Head Title BiDesign

Denise Stoughton | Designer

Dumpster Diving and Other Interesting Home Decorating Activities

Dumpster Diving and Other Interesting Home Decorating Activities Blog Bedroom

Bainbridge Island bears little resemblance to the island of Manhattan, which I called home most of my adult life. Yet somehow, across the space-time continuum (and a 2,855 mile stretch along I-80 and I-90), they are the same - sort of.

I shared my first one-bedroom apartment on Seventh Avenue and Twenty-Seventh Street, across from the Fashion Institute of Technology with two other FIT students. Being the newbie, I was provided a loosely-defined area in the living room to call my own. There was no privacy, the walls were dingy, the carpet was brown (perhaps not originally), the ceiling was cracked, the windows were filthy, and yet, I barely recall any other time when I was so utterly and ridiculously happy with life. With the unchecked exuberance of an off-leash puppy, I ran wild in the streets of NYC to find “cool stuff” with which to personalize my very own 150 square feet of “The Big Apple”.
Now, this was during the gritty but glam, pre-Giuliani days, and, for newly-minted design students, artists, and creatives who found themselves financially strapped, dumpster diving was a viable means of decorating ones’apartment. Both a necessity and rite of passage, dumpster diving in NYC was fraught with danger and delight in equal measure. One might even say it was a precursor to today’s Flea Market Flip.

Dumpster Diving and Other Interesting Home Decorating Activities Blog Bed

As a first-year interior design student, the genius transformation of found objects into fabulous home furnishings, or if you must – dumpster diving, was high art amongst my set. We “re-homed” all manner of curbside treasures. My piece de resistance was a bare aluminum, awning frame that had previously adorned the entrance to the original Catch a Rising Star comedy club. I upcycled the awning by turning it on its short end to create an Industrial Chic bed canopy (upcycling and Industrial Chic were not yet things).

As if it were yesterday, I recall the moment my eyes fell upon its massive, raw beauty. It was four o’clock in the morning, raining, and I was teetering home from a nightclub dressed in some sort of scanty shock-frock and high heels. I crossed Eighth Avenue at Twenty-Eighth Street, and there in front of me, a gleaming hunk of sculptural metal caught my eye. The aluminum frame had been stripped of its fabric sheath, torn from the building, and discarded on the cold sidewalk. The only soul around at that most vacant of NYC hours who could possibly help me lug this beautiful monstrosity down the block to my apartment was a shadowy figure, huddled tightly into a dank doorway, cupping a cigarette. He was shivering (or was it the shakes?), when I sweetly and flirtatiously approached him.

Dumpster Diving and Other Interesting Home Decorating Activities Blog Entryway Dumpster Diving and Other Interesting Home Decorating Activities Blog Dining Room

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, but I knew this thing had to be mine and in my apartment before the NYC Department of Sanitation had their way with it in the morning. Now, I’m not saying this shady looking character shared my Industrial Chic vision of a bed canopy, but he did help me drag it to my building and into the side stairwell. It was too large for the elevator, and, once the super took a hacksaw to one side, we were able to bring it upstairs. Score!

Fast forward thirty years, and I find myself in almost exactly the same position.

Newly single and on the cusp of a second act, I’m reinventing myself on another island: Bainbridge! For the second time, I find myself in a small apartment with a modest budget and, if not the same level of unchecked exuberance, certainly a second wind!

Dumpster Diving and Other Interesting Home Decorating Activities Blog Desk and Dining Room

With the can-do spirit of my younger self, I left an unhappy relationship to start anew. It turns out that it’s much easier to transform found objects into things of beauty than actual people. I let go of my former identity as one part of a couple and a sense of security in order to forge a new, less certain life. Admittedly, it’s much scarier now than it was then, but I’m hoping for an equal measure of danger and delight in the process!

Friends, here’s what dumpster diving looks like today: internet, Facebook Marketplace, Offer Up, Let Go, and Free on the Rock. No, these are not mantras from yoga class and yes, I (almost) met a shady character when I agreed to meet a woman who turned out to be a man at a 7-Eleven parking lot in Bremerton after dark to pick up a “must-have” charming, two-shelf wood bookcase. Honestly, at this age, what can I attribute this stupidity to? I never got out of my car and promptly drove home empty-handed, but that was the only disappointment in an otherwise thrillingly stellar six-weeks of dumpster diving. My piece de resistance? An original Mid-Century Modern tulip table and accompanying fiberglass chairs in excellent condition for $325! I also purchased and glammed-up a dresser for $100 total, and created original air plant wall art from a particularly inspired trip to Home Depot.

I’ve commingled my internet treasures with long-loved pieces, hand-me-downs from friends, and new items from World Market, Home Goods, and Overstock. My new space has a certain balance and harmony. It’s eclectic, modern, and completely me. It brings to mind another time when I seemed to be unfoundedly, totally, ridiculously happy.

Bainbridge Island Design