Students rethink, repurpose, recycle in design competition

Students rethink, repurpose, recycle in design competition

By Stacey Wiedower, Special to The Commercial Appeal

Originally published 12:00 a.m., January 31, 2014
Updated 12:05 a.m., January 31, 2014

Vinyl records as wallpaper and cassette tapes as cabinet doors? Ask a group of college students — the ultimate experts in thrifty living — how to design a small space on a dime, and the ideas are as inventive as they are frugal.

“Thrift stores are my life,” said Memphis College of Art student-artist Ethel Floon. “You can really make something out of nothing.”

January 23, 2014 - Double M, by Bailey Brocato (standing) and Ethel Floon for a design contest for Memphis College of Art students.  (Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal)

Photo by Nikki Boertman
January 23, 2014 – Double M, by Bailey Brocato (standing) and Ethel Floon for a design contest for Memphis College of Art students. (Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal)

Floon, teammate Bailey Brocato and two other student teams demonstrate how far a few hundred dollars can go in a design competition hosted by The Venue Apartments in conjunction with MCA and the Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis ReStore.

Each team of students received $500 for materials, $50 for supplies and a $100 Memphis ReStore gift certificate to use however they wished to redesign a one-bedroom unit at The Venue Apartments, a retro apartment community at 1387 Central in Midtown.

Judging is open to the public through Saturday. Hours for in-person judging are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Online judging, at, ends at 5 p.m. Monday.

“The biggest challenge is that you have to go out and look a lot harder for things,” said Laura Miller,

who partnered with Jessica Vandenberg in the contest. “Maybe you find things on the side of the road that you can refurbish and clean up. With budgeting, it’s a lot more effort searching, rather than just going out and buying ready-made things.”

Miller and Vandenberg crafted tables from wood pallets and a desk from scrap wood and $6 worth of hardware. They also created an art installation on one wall by carefully cutting and mounting lengths of leftover wood trim purchased from the ReStore. That project cost less than $50.

“It’s crazy what you can do with some wood glue and some tape,” Vandenberg said.

For their part, student-artists Evan Lebaroff and Sam Herwehe focused on rethinking existing furniture forms and building items that let the raw materials shine.

“If you’re willing to put in your own time and labor, that makes a huge difference,” Lebaroff said. “With the materials we were able to salvage, we were able to take on projects that, buying raw materials, we couldn’t possibly have been able to financially manage.”

Examples include a breakfast bar/desk Lebaroff and Herwehe built using scrap wood and a beam from a felled mimosa tree. They also found several uses for corrugated tin, among them a wainscot in the living room and a backsplash in the kitchen.

Recycling and repurposing was a big focus of the design competition, said Carrie Brooks, director of career services for Memphis College of Art.

“It was about the ReStore and reusing items, being as frugal as they could and using resources as well as they could for the best results,” she said.

Interior designer Michael Taylor, owner of Midtown-based Michael Taylor Interiors, said any time when space or budget is an issue, he checks out resale shops for cool cost-saving options.

“Vintage furniture, which is hugely popular right now, is usually smaller in scale,” he said. “I saw a great five-piece bedroom suite at the ReStore last week for what you’d normally pay for one piece.”

In a room or a house that’s short on space, Taylor added, organization and storage are critical. He recommends medium-density fiberboard, or MDF, for homemade storage solutions because it’s “usually less expensive and performs better than real wood.”

“Storage, too, can be put in the most nonobvious places,” he said. “I’ve had clients put office spaces under stairways or build storage under stairways. If your cabinets don’t go all the way to the ceiling, you’re wasting space. And if you have a blank space above a door or to the side of a door, use that by putting shelving up.”

Vandenberg said she and Miller worked to visually expand the space in their apartment unit with color. They replaced formerly stark white walls with creamy off-white in a semi-gloss finish, giving the walls a soft sheen that reflects light.

“Before, the color wasn’t very warm,” Miller said. “This cream color feels a lot more warm and cozy and clean and inviting. It was worth the extra money to do to the slightly different white. A large portion of our budget went to paint.”

Choosing or painting furniture that blends in with the walls is another trick that can help open up a small space, added Taylor.

“In small rooms, if pieces of storage or furniture are the same color as the walls, the pieces can sometimes appear invisible, making your space appear larger,” he said.

Miller and Vandenberg put trendy colors to strategic use, as well. They chose orange and turquoise accents because the colors are popular right now, which means they’re widely available at every price point. They also chose multifunctional furniture — a trick all three design teams employed to make the most of limited space.

In their Memphis-themed unit, Brocato and Floon built a Tennessee-shaped table that’s attached to the wall with oversize hinges. It folds up when not in use.

“The chairs, the partition, they’ll all collapse and go into the closet so you can reopen the space for a party,” Brocato said. “It was a really big sticking point for me to make the space convertible for whoever was going to live here, because cramming your whole life into two rooms is a challenge. We wanted to make it a little bit easier.”

Memphis ReStore and Memphis College of Art were already discussing the idea of a design competition when The Venue Apartments approached MCA and offered the ideal “venue,” said Jessica Hord, director of marketing and communications for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis.

“For us it’s about trying to spread the word to more people about what the ReStore is, and most important, what the ReStore supports, which is Habitat for Humanity,” Hord said.

The student teams sourced many items for their projects from the ReStore, but they also shopped other resale and discount stores and scoured sidewalks and family attics. These are tips anybody can use to create a high-style, low-budget space.

“I’m a huge fan of repurposing and making our footprint smaller,” Taylor said.

ReStore for More Design Contest

Judging for the competition, a joint project of Memphis College of Art, the Memphis ReStore and The Venue Apartments, is open to the public. You can view and vote for your favorite project two ways:

Online at through 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3. To vote, view the ReStore for More Voting Gallery and “like” the photos of the project you like best. Each like counts as one vote.

In person at The Venue Apartments, 1387 Central, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. In-person votes count double.

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