Plastic pop bottle floral arrangements. Conference tables made of wood from our city's past. Chairs assembled from old conveyor belts. The upcycling movement, where craftspeople are repurposing materials that are no longer wanted or needed into uber-creative, functional works of art, is gaining momentum throughout Cleveland. Upcycling is not only environmentally responsible but also a meaningful way to preserve the fabric and artifacts of Cleveland's rich history. "Everyone loves the story and life behind the materials," says Jason Radcliffe, a steel furniture designer and owner of 44 Steel. "That's what gives the object a new purpose." Here are three reincarnations we covet.
Drew Walker picks through trash, scours estate sales and knocks on factory doors to salvage materials for his upcycled furniture. Take the Singer sewing machine desk ($575). The base comes from an Akron warehouse, and a restored Geauga County barn floorboard functions as a tabletop. A vintage swivel lamp found in the garbage illuminates the piece. "It's awesome to have this Ohio-based material," says Walker, owner of Storyline Design.
Tap Studio's unisex designer rings ($1,280 each), hand-forged from a Virginia refinery's recycled metals, are the epitome of eternal devotion. Both share a sterling silver core sheathed with 18-karat yellow gold. The fissure and urban garden motif punctured with white diamonds add character and a little grit. "They remind me of the stuff that grows in cracks throughout the city," says jewelry designer Todd Pownell.
Metallic gold scrap leather from a Painesville flea market takes on new life as a journal jacket. Gold charms dangle from a long-stitch binding made of bamboo cord, and a snap closure secures the 70-page watercolor paper-filled journal ($20). Each jacket is unique, contrived from business cards, cigar boxes and other vintage finds, says Angela Medgyesi, founder of Curious Conception. "Searching for materials is just as fun as putting the journals together," she says.
Obviously, we're big fans of Cleveland. But so are many others, including plenty of artisans who are using our city as their inspiration for everything from T-shirts and jewelry to pillows and wall art. We're no longer happy with just talking about our Rust Belt Revival — we want to wear it, show it off in our homes and offices, and even dress our pets up in it. "We've been an underdog for some years," says Barry Gott, designer of Smalltower Press. "So when you see something Cleveland, it reminds us of home and what we know is great." Here are three examples of hometown pride.
Iconic Cleveland buildings take on a human form in Barry Gott's print series of whimsical anthropomorphic structures. "I've always loved skyscrapers and drawing weird cartoon things, so maybe it was inevitable," says the Smalltower Press designer, who also illustrates children's books and greeting cards. Our favorite, Terminal Tower eating a grilled cheese sandwich ($18 for a 8-1/2-by-11-inch print), features the landmark munching away. "I think, at the time, I was on a big Melt kick," he adds.
Vintage atlases have found a new direction thanks to Erika Laine Hansen. She repurposes them for her Erika Originals line, which includes earrings, bracelets, cuff links and belt buckles. "On occasion, I'll have a windfall at an estate sale or I'll come across someone who has a whole box of Ohio road maps," she says. With her silver Cleveland/Akron earrings ($40), created using a vintage bezel and secured with acrylic and resin, you'll never be far from home.
After Stephanie Sayre's mom handed her a 1970s craft book on how to make string art last year, Sayre created her first Ohio wall art ($40), with a heart where Cleveland should be. "I made it for myself, but when I posted it on Instagram, a friend asked to buy it," says Sayre. "Now, I've made more than 50." Using a 9-by-9-inch block of stained pine, Sayre hammers nails around the perimeter and inside the heart before wrapping them with brightly colored string. "I still don't have one for myself," she says.