Today, recycling and repurposing are popular methods of reusing discarded items. Harriet Storer of Newton Falls adds an artistic meaning to these practices.
Storer finds one-of-a-kind items and old chairs at yard and rummage sales or sometimes on the side of the road and repurposes them into wonderful works of art. She even creates chairs as planters.
Harriet and her husband, Ray Storer, enjoy the process of repurposing. To Storer, every piece has a purpose.
Harriet Storer is shown with a western-themed chair. Storer, of Newton Falls, has been repurposing old chairs for about eight years.
"I just go to local craft shows and I repurpose items and I sell them at local craft shows and flea markets. I make my chairs to order and all of my chairs are one of a kind, so I can't duplicate them. I pick chairs off of the road and I go dumpster diving. What people throw out, I find. People like to put chairs in gardens and they are pretty inside homes. People like to decorate foyers, porches, bedrooms and kitchens with chairs. I also do childrens' chairs and I sell them to school teachers," Harriet Storer said.
Repurposing a chair is quite a process, but Storer also gives old chairs along with other old items a totally new look and meaning.
"Sometimes if the seat is bad on a chair, we make the chair into a chair planter. I repurpose everything. I use a pair of old cowboy boots as a planter. I make planters with western-style chairs, where I put real cacti inside of them," Harriet Storer said.
Storer said she has been repurposing for about eight years. A visit to a flea market was an instant moment of inspiration.
"I saw other chairs at a flea market and a lot of people were repurposing them and I thought, 'I could do that,'" Harriet Storer said.
For Storer, every individual chair has a one-of-a-kind theme. What was once a seat is now a work of art.
"Purple chairs sell really well. I have done scrapbooking chairs for a woman who had a scrapbooking store," Harriet Storer said. "I do a lot of chairs in Americana style with reds, whites and blues, which are very patriotic. I make a lot of fun chairs, such as an automobile chair where I took old car plaques that go on a wall and I attached them to the chair. I did a Cleveland Indians chair and a Cleveland Browns chair, which both sold right away."
Storer said that finishing a chair for someone takes a long time because she has to find one-of-a-kind pieces, which make each individual chair a unique statement.
"I am currently working on a Halloween skull chair for a customer and it will have lights on it. My husband is a great help as he is the handyman," she said.
Ray Storer said that Harriet restores these old chairs for decoration.
"We find everything from toy rabbits and bears to birdhouses. She repurposes them and recycles and reuses these items. We refurbish these items and we put them on chairs. Everything Harriet does is a work of art," Ray Storer said.
Harriet Storer said she loves restoring small wooden Victorian chairs such as the old-fashioned spindle chairs.
"I like Victorian, but I have to depart from that because a lot of people do not like Victorian. People like vintage styles," she said.
Storer even used animal skulls and bones to complement a western-themed chair.
"I bought a cow skull, but it wasn't a real cow skull, it was made out of plaster, but it looked real. The real cow skulls are expensive. I repurposed this cow skull and put it on a chair, instead of hanging it on a wall. I put a live cactus on it and it looked like a real cow skull," she said.
Sometimes repurposing involves making a few edits.
"Sometimes we take a chair and if it's too tall and a leg is bad, we cut it off. We cut off the legs or the backs and we redo them so they could be reusable," Harriet Storer said.
When it comes to home dcor, some customers like a vineyard or a European tavern, inspired look for their homes.
"I put wine bottles and beer steins on chairs. I drill holes in the chair and I attach wine bottles and steins in different ways. With a drill, you can wire them on and I also use tacking to attach them. Glass is hard to put on a chair, because if it is not attached or wired, it can fall off," Harriet Storer said.
Teapots are another item which Harriet Storer collects and sells. She also repurposes chairs adding interesting fixtures of nostalgia on them.
"I sell a lot of teapots, doilies and I even sold some teapots to the Amish. I take teapots and I buy and sell them and make a collage of teapots. I always sell the big chairs with a pitcher and bowl on them like they had in the old fashioned homes. People who like Victorian style appreciate these types of chairs," Harriet Storer said.
Harriet Storer also likes repurposing chairs as planters, using chairs as an object to hold potted plants. These types of arrangements add character and style to a front porch.
"I like to do flower arranging. When I saw the chairs, it was an idea for something to do and it's fun. I like the creative process of finding an object and making it into something else. I found an old baby buggy, painted it and made it a flower container. It makes a beautiful flower container. I found an old chest, which is in front of my house, I filled it with flowers and repurposed it," Harriet Storer said.
Ray Storer, Harriet's husband, travels to yard sales with her to find the interesting items that she repurposes and also adds to her chairs.
"We will be at a yard sale and she'll pick something up and I will ask, 'What are going to use this for?' She will say to me, 'You'll see.' It's amazing what she does and she is amazingly talented. She is lucky that she has friends who help her. Sometimes we come home and there are chairs on our patio from friends. If her friends see a chair on the side of the road, they call her or drop them off at our house," Ray Storer said.
Speaking of help from friends, Harriet Storer said that her friends would give her a call or drop chairs off at her house if they find a chair. Her friends recognize her creative talent.
"My friends call me whenever they find a chair , it's very kind of them that they think of me. Other crafters in Warren have called me when they find something I could repurpose. A lady in Warren had a dinette set and she offered me all the chairs. I thought that was kind," Harriet Storer said.
Ray Storer said that he and Harriet have traveled to yard sales across the United States.
"We have found items as far as Las Vegas, Nevada, California, and New York. If we see something at a yard sale and she says that we can do something with it, we will pick it up. During the week, we look for yard sales in the Warren Tribune Chronicle," Ray Storer said.
Life is a continuous work of art for Harriet Storer. The creativity and repurposing inspires an endless creative cycle.
"I incorporate these items in my chairs. It's like a giant treasure hunt. One year we went to Wisconsin and we could barely get in the car because we found so many treasures. We have bought things at rummage sales in Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nevada. We have been through all of the Midwest. Wherever there is a sale, we stop," Harriet Storer said.
Jeanine Navarra, daughter of Harriet Storer and resident of Newton Falls, Ohio, was always amazed at her mother's talent of transforming old items to look creatively unique.
"She has always been talented and has a passion for flowers and anything antique. When we lived in Wisconsin, she always had flower beds and when we moved here, she did wreaths and decorations for the wall. She used to sew all of the clothes for my Barbie dolls, and she sewed all of the latest Barbie styles. She also made stuffed animals for me such as stuffed bears , when I was a kid. She always used to tell me that she enjoyed doing flower arrangements and chairs and that doing creative projects was relaxing for her," Navarra said.
Navarra said that her mother always had a good creative and artistic eye.
"She always had an eye for taking old things and making them look pretty, like the old trunk from the 1920's or 1930's , that is in her front yard. She planted flowers in this trunk to make it look pretty," Navarra said.
Navarra said that her mother is a wonderful musician as well. For Harriet Storer the talent doesn't stop with just the chairs.
"She is a wonderful piano player and always loves music. She also plays the clavinova piano. I remember her always playing music and we always had music around the house. Growing up with my mom and dad was like the television show, 'Ozzie and Harriet.' It was always a happy home and I could not ask for greater parents," Navarra said.