Upcycled materials blend past and present
Colorful Reclaimed Wood Table
In the 19th Century, the Mississippi River served as a main thoroughfare for commerce; waterborne trade dominated over the undeveloped national road systems. But, before the American steamboat could successfully navigate upstream, it was a one-way highway to New Orleans, both a river and ocean port city, that became famous for its multiculturalism.
A byproduct of this downstream flow is that tradesmen from the north would travel down the river on simple barges to break up and sell with the rest of their goods and then simply walk back north via the Natchez Trace or other popular walking routes. The lumber, in turn, ended up in service to building homes for the growing population of residents. Bargeboard houses were raised all around the port; after Hurricane Katrina, this wood from the north, with all of its history, would come to shine again.
Custom homebuilder Kayne LaGaize started LaGraize Builders with historic renovations. “I loved to work on those old houses,” said LaGraize. “I’d find wood, get it tested. There would be white pine and cypress that tell a good story of how they built houses. I took that mindset into new construction.”
What was Old is New Again
Today, LaGraize is using his expertise in historic renovation to reclaim neighborhoods, building new construction in Holy Cross, St. Claude Heights and Bywater with reclaimed materials in a style that keeps the unique tradition of each community. “I’m interested in making an impact,” said LaGraize. In his homes, you will see accent walls and kitchen islands as among the spaces where he seamlessly integrates upcycled materials.
The melding of old and new isn’t limited to homeowners engaging in renovation or building new construction. Alex Geriner, founder and lead designer at Doorman Designs, works with contractors, demolitionists, salvage yards and homeowners renovating a house to responsibly source material for handmade furniture that evokes a sense of place.
“Using reclaimed wood for furniture or any other area of your house gives your space a really unique and authentic feel that you can’t get with mass-produced manufactured materials. It is a great way to get a very authentic look without paying huge amounts of money for some fancy finish,” said Geriner, who is a huge fan of bargeboard.
“We’ve done custom bathroom vanities that created a really beautiful unique look…It is just one of those things that it is obvious that it didn’t come from a big store and it is obvious that someone spent a lot of time thinking about how to build it, or in selecting its materials.”
Machi Medrzycki, project manager at MLM Incorporated, is a king of reclaiming. He loves the challenge of troubleshooting projects and finding solutions to replacing mechanical and electrical infrastructure without disturbing the original façade.
“We use the old framing for cool features like wall space, backs of islands or ceilings,” said Medrzycki, whose designs also reuse interior doors, refitting them with modern jamb fittings.
The trend of bathrooms taking aesthetic cues from living areas provides an additional space for designers to incorporate the old by recreating a fireplace look with reclaimed brick. Also popular is using small, upholstered seating in the bath space to cultivate a calm and serene atmosphere.
Hurricane Katrina served as a catalyst for many entrepreneurs and social innovators: Benjamin Bullins launched a business out of his love for turning discarded treasures into art. He has turned bicycles into furnishings, and he has even devised a method of transforming discarded materials into scarves.
Bullins also hosts “Dumpster Dive” workshops where he encourages people to ignite their own inner artists through DIY projects. His popular booth will return again to the 2019 Home and Garden Show at the Superdome.
A Look into the Future
The explosive problem of marine plastic waste is mainstreaming what researchers have been grappling with for years. Innovative companies across the globe are working to set up “cradle to cradle” models of recycling and downcycling plastics, testing ways to on-site process polymers into sustainable building materials. If successful, reclaim artists like LaGaize, Geriner, Medrzycki and Bullins could find just as much value in plastic as they do metals and wood.
Is plastic the reclaimed jewel of the future? Only time — and the visionaries with the passion to make it happen — will tell.