People & Places

Trash to treasure: Local business owners taking old furniture, scrap pieces and turning into modern furniture, art

DIY trend continues to grow

Various upcycled items for sale at Vintage Chic, a repurposed home decor and furniture business in Kalona, on July 11, 2016. Owner Tara Dixon finds old solid wood furniture at auctions and estate sales and upcycles them to look like-new. She opened Vintage Chic about two weeks ago to sell her work and others with similar style. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
Various upcycled items for sale at Vintage Chic, a repurposed home decor and furniture business in Kalona, on July 11, 2016. Owner Tara Dixon finds old solid wood furniture at auctions and estate sales and upcycles them to look like-new. She opened Vintage Chic about two weeks ago to sell her work and others with similar style. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
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It’s true what they say: someone’s trash is someone else’s treasure — at least, to some.

Tara Dixon, owner of Vintage Chic in Kalona, is “always on the hunt” for castaway gems to repurpose into something new and beautiful.

Between her day job as an accountant at University of Iowa and taking care of her daughter, Stella, Dixon trolls auctions, estate sales, Craigslist and more and “typically picks something up every day” to take home and transform, she said.

“I just love to transform an old, nice piece of furniture into something that can fit into the modern home,” she said.

It’s a hobby she picked up about three years ago, and now, as of about two weeks ago when she opened Vintage Chic, it’s her business.

Similarly, Candice Luter, owner of Remnant in Cedar Rapids, sales manager at Phelans and also a single mom, began upcycling as she was renovating her condo over the past three years.

Luter looks for old furniture at Goodwill, Craigslist, garage sales or even the side of the road and dresses it up with fresh paint and modern embellishes to look like new.

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She began blogging how-tos and before and after photos and eventually signed up for her first Revival on the River — a seasonal flea market in Cedar Rapids. She sold out of inventory within the weekend.

This year, Luter’s selling at the farmers market all summer and has nearly outgrown her storage spaces — a small garage outside her condo and another in Fairfax. She said she’s looking for a warehouse and hopes to continue to expand her business, but admits the repurposing business is getting harder as more and more people get into it.

Increased interest — she thinks due to HGTV and Pinterest — drives up competition and price at auctions and flea markets. But despite that, Luter encourages others to try it — but be ready to fail.

Everyone thinks they can or want to do it themselves, but “people don’t realize the time and tools it takes,” she said. “I think there should be a reality show on how to do things the wrong way. ... So many Pinterest articles, if you follow them step by step, it won’t turn out. I want a Pinterest fail show.”

“The only way to be good at something is to fail over and over again,” she added.

“It’s all trial and error,” Dixon agreed. “Anybody can do it, it’s just that the finished piece will look different. ... And it’s a ton of work. It’s not just a coat of paint.”

While much of Luter’s work still is repurposed, she said she’s starting to get into making things with new materials — particularly for custom orders — but still using scraps for other projects. She never lets anything go to waste, she said.

“Being a single mom, I’ve always tried to use what I’ve had available to me,” she said. “There’s always change and second chances. That’s how I feel about life.”

Luter said she focuses on creating things that speak to her and her style.

“I try not to copycat, but take different ideas and try something new,” she said. “It’s good to see what others are doing but I always encourage people to put their own spin on it.”

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She also tries to keep prices reasonable and accessible, while properly valuing the quality of her work and labor at the same time.

“The repurposed business is very hard to price,” she said. “Sometimes (repurposed work) has a negative association. People think that because it’s second hand it’s not as good as new. But a lot of new stuff falls apart easily.”

Both Luter and Dixon said they always try to find solid wood pieces with character you wouldn’t find in new items.

“They’ll never find work like this anywhere else,” Luter said.

They also spend long hours working on their projects — essentially any time they’re not working their full time jobs, they said. Even when not actually working on a project, they’re probably still thinking about it.

“My mind is on overdrive,” Luter said. “I’m constantly brainstorming. If I could do this 24/7 I would.”

Where to shop

• What: Remnant

• Where: Cedar Rapids Downtown Farmers Market and custom orders

• When: Farmers market is every other Saturday: today, July 29, Aug. 5, 19, Sept. 2, 16, 7:30 a.m. to noon

• Details: Follow Remnant on Facebook at facebook.com/shopremnant or its website at shopremnant.com

• What: Vintage Chic

• Where: 421 B Ave., Kalona

• When: Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Details: Follow Vintage Chic on Facebook at Facebook.com/vintagechiciniowa

• What: Revival on the River

• Where: 45 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids

• When: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sept. 16

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• Details: Revival on the River is a pop-up flea market in Cedar Rapids where you can find repurposed, upcycled products, antiques, handmade art, vintage clothing, collectibles and more.

Other upcoming markets:

• What: Iowa Gathering

• Where: The Barn at Bunker Hill, 2266 310th St., Wilton

• When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 23

• Cost: $5

• What: Good Makers Market

• Where: 1195 210th St., Tipton

• When: 3 to 7 p.m., Sept. 8 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 9

• Cost: $5

• What: Fall Flea & Fair at The Barn

• Where: 3271 V Ave., Wellman

• When: 2 to 8 p.m., Sept. 22; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 23

• Cost: $5

l Comments: (319) 398-8364; elizabeth.zabel@thegazette.com

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