Salvage a Force in North Shore Design

When Melly Schwartz was a child growing up downstate in Danville, scavenging for interesting cast-offs was her “greatest delight.”

“I’m a garbage picker from way back,” Schwartz, of Northbrook, says. ” I love to reinvent things.”

Take, for instance, the black-rimmed oval mirror hanging in the upstairs hallway of the two-story home she shares with her husband, Mitch, and where she raised her three grown children.

“It had an oval shape, so it came to me instantly,” Schwartz says of the odd-shaped ten-speed tire she spied hanging on the wall during a garage sale.

“It wasn’t for sale, but he sold it to me for five dollars,” she says. “Of course I had to wait to find a mirror.”

The tire’s aged and mottled rubber rim looks more like swanky snakeskin than Schwinn-recycling, and a tassel disguises the cut she made in the old bicycle tire to add the perfectly-sized mirror she ultimately found.

But scoring interesting pieces at rock bottom prices isn’t the only reason Schwartz enjoys her hobby. The artist thinks of other people’s junk as her canvas. And she isn’t the only North Shore resident trawling the alleys as a creative outlet.

Evanston resident and mother of five, Diana Durkes started picking up odds and ends when her now-grown, firstborn daughter was a baby, and she was hooked.

“I love the idea of taking nothings and making them into somethings,” Durkes says. “There’s a mental editor inside me that says, ‘What if we changed this? How would that look?’”

Durkes chronicles her continuing adventures and furniture transformations in her popular DIY blog and contributes a monthly column to Time Out Chicago.

While both women do it first and foremost for fun, the public’s growing appreciation for vintage pieces coupled with a heightened awareness about the importance of recycling has created a market for their work. Schwartz works on custom pieces out of her Northbrook studio, Turn the Tables, and sells miscellaneous pieces at the Highland Park shop Baby Dreams.

Durkes also sells her creations through her blog and at flea markets. She just let go her all-time favorite, an occasional chair painted black, the seat upholstered with bright multi-colored ribbons.

“I like to work with chairs,” she says. “There are a universe of styles in a chair, a universe of possibilities.”

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