Thursday, Sep 27, 2012

From trashy to trendy
Loft transformed using roadside rubbish
By JAMI KLOET, Special to Sun Media

Michelle Mawby admits she had no idea what she was getting herself into when she agreed to lend her creative skills to a bold experiment for the hit Discovery Channel show Junk Raiders.

“And I’m not sure they did either,” laughs the interior designer, looking back on her experience.

The series saw Mawby, along with a small team of construction professionals, transforming an old factory space into a trendy, beautiful loft space. The catch? They had a budget of just $5,000 (on a project estimated at upwards of $300,000) and could only use cast-off, recycled and reclaimed materials.

That’s where Anthony D’Arcy and Gordie Wornoff came in. The pair are avid “freecyclers” (though not affiliated with, the non-profit network for trading goods to keep them out of landfill).

The space itself was bare — nothing in the 1,600-square-foot loft had been touched. Armed with a floor plan for a live/work concept provided to them by the homeowner, the design team set off to see what they could salvage from the streets of Toronto.

From the very beginning, there were challenges. The team had to salvage everything from plumbing and bath fixtures to lighting and furnishings. There was a lot of manual labour involved, like painting, drywalling and learning to work with materials that were literally picked up off the street.

The project was a true test of her creativity at times, admits Mawby, who found herself at the mercy of other people’s tastes throughout the show. The team — or “street scavengers,” as they’re called — scoured the city for pieces to reuse in the loft.

“There were some horrible items,” she recalls. “We were going for a high-end boutique-hotel look - and I’m not sure any of them had ever stayed at a boutique hotel.”

But it wasn’t all bad. For the most part, Mawby says, it was a fantastic experience. “It was quite fun being able to find really unique things,” she says.

Especially since she’s always been a bit of a junk raider herself. When working for her own clients (through her company, Lucid Interior Design), Mawby says she tries to repurpose architectural elements as much as possible — for instance, reusing doors and windows as art.

“As a designer, I restyle and remake things,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be new to be good.”

When the project was said and done, Mawby and her team had turned out some real gems in the design process: a coffee table constructed from the shell of a baby grand piano; a dining room table made out of church pews; glass church windows in the shower stall; and a claw-foot tub hollowed into a couch. But Mawby’s personal favourite was the kitchen island that she fashioned from the grill of a 1978 Chrysler New Yorker.

“I loved getting my hands on the car,” she says.

The entire transformation took a month to complete, with the team putting in upwards of 10 hours per day. The end result was a fully furnished, stylish and livable space that the owner fell in love with.

As for Mawby, she says there are parts of the space she loves and other areas she would’ve liked to change. “I definitely see things I could’ve improved,” she says.

But that doesn’t mean she didn’t love the project. It’s just the way her mind works.

“I’m a designer,” she says. “I’m not sure I’m ever happy.”

Watch the full season of Junk Raiders online at

Furniture facelift

Reduce, reuse, recycle … refurnish? That’s the idea behind Painted Black Etc., a small furniture restoration company located in Port Credit, Ont.

Owner Laura Page encourages homeowners to reuse old furnishings by refinishing them. To further reduce the impact on the environment, Page uses only earth-friendly paints, non-toxic cleansers and low-VOC varnishes when refinishing pieces.

Ready to refinish? Page offers the following tips:

1. Sand the entire piece with a coarse sanding block and ensure all dust has been removed.

2. Apply a low-VOC primer.

3. Gently sand again, this time using a fine sanding block. Ensure all dust has been removed.

4. Apply coats of low-VOC latex until desired opacity has been reached.

5. Use hemp oil or a soy-based sealant to complete your project.

For more information, go to

The Dirty Figures

27 million: tonnes of waste Canadians sent to landfill in 2006.

835: kilograms of trash per person that ends up in landfill - more than 10 times our body weight.

$1.5 billion: cost per year to dispose of garbage.

17: pounds of waste per square foot produced by the average home renovation.

33: number of mature trees it takes to construct a 2,000-square-foot home.

140,000: tonnes of computer equipment, phones, TVs, stereos and small home appliances that end up in landfill each year.

70: percent of recyclable waste that nonetheless ends up in landfill.

Renovation archive

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