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Debbie Travis house to home: Bring new life to cast-offs

How to turn found pieces into family treasures
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Finding an interesting piece at a yard sale or a salvage yard is so much fun!

One of my very favourite pastimes is repurposing. I’m a scavenger; I wander with eyes wide open through a yard or a field filled with people’s discarded furniture, odd lengths of cast-off wood, piles of stone salvaged from centuries-old buildings, used windows, homeless doors. I’m looking for items that can be brought back to life with a little TLC and imagination. My mind races with possibilities. Those wide barn wood planks would make great benches for the garden. The window frame with layers of peeling paint can be transformed into a picture frame for a collage of nature photographs. And the oversized door that once welcomed guests at a country home is going to be a tabletop. I have just the room for it. This is what makes decorating so much fun. It becomes a journey of discovery.

The most massive renovation I have ever undertaken is the total transformation of an old and very rundown farmhouse and outbuildings in the heart of Tuscany. This was a labour of love to be sure, and took more than four years from start to finish. (Are we really ever finished?)  It is now our beloved Villa Reniella, our family home and so much more. It is here that we hold a very special kind of retreat, offered to groups of women who wish to discover the wonders of Tuscany, chat about their own next chapters, and share in the camaraderie of each other. The restorative power of the breathtaking landscape, the beautiful Italian people, and the renewed buildings is life-changing. I had my job cut out for me with so many rooms to furnish, and my passion for discovering found pieces at little cost and putting them back to use again really paid off. 

On the property is a gigantic barn that we rent out and I wanted it to be comfy and stylish. I visited many street markets, and found all kinds of old goodies in other farmyards. The table with the rich, waxed patina in the foreground was the old front door of the villa. I made a metal frame that it sits on, and the inverted panels are great for piling up coffee table books. The long table at the back of the room is recycled old chestnut wood planks that were originally beams. And to the left, would you guess that the bar is, in fact, an old factory shoe rack?  

If you are craving a change, there are many ways to upgrade cabinets and storage units. Cut out the center of cabinet doors and replace with glass fronts. Alternate open and closed storage space; use interesting baskets, pitchers and crockery to hold utensils; refashion curtain or drapery fabric to hide clutter or cover a table. 

Check out your local hardware store, and think outside the box. Screw on four wheels to the base of a simple storage cabinet, attach push handles, and a tray on top, and you’ve got an elegant serving unit. 

When salvaging, be on the lookout for old building and factory sales. You are sure to discover furniture from a bygone era that has its own special style, has plenty of life left, just needs a new home and a fresh purpose to continue its usefulness.

Debbie Travis' House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email your questions to house2home@debbietravis.com. You can follow Debbie on Twitter, and visit Debbie's new website



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