Heather Jeffery is taking Ottawa’s scrap construction material, odds and ends, and unwanted furniture and transforming them into something new.
At her Alta Vista workshop, Jeffery, the owner of Re4m, upcycles what would otherwise go to landfills to create anything from furniture to museum exhibits and unique decorations. Re4m has built signs for stores in the city, tables for Happy Goat Coffee and a fake red Jeep for an exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Nature
Upcycling, Jeffery said, is taking things that would be throw-out or unused and reviving them.
“Maybe sanding it down, stripping the finish, refinishing it or manipulating it in some way to construct something new,” she said.
When someone comes to Re4m with an idea for a project, Jeffery said she looks through what she already has in her workshop or goes out into the city to find more. Aside from paint and screws, Jeffery said all her building materials are salvaged. Some of the unique items in the workshop include an Italian milk jug from the 1960s, a vintage motorcycle gas tank and street lights from before the city switched to LED lamps, all of which will be used in something Re4m builds.
Jeffery said she was upcycling things as an industrial design student at Carleton University to furnish her apartment, but got started on a larger scale when working as a graphic designer at a retail store. She said the store was throwing out display racks but she thought there could be other uses for them.
“I asked them ‘why are you tossing them in the bin, they still work’… And they said ‘oh it takes too much time and effort to repurpose them or to sell them, so I said ‘oh I’ll take them.’ “
Jeffery used the displays to build two theatre sign style light boxes, which she said she was able to sell for a “pretty hefty profit.”
“I realized the scale of what’s available in terms or resources and I just was like ‘maybe I should be bigger than crafting’, maybe it should be something that’s aiming to make a difference,” she said.
Re4m is focused on diverting as much as possible away from landfills. Jeffery said there is a huge amount of useful material from construction sites and renovations -- like scraps of wood and pipes -- that gets thrown out, in addition to the trash people generate in their day-to-day lives.
“I just felt almost personally responsible, like I’m one of those consumers, one of those people that take something, use it for a day and throws it out,” she said.
While upcycling means less of an environmental impact, the fact that much of the materials she uses are scraps means it’s more of a challenge to actually build the pieces. Many people in Ottawa are already upcycling unwanted furniture, Jeffery said, but nobody else is going to construction or industrial sites to pick through scrap materials.
“Furniture repurposing is definitely trending right now and it’s a really neat opportunity that people are taking advantage of,” she said. “They’re taking furniture and light fixtures that are already made, but I’m building from scratch.”
Jeffery said she hopes more people in the city start to see the benefits of upcycling and how much she is able to build herself. Nothing is made out of pop cans and duct tape, she said.
“When I show them my portfolio then they understand and they go ‘wow that’s so cool,’ but the issue right now is people don’t have a grasp on how dramatic a change can be with recycled materials to something new.”