The sky is the limit when it comes to what one might find at Scrounger’s Paradise in Asheville, N.C.
My grandparents in Kentucky were scroungers. We had limited resources and were forced to get creative. A piece of driftwood from the Licking River could become firewood (granddad’s way), or, when covered with moss and tiny plastic animals from Woolworths, it became a portable forest (grandma’s way) ready for a child’s imagination. From discounted dented cans of peas at IGA to the occasional gathering of fresh road kill (rabbits), every penny saved was crucial.
My grandma was a Girl Scout leader in a low-income rural area, and she was not satisfied until every girl in the troop had a uniform. This resulted in many trips to Goodwill until the task was completed. Goodwill always was full of treasures and still is for me today. One of grandmother’s other great triumphs of repurposing was what I lovingly call the “bear lamp”— a stuffed animal drilled through its core with a lamp sticking out of its head. Part adorable, part harrowing, I often wondered at what point toddlers questioned their impaled roommate’s fate.
As for the road kill, I never was quite sure what they did with it, but any astute child in the household avoided any form of stew for several weeks.
I consider myself a scrounger, part from necessity, part from the love of “rescuing” something of value. When my mother needed household items after an extended period of illness, I traded pet-sitting duties for a kitchen table and some stools. I scanned charity thrift shops in search of a sofa, and a neighbor dropped off a recliner that someone had pitched. It was bug-free and comfortable, and is still today mom’s favorite perch. I found her a microwave (new in box) at an estate sale for a song.
But sometimes scrounging becomes both an adventure and a business. In Asheville, N.C., Scroungers Paradise is not a Caribbean resort for the frugal-minded, but instead the place to go for lots of stuff one needs or did not know one needed. From Patagonian Rosewood flooring to Shona art from Zimbabwe, Scroungers’ surplus items run the gamut from the unique to the sublime. Pickers, decorators, tourists, home remodelers and, oh yes, scroungers be forewarned—if one needs a door for the sauna or a topographical map of North Carolina, Scroungers probably has it covered.
Owner Mark Olivari is an international type of guy. Born in Japan (the son of a diplomat), he lived in Buenos Aries, Argentina, before his family moved to the United States. This worldly vision translates well to his unique purchases. He imports from Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Afghanistan. Buying up surplus lots from waterfront auctions, going out of business sales and estate liquidations, he’s amassed enough merchandise to fill his 40,000 square foot building and its accompanying five acres. “I look under a lot of rocks,” Olivari said. “You never know what you will find. People have an adventurous spirit and are full of hope. Finding something here is a little victory.”
Olivari’s inventory this spring included bags and bags of lovely blue Lapis Lazuli rough rocks from Afghanistan. This semi-precious stone was popular as among artists such as Titian and Vermeer, as is was used as a fine blue pigment for painting, and is not uncommon in jewelry making.
Also on the market: 10,000 wigs. The 1970s era beauties are waiting for the right head or, more reasonably, heads. The wigs been a conversation starter and many who have found them on Scroungers’ shelves have donned them for a picture or two. Olivio hopes to see the wigs tossed off a float at a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans—he attended Tulane University.
“Customers never know what they will find, and here, everything has a story,” Olivio said.
Kathy Singletary grew up on a farm, where money was tight and hard work was a must for everyone. She learned the value of a dollar and how to be creative with what was available.
“I can’t stand to waste things,” she said.
She’s a genius at repurposing things that most people would not think twice about throwing away, or would walk on by, and the results are amazing and inspiring.
She seeks out items from various locations near her home in Waynesville, N.C—Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Goodwill, other thrift stores, estate auctions, storage lockers. But she’s also got an eye for good wood, whether that’s rescued tongue and groove from a restaurant renovation or pine cones.
Singletary enclosed her deck for less than a few tanks of gas using found bundles of cedar shingles, deeply discounted tiles, reclaimed sliding glass patio doors she made into windows. She carved the left-over cedar shingles into feathers.
Her artistic flair is apparent in many of her projects. She’s used scrap wood to create bear-shaped silhouettes onto which she painted mountain tableaus—a nod to her own mountain heritage. She’s designing a mosaic tabletop for a wrought-iron table picked up for $5 and using 25-cent tiles from the ReStore. She uses the stuffing from bed pillows that have seen better days to make new pillows, made tree garland using bargain fabric, used shutters to make great room dividers and a flea trap to make a bird feeder.
Grace Cathey, also of Waynesville, is a well-known metal artist in her community and beyond. A graduate of Haywood Community College’s reknowned Professional Crafts Program, Cathey studied fiber arts, but came to love metal work after attending a welding class.
“Being a weaver with a fiber background, I see textures in all the metals and it excites me,” Cathey said.
Starting out, Cathey made regular trips to the Biltmore Iron and Metal Company in Asheville, N.C., and scrounged up whatever she could find. “When I first started, I used everything,” she said. “I’d go ‘shopping’ with my big truck and gloves.”
Once she learned about different types of metals, she decided to work in steel only, as it is cheaper and easier.
“When I go to the recycling center still today, I walk around, and I think, oh, there’s a piece of stainless steel, and I look at it and think, ‘what can I do with that?,’” she said.
Cathey’s work features animals, birds and flowers, architectural pieces like gates and delicate looking tables made from woven metal, pipes and springs. Her gallery is located adjacent to her husband’s 80-year-old service station in downtown—oil changes and engine work on one side, wall hangings and sculptures on the other. Cars in need of repair wait in front of the garage bays, while those ready for pick up are parked next to giant metal flowers that often draw in tourists to pose for a picture with them. In recent years, HGTV, Rand McNally Atlas (Editor’s Pick) and others have come calling, and Cathey’s work can be seen on public display at locations such as a small park on Waynesville’s Main Street that celebrates the town’s historic status as the Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.
The Salvage Room in Knoxville, Tenn., provides an opportunity to repurpose with a purpose. The Salvage Room in an outreach program of Knox Heritage, which works to preserve structures and places with historic or cultural significance throughout the East Tennessee community.
“Knox Heritage’s mission is to keep historic buildings intact, so we do not tear down houses,” said Beth Meadows, architectural salvage coordinator. “We are a last resort for items before someone might throw them away. We are always accepting donations of salvage and supplies to help run the program.”
As a result, the Salvage Room is a restorer’s dream. From doors and windows to hardware and fittings, items have been saved from older buildings. Monies raised go support the non-profit’s work.
“Our customers are historic home owners who want to return their home to its original style all the way to those with creative projects in mind,” Meadows said.
Taking repurposing a little further, Knox Heritage annually hosts an art exhibition featuring ordinary furniture and objects used in new ways. “The exhibit not only gives people ideas for their own projects, but it is also a fundraiser for the non-profit Knox Heritage,” said Beth Meadows, architectural salvage coordinator.
“The Salvage Show features artwork and home decor made by local artists and designers using architectural salvage,” Meadows said. “The mission of the exhibition is to raise money for Knox Heritage and to give people ideas for their own DIY projects.”
The Salvage Room is open on Thursdays and Saturdays or by appointment, but much of their inventory also is available online at knoxheritage.org/the-salvage-room. Recent items for sale included art deco light covers, white Subway tile, porcelain and glass doorknobs, and a wooden door with a mail slot from Holston Bank on Gay Street, and carved slate fireplace surrounds.
Knox Heritage’s popular series of fundraising dinners, Summer Suppers, offers an opportunity to explore some of region’s most spectacular historic places. A Mad Men Client Appreciation Party will be held June 21at the offices of Barber McMurry Architects in the Arnstein Building, a seven-story Neoclassical structure with Renaissance Revival detailing, said to be the first steel frame “skyscraper” built in Knoxville. In July the Sand Branch Homecoming pays homage to a tight-knit community of dairy farmers who gathered on Saturdays for a weekly potluck dinner. The dinner featuring tomato tarts, iron skillet cornbread, buttermilk cole slaw is held at one of the community’s original homes built in 1945. From its opening in the 1930s as the Corner Grill, “The Corner” has been a beer joint; the setting for a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s novel “Suttree;” and the favorite venue of Knoxville singer and musician Con Hunley among others. A late August supper will feature the soul singer and updated supper club fare during a swank evening on Central Avenue in Old North Knoxville.
Of course, scrounging also results in some misadventures. My own efforts have resulted in bringing home an ottoman that, unlike my mother’s favorite recliner, was not blissfully bug-free. Some free plants from a local big box store barely survived the ride home, and crossed over soon after. And my first car, a 1979 Ford Pinto, given to me with good intentions, required a quart of oil on a near daily basis, a stick to hold up the hatchback, and for any passengers to wear a hat to protect themselves from the ever-leaking sunroof—I swear it leaked even if it wasn’t raining.
But of all the things I’ve brought home or given away, it’s my thrifty ways that I wouldn’t trade.
You can scrounge, too
Jason Akers, author of “The Scrounged Homestead,” also does podcasts and authors a web site on self-sufficient gardening. He offers these tips for the budding scrounger:
General tips for scrounging:
• Never endanger yourself or others. Many people get this one wrong. The goal is to make your life better, not end up in the hospital or an early grave.
• Never do anything illegal or anything that could be construed as illegal. Get permission always.
• Share whenever possible.
• Make good use of the materials.
What to look for:
The problem many people have with scrounging is that they don’t see the value in the item or items. There is usually a good reason an item is placed in a position to scrounge to begin with. I find that items are put into scroungeable positions for the following reasons:
• Broken — But is the item repairable?
• Old/Worn/Ugly/Out of Date — Maybe the owner found a better or newer item.
• Common — If you have unlimited access to an item then eventually the item loses value to you and those around you with the access. This happens at places of work where scroungeable items are commonly wasted.
• Inconvenience — The item is in the way. People who move often can’t find room for all of their “stuff.”