One day my father, a skilled carpenter, came home with two solid oak doors that he salvaged from a construction job. They were going to be thrown away. Two perfectly good doors. The family didn’t need doors but we did need a kitchen table. So he took them to his workshop, worked his magic and turned two rectangular doors into a beautiful new round table. It is still in the family some fifty years later.
Necessity + opportunity + vision + skill = something useful and unique maybe even beautiful.
Laura Thomason grew up in a similar family. After her father retired he built furniture, model ships, and whatever else he wanted. He had the time to do and the time to learn and he had a productive and happy retirement. It was a big family - 7 kids - so being thrifty and creative was really a way of life. Reworking, repurposing, was just a part of life. Her dad would fix things to make it work because there wasn’t money to replace it.
About two years ago after Laura’s children, Sam and Rachel, became more independent, and life settled down, she needed something to do. So she took up something new - refinishing, repurposing, redirecting unwanted furniture and pieces into something desirable and artful. She did pieces for herself, for friends, for consignment, and some commissioned pieces.
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Her first piece was the hope chest that her father made for her. Then she moved on to tables, chairs, and everything that she can get her hands on. A walk through her house is a retelling of the ugly duckling fable. Every piece follows the same story line. They were once wanted, then discarded, revived, and given a new and beautiful life. She tells how she rescued each piece from the trash or she bought cheap or was given to her or was unwanted. Then she goes to work on it and changes it into something useful and visually aesthetic.
It drives her a bit nutty when people throw things away that have so much potential. “It could be better than what it is,” she says describing why she selected a particular table, but may be true of all of her selections. So she shops flea markets, thrift stores, the trash, and friends call her with things that they find for her.
Laura’s husband, Mike, tells a story of how she found a large room rug and she had him carry it home, “with a broken hand, mind you,” he adds and laughs. It was coated with dog fur so they steam cleaned it and it looked like new. They used it for eight years. In fact, the neighbors who threw it away noticed it during a visit. “Is that our old rug?” “Yes, it is,” they replied. “I can’t believe we threw that away.” And that is how it works.
Recently a client approached her about giving new life to a rather large and damaged concrete lawn jockey. The customer wanted it to look like Secretariat’s jockey. So Laura’s handy husband, Mike, repaired the damaged concrete. Then Laura got to work. And the transformation was dramatic. The statue vibrates with new energy. And her client is happy.
The term “hacker” is often used today to describe a person who revives tired or unwanted pieces or who alters the appearance or purpose of an item, but that talks down her skills. Laura sees the potential in a piece, takes it apart, revives it, and then presents it to the world. Hackers see the potential of something that isn’t being utilized so they take life apart and reassemble it for a new life.
“Nothing is useless. You just haven’t discovered its purpose,” Laura says. She says that, “You don’t need to spend a whole to of money to have a nice piece that is functional and nice to look at.”
“I want a project every day. I work on things when I get home from the gym after work. Work all day, work out, dinner, project. I would work on it all night.” She gets caught up in the task. “It gives me tons of joy. It’s like something woke up inside of me and said ‘Wow. You can do this. You have free time and you need something to do and you’re not terrible at it. You have a vision.’“ She is very good so don’t be fooled by this. “It’s been liberating because I get to do what I want to do. Freedom to create, to make.”
And best of all. “It makes me happy.” And she smiles a lot.