Designing Saratoga

The Saratoga House: A Few of My Favorite Things...Reduce, Recycle, Redecorate!


Let's open up the project portfolio, shall we?  It's time to have a little fun with found objects...

Since moving into my perfectly imperfect old house, I have to admit that the concept of recycling has taken on new meaning.  Previously, I was a person who prided herself on sorting my paper and plastic, using my faux-fabric shopping bags whenever I had the chance...but it kind of stopped there.  When it came to an addition to my home, I might get creative with my materials and make/build something from scratch, but most of those materials were bought brand-new and built up from there.  I liked the idea of going green, but I didn't necessarily apply it to my home design, because let's face it--it was really easy to walk into the craft store, hop online, or hit Lowes or Home Depot and get everything that I needed for my next "big idea" in one stop.  Digging and collecting what might make a decorating statement took time, and usually between soccer, dance, life, and the like, time was/is something that is in very short supply for an active family of five like ours.

After we settled into our current abode, I began to look at this reusing and recycling concept in a different way.  It started with the notion that our house, which we dearly love despites its eccentricities and unending projects, is a pretty significant example of recycling at its finest.  We love our home, just like the couple dozen other occupants who have lived and loved here for almost a century, but we fully expect it to live beyond our adventures to be loved and cared for by who knows how many others that might occupy it in the future.  I once read that you don't own an old house, you are merely a caretaker for the generations to come, and I find great truth in that declaration.  And once you decide that your house is a piece of recycled art, it is not hard to translate that notion to furniture, textiles, and found materials, because everything begins to look like something that can be made new again.

It also doesn't hurt that my 11-year old daughter is a yard sale princess.  Thursday, Friday, Saturday morning...we head in a variety of directions about town doing our thing, while she sits in the back seat of the minivan with the trained eye of a bargaining-hunting hawk looking for the tacked-up slip of cardboard announcing a sale around the corner scheduled for the current weekend.  And she fascinates me with the care and patience she takes going past each card table full of trinkets, every mismatched display of someone else's castaways looking for the perfect item to take home and cherish...her fastidious tag sale persona inspires me to give new life to something that has already served its time.

So in light of this "go green" philosophy, I present to you three recent projects that involved re-cycling, re-using, and, if I do say so myself, beautiful re-sults:

Looking to make a terrarium of your own?  It is easy to find the perfect recipe for your project online, and we found that the containers that had a cover worked best and only had to be lightly watered once every few weeks

1.       Tureen Terrarium:  This terrarium was inspired by a vendor at the Congress Park craft fair last summer whose name I did not catch but who had a really unique way of reinventing a form of gardening my grandmother introduced to me when I was twelve.  Her containers were so interesting that the kids and I came home and made our own...the main prerequisite being that the container had to be something we found in the house.  This mini glass tureen I bartered for at a yard sale and used years ago to display colorful candy in for a spring it dresses up my dining room table all year round with a living, textural design element that brings life to the table even in the middle of winter. 


This picture really doesn't do justice to the great texture a sweater brings to an item like a pillow--for added dimension, use a different fabric on the back

1.        Warm and Woolly Sweater Accent Pillow: Have any sweaters you don't wear anymore but can't bring yourself to send them off to goodwill?  Make them into pillows for every room of your house instead.  One of my ace sewing/knitting friends gave me the key to this project--measure how big a piece of the sweater you will need for your pillow, then add an inch in every direction and sew a continuous line around it before you make any cuts in your sweater.  This prevents the knit from unraveling and then you can treat your sweater just like a thick piece of cloth.  In this instance, I used the unfinished panels of a sweater I had been knitting for my son to make a great statement on our living room chair--and although he was a bit disappointed I never got around to finishing his pullover, he likes the idea that this is his special pillow to watch tv with.

trio pink bath.jpg
You aren't even limited to the strength of your glue gun for what you could display in a little frame like this...heavier items could simply rest on the base or be nestled in the corner of the box

1.       Miniature Toy Art Shadow Boxes:  Did your children ever receive any toys, especially when they were little, that warmed your heart every time you saw them?  And then of course those same children grew up and got bored with said item and tossed it aside?  Time to turn that piece of parent nostalgia into a bit of art.  These cards were a part of a memory game my daughters received from a distant relative when they were preschoolers, and I was fascinated with all of the intricate little pictures on each card.  In order to justify keeping them in my house, I painted unfinished wooden shadow box frames with leftover paint from my hall bathroom and adhered one card to the back of each, forming a trio of frames that look perfect in the narrow space I needed to fill.  The same could be done with any memory item, not just a flat piece--a rattle, figurine, shoe...the possibilities are endless, and not only is the end result unique to your family, but interesting to look at as well.


So the point here is that it is time for us to look beyond all that is new and shiny and start doing a little shopping in our own basement (or quite possibly our neighbor's discard pile) for the latest fabulous addition to the place we each call home.  I hope these ideas get your wheels turning...remember, the sky's the limit to what you can come up with when you go green!

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I don't know how I missed this post when you first wrote it, but it's one of my faves! You know I'm all about the re-purposing (remember my reusable shopping bag from a sheet that had ripped?) - and you've given me some great ideas! I love the pillow idea. Even if you were to get a sweater from a yard sale or thrift store, you would spend pennies compared to buying fabric and have such a wonderfully textured prize when you're done. Thanks for putting your time into this!! Love it!!

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Kimberlee Billok
From humble beginnings redecorating my childhood bedroom every few months much to my mother’s chagrin, to years of life as a military spouse making short-term stops our own, to finding myself in Saratoga Springs in a 90-year-old home in need of lots of TLC, I have always enjoyed honing my home decorating and design skills in pursuit of making a house a home for the most important people in my world, my husband Mike and our three children. In pursuit of this goal/obsession I have put my undergraduate studio art studies to work, as well as the unofficial HGTV degree I’ve earned under the tutelage of Vern Yip, Genevieve Gorder, Candace Olson, and the other pros who make us all feel as if we can create as they do. I’ve had the good fortune to have numerous colleagues, friends and family who have trusted me enough to allow me to design their spaces as well, and even redecorated the office of my children’s elementary school principal, which although intimidating, was quite a good time (think a juxtaposition of animal prints and sharpened pencils…luckily she loved it!).

Outside of the decorating/design realm I inhabit in my free time, I am fortunate to spend my days teaching 3 and 4 year old preschoolers here in Saratoga, who can’t help but inspire me to be creative on a regular basis. So since every part of life is an adventure, please join me on this one…combining form and function, design and real life, making each room feel beautiful, comfortable, classic, and personal. All wrapped up in a structure that has been in existence before the invention of spray paint (it’s true—I looked it up!). Here goes!!