Nancy Ranchel
Nancy RanchelOK, I will confess that I am no designer. I have no design degree, though I do have a very good degree—in accounting. And that’s been a useful degree for me for many years. It earned me a living, and since I liked to shop and remodel my house, that was pretty damn nice. But accounting is no longer enough for me. Shocking, I know, but true.

I’ve been working on my house for years. Many, many years. It’s my first house, bought in 1992 with a guy who was gone shortly thereafter. It had 80s beige carpeting, a late 70s orange kitchen, mirrored tile (and not in a good way), pine veneer, and that weird brown 70s composite wood that might not even burn if you put it on the campfire. People told me to move and leave the ugly bathrooms behind, but I loved my wacky house. I didn’t need something bigger, just better. Something that reflected my personality. I needed to put my mark on my house, and moving wasn’t going to take care of that.

I have had a lot of house dreams. I’ve been scouring design mags for years and pulling out pictures, pasting them into a big binder of ideas. And hanging them from the walls. Before I re-did my kitchen I had papered the ugly brown composite cabinets with ‘possibility’ photos. I look at some of the photos now and have no idea what appealed to me when I tore out the page. It makes me realize how much my idea of beauty regarding home design has changed as I have aged and seen more things. Of course, there is no one standard of beauty. There is, however, the possibility of having a house that welcomes you home every day, one that is truly an extension of your personality. That’s what I’m working on, and it’s a blast.

By 2004 or so I had pretty much finished the downstairs remodeling (including floors, kitchen, and new support beams for the house). I used salvaged pickle barrels for the floors, tile remnants for mosaics, scrap metal for a railing. It looked great, but it left me hungry for more. I would stand at the top of the stairs, studying the unfinished rooms and imagining everything that could be done to make the place cool. In 2007 I was unhappy with the status of just about everything in my life, so I decided to focus on what I liked: studying Spanish, Internet dating, and my house. (Actually, I hate one of those things, but I needed the change so it made the cut.)

If I wanted change I really got it with the 2007 remodel. I knocked out an exterior wall upstairs, which required massive structural changes to the interior and the exterior of the house. I’d been using recycled, salvaged, and low-impact products since the get-go, but this time I went a bit nuts. Probably the best day of my life was spent going through the scrap pile at a local blacksmith’s shop and coming up with ideas for a lamp post, porch support, mail box, deck railings, you name it, all made out of scrap. From then on I was absolutely hooked. If I could use a recycled or low-impact product, I would. As long as it looked awesome.

When the 2007 remodel was finished (in ’08), I was ecstatic. My house was totally amazing. Of course, there is still one room that is awaiting a facelift, my deck is falling apart, and I would really like to build a tower in the back yard. So, I keep on accounting, saving money, and accumulating scrap. I hope to make my entire deck out of salvaged metal, stone, and concrete—and brick if I can find it—and spend my entire budget on craftsmen. And designers.

So welcome to my world. There are actually a lot of like-minded people in it. There are lots of us who don’t just want a remodel, but a green remodel. And we don’t just want a green building or house, but a cool, hip green building. I find my house to be a work of art. And yours could be, too. While some of the things I like take a boatload of money (accounting term), some are free. If you have any skills in carpentry or metal–working or installing crap, you’re in luck. I have no skills, but I have plenty of ideas.

And I started thinking—why not share my ideas with others? I may be no expert, no designer, but I try to walk the walk of the bullshit I talk. I have the photos to prove it. So I would like to start sharing and, hopefully, inspiring others. Anybody can lessen their footprint, clean out their garage or their parent’s garage, go junking, and start decorating. And believe me, it’s addictive.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we all used old stuff or recycled products or low-impact products before using something made in China (while polluting the water and the environment) or buying more new plastic items while shipping old plastic items to a dump in a developing country?

Since the low-impact stuff can be super-cool, why not be a pioneer in your neighborhood? Think recycled. Think salvaged. My wish is to inspire people in little or big ways to change their idea of consumption. My passion is house design. So let’s think about our consumption while working on making our houses something fabulous. Trust me, it can be done. All it takes is one step.

If you tell me your salvage design ideas, I’ll tell others. How many people can we get to start being more mindful about consumption or truly concerned about what happens to their household trash?

I believe that shopping is so much more fun when it’s not in the mall. Remodeling is more fun when everything you do is a work of art or a reflection of who you are. And remember, beauty is relative—what you love, you love. So, why not make your home a piece of art with a conscience, too, truly creating a space you love? That’s my challenge to you!