without too much difficulty and took it to my local locksmith who told me it was unfixable and that if I purchase a similar item at a local hardware store, he would come out and install and the whole thing would probably cost me about $200 and the new lock would be quite utilitarian and ugly.  I shopped several lock smiths and hardware stores (taking up much of the day) and found someone ultimately who told me that some door stores might have a replacement part if they had replaced a door with a similar mechanism.  I drove to a couple of door stores, out to Everett, etc., looking for someone who would have the right item, and finally arrived at The RE Store where I found the IDENTICAL, 1950s door lock and latch – NEW in box, still in factory packaging which I installed myself for less than $10.  I felt so fortunate to find The RE Store was a repository and solved my problem.  I did consider buying 2 – but felt that as the first one had lasted almost 60 years, I would leave the others at your store for others fortunate enough to find you.  While I am sure I could have told my story a little more eloquently – I still feel grateful and enjoy my vintage door closer every day!”

Shucks, Nancy – we are glad we could be of help!  Makes us wonder what other buried treasure could be making others this happy….
Do you have a RE Store-inspired project to be proud of?  Please, show off & share your story!

Posted in: RE Store Rockstar Project

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Are you a storyteller?

Are you looking for a way to help inspire people to take a second look at what is in their trash treasure can?

Tell us all about your project that you created from used, recycled, found or scrounged materials in the comment section at the bottom of this post.

  • What did you start with and what did you transform it into.
  • What challenges did you overcome in the process.
  • How long did it take?
  • How did you feel afterwards?
  • Have other people commented on your efforts?

You can also contact us via the form on our website and let us know if you have photos or have an extra special project to report on.

Thank you for your contribution to the reuse revolution!

Posted in: Stories about people, Stories about stuff, You can do it yourself

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