Crawling out of the standard-materials rut when remodeling -- you know, the conventional idea that counters must be stone or tile, floors wood, yada yada -- opens up a brave new world of possibilities. New alternatives can also save a lot of money and win environmental Brownie points.
For full details, just ask Janet Hall, the San Francisco-based co-founder, editor-at-large and "materials maven" at the popular renovation and home-design website Remodelista.
Hall and her colleagues curate a wealth of mind-bending ideas, many of them from cutting-edge decorators and architects who are constantly seeking never-seen-before concepts for the home.
"Some motivating factors (for switching to new materials) include budget considerations," Hall says, "plus an effort to reduce consumption and repurpose items people already have in the home or that have been used by someone else. Also to add personality, creativity and originality into the design."
Just imagine a multihued herringbone floor made from dirt-cheap steel; old leather belts deployed as curtain rods; rustic barn siding on countertops; inexpensive plumbers piping repurposed for hanging contemporary pendant lights.
Hall's mantra is "Recycling, repurposing and reusing," and that applies to every conceivable safe, practical material out there.
Burlap -- that inexpensive, rough-textured, neutral-toned fabric of feed-sack fame -- is having its moment. Remodelista shows it transformed into window coverings, table runners, room dividers and more. Particularly unexpected was an elegant atelier at the 2013 San Francisco Decorator Showcase from designer Antonio Martins that had not only burlap "walls" but an eye-popping floor of mottled, bluish, cold-rolled steel in a herringbone pattern. Though supremely durable, it didn't look like metal at all.
For DIY curtain rods, Hall says, "We like plumbers pipe, especially if you want a vintage, farmhouse kind of look." If you prefer something sleek and modern, she points to a small, avant-garde light pendant that can be built, again using plumbers pipe, for $60.
Leather lacing, strapping or old belts are also unexpected Hall favorites. She suggests creating folded leather strips "for an instant kitchen or dresser pull upgrade," and deploying leather straps or belts as close-to-the-wall curtain rods. When hung with soft linen curtain panels, this combination creates a clean look inexpensively.
Hall sees another offbeat purpose for leather -- as shower-curtain rings. Just push leather laces through the curtain's holes and tie them around the rod for a country-chic look.
Popular right now -- particularly among young renters who need cheap, temporary decor upgrades -- is colorful Japanese washi tape, Hall says. Though it's more often used to wrap gifts, she explains, "You can use it for a simple wall graphic in bright colors or ... as a visual headboard where you don't have a headboard."
Other kinds of tape are used for witty decoration, too, Hall says, pointing to a rug outline, complete with "fringe," created by sticking white tape to a floor. "It gives oomph to a room when you can't afford a rug." she says. Then there are original kitchen or bathroom designs created with black tape on white cabinets. "It's really fun and cool," she says.
Dump to kitchen
"What goes around, comes around" is particularly true of some of today's most interesting new materials. Recycled glass, paper products and castoff tires are being transformed respectively into backsplash tiles, countertops and flooring.
Hall notes that a burgeoning movement champions use of waste materials in countertops. For example, the epoxy-resin-coated fibers in composite surfaces created by the Richlite Co. of Tacoma, Washington, can include recycled bluejeans, coffee chaff, even banana peels.
These countertops and Trespa TopLab countertops from Trespa International in the Netherlands "are heat resistant, nonporous, durable and warm-to-the-touch," Hall says, while also being inherently antibacterial. Sometimes installed in chemical and biological laboratories because of these properties, they not only stand up to the rigors of kitchen use, but can be purchased for as little as $15 per square foot.
Meanwhile, recycled tires are being morphed into commercial-grade rubber flooring marketed under the name of Activa Rubber by Australia's PRF Group and by RB Rubber Products of McMinnville, Oregon. The Remodelista site is a big booster of this flooring because it's durable, nonslip, colorful, relatively inexpensive and available in either sheets or tiles.
Tile made from recycled glass has been around for awhile, but the number of vendors and choices just keeps accelerating. Not particularly cheap but decidedly beautiful, glass tile -- and now glass countertops -- can burnish not just kitchen surfaces but a homeowner's environmental cred.
As for wood in decor, Hall says, "The whole reclaimed-wood thing has become huge in interiors." Starting years ago at the high end, socialites might have bragged about their fancy new floors imported from an old mansion in France. But today, "It's not about pulling something in from a Louis XIV château," Hall notes. A whole used-wood industry has sprung up, and "it's become more mainstream and more affordable." Getting lots of attention right now is reclaimed redwood fencing. According to Hall, "It's gone into the furniture world, ... into flooring, ... into walls and ... into counters."
Reuse of barn wood, too, has caught on among Remodelista fans. Hall says, "Who ever thought of barn siding as countertops? You've seen it as flooring, but what a fun idea to add some warmth to a bathroom. You get texture and personality with barn siding as a bath counter."
According to Hall, the weathered barn wood used in such applications has been "finished" by years of exposure to the outdoors, so it can be installed as-is. It's virtually maintenance-free and "endlessly forgiving of whatever you do to it," she says.
—'Sliding barn door' is a term people search for on our site all the time," Hall says. "Not only is it visually appealing, but it's also a huge space saver," since these doors don't swing out into a room's floor space. Instead, they roll from in front of the opening along empty wall space on hardware mounted above the doorway.
While Celina Tracy, of Palo Alto, thought the idea of never hearing a door slammed again was appealing, she had other reasons for looking at reclaimed wood during a recent remodel of her family's home. She needed a way to separate the family/entertainment space from the kitchen and dining area. But the door proposed by design pros for this large expanse didn't appeal to her.
"I thought it would look like a conference room door," she says with a grimace. Plus, it would have cost a bundle. A habitué of thrift stores and salvage yards, she selected five old solid-wood doors -- two with small windows -- and had them connected, painted and installed as a large, sliding pocket door. The result is attractive, and it cost about $2,000 less than the proposed alternative.
It has some intangible benefits as well. "We think about how the doors have been around so long, made from these old trees. Their history ... adds character to our house," she says.
To check sources for materials mentioned in this story, visit www.remodelista.com.