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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Fair
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Eco-conscious remodelers and artists find treasure at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore
One person's trash...
Some get lucky: This never-used walk-in tub was a fortunate find for remodeler Cathy Swanson-Hayes. For more photos, click gallery, above.
Credit:Timothy Hughes

There's a word for the fortuitous finds that delight would-be remodelers shopping at Madison's two Habitat ReStores. It describes the moment they discover just enough flooring to cover their kitchen, or the amazing light fixture they didn't know they needed. It's a word that both homeowner Cathy Swanson-Hayes and artist Richard Jones used when describing the process of unearthing their Habitat ReStore treasures: serendipity.

Since 2001, Habitat for Humanity of Dane County's ReStore has offered new and used building materials at discounted prices at 208 Cottage Grove Rd. A west-side store at 5906 Odana Rd. opened last summer. Volunteers staff the stores, and each year the proceeds fund the construction of three Habitat for Humanity homes in the county.

Swanson-Hayes discovered Habitat ReStore three years ago. She wanted to redo her 1957 kitchen. After her first purchases, a sink and countertop, she was hooked. Little by little she added "new" cherry wood cabinets, granite countertops, light fixtures and glass blocks - all found at the ReStore.

She had fun picking out a variety of decorative doorknobs and handles, some of which came already paired, for all the cabinets. "This got to be just downright joyous," she says.

Swanson-Hayes, who has multiple sclerosis, also wanted to redo her bathroom. "I wanted a walk-in tub, and can you believe the ReStore had a walk-in tub? It was one year old. It had the sticker still on it."

Instead of paying the sticker price, however, Swanson-Hayes bought the tub for $750, less than a fifth of the retail cost.

Not all of her purchases have had such a straightforward purpose. "I don't always buy things and then use them right away," she says. "If you kind of leave your mind open, you can find things and figure out some way to make them blend that's pleasing."

Richard Jones, glassblower and owner of Studio Paran glass at 2051 Winnebago St., takes a similar approach to his Habitat ReStore shopping.

"Some of the best things I've found were not anything I was looking for, and some of them I didn't even know what I was going to do with. But I knew they had an inherent value. The material had integrity."

Jones uses supplies from Habitat ReStore for artwork, as well as building materials for the apartment he's renovating next to his studio. He is one of over 70 artists participating in the Habitat ReStore Salvage Art Show, running April 19-June 2 at three Dane County galleries.

For last year's show, the medium Jones selected from Habitat ReStore was glass, the same one he's worked in for 20 years. But instead of melting and blowing it into a tumbler or sculpture, as in his daily practice, Jones sandblasted and engraved plate glass into vases with an architectural bent.

"For me it's an opportunity to do something different than I usually do," he says.

The Salvage Art Show offers artists an opportunity to demonstrate how people can look at objects outside of their traditional function.

"The purpose of art is to try to nudge the world a little bit so you can break those category boundaries and see things differently, and then they can have a new life," Jones says. Vinyl siding, for example, might become the petals of an outdoor flower sculpture.

As an artist, Jones had been searching out discarded items long before Habitat ReStore existed. For a poor but resourceful art student, "dumpster diving was a favorite hobby," he says.

Now Habitat ReStore is working to keep a lot of material out of those dumpsters.

"We divert a couple hundred thousand pounds a year from the landfill," says Frank Byrne, Habitat ReStore's deconstruction manager. Every week he and a volunteer crew rip out flooring, doors, cabinets, lighting and other goods from homes and commercial spaces being renovated or demolished. Home kitchen tear-outs are a common job.

What they collect is sold in the two Habitat ReStores or recycled. Selling copper, iron and aluminum for recycling generates significant revenue for Habitat for Humanity of Dane County.

Habitat ReStore worked with the city of Madison in developing the requirement of a recycling plan to go along with every demolition permit. There was a "need for city government to address city landfills being filled," Byrne says. Fitchburg and Middleton have since added similar requirements.

The deconstruction team asks for a $200 donation per day it takes to rip out materials. This amount can be written off on taxes, however, and homeowners could save on labor costs and landfill tipping fees.

The Army Reserve Center on Park Street, a city-owned property the deconstruction team worked on last November, offers an example of the value they can salvage from a site. They pulled out an estimated $4,000 of sellable material, including oak flooring, as well as $7,500 worth of recyclable metal. They kept approximately 26,000 pounds out of the landfill.

The materials removed by the deconstruction team make up about 20% of the two Habitat ReStores' stock, according to director Jen Voichick. The bulk of it comes from homeowners, local businesses and contractors. Sergenian's regularly donates surplus carpeting and tile, she says. Because of the ongoing flow of donations, what's available in the stores changes frequently.

Some of the items the Habitat ReStore deconstruction team tears out have nostalgic as well as monetary value, such as marble windowsills from one of the old Rennebohm drugstores.

Swanson-Hayes has her own sentimental find from Habitat ReStore - a corner hutch with glass doors identical to one she had in a previous home. "I was just thrilled," she says. She bought the piece and has it in her new dining room.

But even that remarkable catch isn't Swanson-Hayes' favorite item in her Habitat ReStore collection. Her "pièce de résistance," she says, is a Frank Lloyd Wright-style light fixture hanging in her living room. The fixture, which she bought for $75, has four long stems suspending it, and in order to make it fit she had a recess built into the middle of the ceiling. Swanson-Hayes couldn't be more pleased with the result.

"I really like something that gives me some light and also the feeling of height," she says.

For Richard Jones, a load of Duraform was a favorite find. The material is usually used to form concrete, but he's used it to build shelving in his studio as well as stairs leading to the second floor of his apartment.

Both Jones and Swanson-Hayes have also donated items to the ReStore, including materials they overbought or couldn't make fit. "Whatever we could salvage, we gave to them," Swanson-Hayes says of tearing out her old kitchen. She has a "symbiotic relationship" with the stores.

The Habitat ReStore website, lists what it accepts for donation as well as how to contact its deconstruction service. Staff encourages people to fill out the online donation application or call ahead to have their donation pre-approved. There's also a pickup service for those unable to transport their donations.

Before any item ends up on the sales floor it is evaluated for lead, asbestos and other potential hazards, Voichick says.

Earth Day open house

Habitat ReStore East, 208 Cottage Grove Rd., will host its annual Earth Day celebration April 13, noon-4 p.m., with entertainment by Richard Wiegel of the Midwesterners and Truly Remarkable Loon.

Salvage art on display

The Salvage Art Show opening reception, featuring the majority of the artwork, will be held at Artisan Gallery in Paoli on April 19, 5-9 p.m.

Absolutely Art, 2322 Atwood Ave., and Hatch Art House, 1248 Williamson St., will also host several pieces, with receptions on May 3, 5-9 p.m.

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