- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Everything old is new again once Gloria Capron gets her hands on it. The head of Gloria Capron Interior Design in Kensington, Maryland, takes discarded items such as rusty window grates and forgotten barn wood and transforms them into elegant furniture and accent pieces.
Ms. Capron's recycling touch doesn't apply just to rustic interiors. She also can bring a touch of the old into contemporary settings straight out of an Ikea catalog.
Clever homeowners can follow Ms. Capron's lead and, with a dollop of imagination and care, bring new life to discarded iron, stone and wood.
Her house is chockablock with recycled wonders coffee tables fashioned from metal window grates and topped by glass, old church decorations doubling as wall art and windowsills crammed with re-purposed decor, their bumps and irregularities more than welcome.
Often, she does nothing to these pieces beyond judiciously placing them around the house.
"I like to have them 'as is' if I can," she says.
The interior designer helps clients with both contemporary and classical traditions, but she takes special delight in dropping an antique piece into a modern home for the ultimate accent.
Items such as Ms. Capron's zinc sculpture, with its copper patina adding a crush of color, can enhance nearly any home with a little bit of creative daring.
"People find it very difficult to blend the old and the new. It takes a trained eye to pull it all together," she says.
Ms. Capron also combines old items into one finished piece, such as a generously sized table outside her kitchen made from unwanted barn wood and old Victorian house parts, topped by tile.
Most of her home's windows are decorated not with draperies, but with window grates.
"I love silhouettes and the way the light comes through them," she says.
Homeowners can hit their local antique shop for similar items, she says, often at reasonable prices. Dealers, not seeing the potential such random pieces have, might charge little for such items. They may be happy to have the space for more established antiques, Ms. Capron says.
She also hits salvage yards for material and keeps her eyes open for possibilities on road trips. One such trip detoured to an old silo where she picked up a dilapidated decorative column that now stands in her home.
A handful of artisans appearing each weekend at Eastern Market in Southeast also rely on recycling to create their wares.
Riverdale Park artisan Luke Loy recalls seeing heaps of abandoned machinery gears and cogs around his childhood home, a farm north of St. Louis. Today, he uses old chains, wrenches and gears many of which come from older farms to create unique clocks and tables.
An engineer by trade, Mr. Loy says the various metal pieces can be unforgiving. Attaching different metals together can be a chore, he says, and some pieces have rusted over time.
"Sometimes things are fragile. Cast-iron pieces may shatter" if dropped, he says.
Metal parts are hard to find locally, so he takes occasional trips to Amish country in Pennsylvania and relies on a friend who lives in North Carolina to scour local farm auctions for scrap metal.
Another Eastern Market artist, Alexandria photographer Paige Ireland, discovered last year that her recycled wood frames were drawing as much interest as her prints.
The idea to use discarded wood for her frames took hold while she was standing near a Capitol Hill Dumpster.
"We snagged a bunch [of wood], and I started teaching myself carpentry," Ms. Ireland says.
Using the scrap wood for her frames became "something I could do without a major investment, would be unique and would honor the wood," she says. So she began to create frames made from the wood, often culled from old wooden floors.
"It started out from an aesthetic point of view, but I've always been a strong environmentalist," she says.
At first, she framed only her own photographs. Soon, customers at Eastern Market began asking if she could make frames for their own prints.
"Enough people started asking me that I turned it into a profession," says Ms. Ireland, who created her home-based Artisan Frame & Photo Works business in April.
Using old wood grants her a certain artistic freedom.
"They can be beat up," she says of the pieces. "I process them as little as possible."
She finds old wood at building renovation sites and by keeping in touch with area contractors.
A Scranton, Pa., artisan looks to even older materials for his inspiration. Bob Muller, a self-described "architecturologist," transforms scrap tin from century-old buildings into original mirror and picture frames.
The source material dates back to the late 1800s, Mr. Muller says. Buildings from that era until the 1940s featured ceilings made in part of tin. World War II and its demand for scrap metal prompted builders to turn to other materials, says Mr. Muller, who travels south each Saturday to peddle his wares in the District.
The source material isn't an inexhaustible supply, though.
"It's getting harder to find," he says of the tin scraps, many of which come from New York City office buildings. He often buys salvage rights to such projects to lock in potential tin.
The real work begins once the salvage rights are secured.
"It's a dirty, filthy job. You get covered with soot," he says of lugging the metal around. He takes the tin to his shop and cuts it into more manageable pieces. The tin is wrapped around a frame and nailed in place. The old paint is stripped away, and a new paint wash is applied. Then Mr. Muller rubs steel wool over it to let the tin pattern emerge. The last part of the process involves lacquering the finished product.
"It's not hard, but it's a lot of work," Mr. Muller says. "We do it all by hand."
The results are both unique and environmentally friendly.
"It has a nice, old look, yet it's a nice, clean piece," he says. "They look sharp, and they have character because they're 100 years old."
His clients respond to the history behind each frame.
"I can tell the customers where they came from," he says.
Prices for his work vary, but he says a 2-by-4-foot tin-framed mirror might cost about $350.
Ms. Capron says recycling found goods satisfies her interest in fine craftsmanship. The pieces she finds often display a far greater attention to detail than items manufactured today.
They also speak for themselves each crack and chipped flake of paint bestows character and visual panache where a new piece might not.
She says the impulse to recycle started innocently enough during childhood.
"I've always been dragging things home to mother," she says. "I hate to throw it away."
The pieces often bear a whiff of nostalgia, particularly the story of how each item was found.
"They're memories of days gone by," she says. "I might have dragged it back from a road trip from friends. It's a bit of a memento."
Sometimes, memories can be painful, and recycled goods can be as well if the homeowner isn't careful. Potential splinters or lead paint can lurk amid the findings. Ms. Capron suggests buying a lead detection kit, which can be had for less than $10, or asking a contractor for help to determine if an antique piece contains lead paint.
She understands that not every hunk of the past can be part of a home's future. She often will prop up a new used item along one of her home's walls.
"I'll hang it up and take it all in for a while," she says, patiently waiting for inspiration to strike. More often than not, it does.
"We can always figure out a way to use it," she says.


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