Finding new beauty in old materials

The Leslieville Flea was started by Brigid Elmy and myself in June 2013 as a means of selling the pieces we make. It’s been a great experience and part of the success can be attributed to the current demand for vintage and hand-crafted home decor.

Buying unique pieces imbued with history can add interest to your home. In a world of mass production, people crave the original.

Meeting the person who hunted for an object and knows its story, or purchasing from the crafts person who built a piece gives the buyer a personal connection to that item.

An old door and windows were used to make this shoe/storage cabinet.
PHOTO: Christine Roberts

In my work as a designer and stylist I have noticed a huge trend in decor right now towards “upcycled” furniture and accessories. Reusing materials and remaking them into something beautiful and functional is a great idea for many reasons.

Much material that would otherwise end up in a landfill can be transformed and given new life. I’m always amazed at the things that end up curbside on garbage day.  You can usually find me skulking about on any given Tuesday.

Another reason for upcycling items is that older materials are often of great quality – they really don’t make things like they used to. Solid wood with quality joinery is the perfect starting point for an upcyled piece.

I love to use old doors, windows, reclaimed wood and metal in my projects. Old panelled doors are readily available in this neighbourhood with all the renovations happening in older Beach homes. These doors are often made from solid oak, maple or pine. They already have panelled detail on them, so they are the perfect material to use in cabinetry.

For example, to make this shoe/storage cabinet for a client’s front entry, I re-purposed a door for the sides and bottom, old windows for the new cabinet doors and reclaimed tin ceiling for the panels in the doors.

Reclaimed wood was also used for the cabinet top and interior shelves.

After removing the glass from the window frames, it was replaced with reclaimed tin. The tin was fixed in place by applying construction adhesive around the edge.

The cabinet was primed with a good quality primer, and then two coats of semi-gloss black paint in my fave shade of black – Onyx by Benjamin Moore – was applied.

Tin ceiling from a Queen Street store renovation provided the panels which replace the glass in the cabinet doors.
PHOTO: Christine Roberts

The window hardware was reused for the handles, but new hinges were purchased for the “doors” for smoother opening. Tung oil was used on the reclaimed wood top. It’s environmentally friendly and gives a really nice finish. It will slightly deepen the tone and bring out the grain of the wood, and won’t give an overly shiny finish.

A note of caution: always take extra care when working with reclaimed materials. Any paint made in 1978 or earlier may contain lead, so always wear gloves and a mask when sanding or cutting.

All the materials used actually came from the Beach neighbourhood, and everything was either found on the curb or in a dumpster.

The vintage tin ceiling was being removed from an old store on Queen Street and was in a dumpster when I spotted it. What a shame if it had just been dumped into a landfill site!  The history and character of the ceiling tile is part of what makes this piece original and interesting.

You can find me selling upcycled and reclaimed wares at the next Leslieville Flea on Sunday, April 20.


Christine Roberts, BAAID, is a co-founder of the Leslieville Flea, a designer and stylist for more than 15 years, and a builder of furniture

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