Never good with a glue stick, I was excited but understandably apprehensive when invited to participate in the Upcycle Challenge at the Toronto Fall Home Show.  The challenge involves designers, stylists, DIY mavens, handywomen, and even super models, transforming pieces from Habitat for Humanity Restores into inspired items for auction to support the charity.  But, there’s nothing like trying something new, right?



With less than three weeks to find a suitable piece and create something compelling, I began researching my options. Did you know that Restores post a lot of their items on Kijiji? A great place to start. I found a small side table at the Carlaw store – so unattractive it was with fur accents on the lower shelf, I thought it would make an excellent “before” picture, thereby amplifying the degree of change I might be able to instill. Alas, when I called to check if it was still at the store, no luck. Already gone.

I chatted with store manager, Carla, letting her know I’m a professional organizer, and that a storage piece would be ideal. I could hear the excitement in her voice as she described two pieces – first, a medium scale child’s desk (very hard to find in new offerings) and second, a bar cart, on wheels, with drawers that have – wait for it – dividers (swoon!), shelves (open storage) and a cabinet (closed storage).

She had me at drawers with dividers. I rushed over and, with the help of staff, hoisted the sturdy, solid wood cart into the back of my CR-V, silently thanking myself for not having traded it in for the ever-so-cute Fiats I’m spotting all over the city. Downsizing my car is not in the cards just yet!

Now, what to do with the beat up bar cart?  So much potential.

No doubt, it could definitely be brought back to life as a bar cart, in homage to the current Mad Men mania.  But I wanted to take it a little further.

The height of the piece and the mix of closed and open storage spoke to me, but it was the divided drawers that screamed office supplies, so I decided to create a ‘home office workhorse’.  I need to pay my respects to what I consider a pivotal place in the modern home, the home office.  If you can establish a functional home office, you can drive productivity in both your personal and your professional life. It’s powerful.  I find home offices often lack functional storage. There might be a bookcase and a filing cabinet, but cabinet space and drawers are under-appreciated.  This storage piece would be a great addition to many of the home offices I’ve been privileged to visit.



To make over the bar cart, I would need to decide on the colour, finish, drawer linings, and hardware.

Step 1 – The finish

I contemplated stripping, sanding, priming and painting the cart myself, but I figured that a public piece was inappropriate to practice on.  Plus, my hope is this piece will raise some money for Habitat Toronto. So, to my rescue, Benjamen Furniture Refinishing (1) who generously agreed to support this project.

So, what colour?  I always start organizing by focusing on function, but finish by making a space as inspiring as it can be.  In my office, I have two large, bright orange bookcases.  In addition to holding a lot, I find the colour energizing.  So orange would be the colour.  But, which orange exactly?  More on that later.

We chose a durable paint finish that is tough enough to stand up to daily wear.  A satin finish adds some energy to the fairly square piece.


Step 2 – Drawer Liner

The felt drawer linings were well worn. To re-line them, I hoped to find an in-stock wall paper in a geometric pattern with an accent of bright orange. It was this orange I would use to pick the paint colour. I could see the paper in my mind – it all came together there.  I visited a few local paint and wallpaper stores but saw nothing that fit the bill. I gave up on orange accents and bought this black and white, classic paper.

Back to the orange paint. I found a paint chip (2) that most closely matched my bookcases (by carrying a drawer from the bookcase around several home stores) and took that with me to Benjamen.


Step 3 – Hardware

The existing hardware was a beautiful, old brass with a gorgeous patina.  It would complement the orange. A nod to Hermes, perhaps, and their timeless orange and brown.  Keeping the hardware, though, would remove an important element of the transformation, so I inspected a few hardware aisles until I found something I thought would refresh the piece.

Lowe’s had a selection of hardware I hadn’t seen elsewhere, and a few silver pieces stood out. I chose a shape that mimicked the rectangular drawers. (3)

Upcycle Challenge - Clare Kumar - Bar Cart

While there, I decided to take a peek at the wall paper selection. It was larger than comparable stores and to my surprise I found a stunning orange, red and white geometric paper (4).  Yes, it was after I had selected the paint colour.  I didn’t know if it would be a match, but my colour sense told me it was close enough to work.


Our eyes often correct slight variations in colour.  I remembered a photographer’s advice to my family when we were preparing for a family portrait.  We were five people with as many different personal styles and a range of skin tones.  He advised choosing no more than two colours for the photo, and to wear solids. We chose red and black.  It didn’t end up mattering that we all wore different reds. The photo worked.  So, out with the classic, but slightly uninteresting black and white paper, and in with this gem.




A simple photo of the bar-cart now home office-workhorse would have shown a dramatic change, but I think it’s important to take the viewer a little further on the journey to evoke a more complete transformation.  An office vignette was necessary.

Using the paper as a liner was lovely, but hidden from view, so I chose to use it to embellish standard office accessories – magazine holders and storage boxes for the open shelves (5).  I love bringing form, function and fashion together.

Pinning wallpaper to a cork bulletin board added height.  I played with a few of my own office accessories respecting the colour palette, until I found a composition that spoke “inspired office”.


Here it is fully stocked with paper, office tools, magazine holders, organizing boxes, and more. I dare say it’s deep enough that you could stash a little Mad Men mix behind the magazines if you wanted to.

Come and see all the inspiring makeovers on display at the Fall Home Show between September 20 – 23, 2012. Better yet, come say hello when I present “Living an Organized Lifestyle” on the Mainstage. (6)  And bring your organizing questions. I’d love to see you there.

UPDATE: It was a real treat to see this piece featured in both the National Post and the Toronto Sun, and an honour to have the delectable design duo Colin and Justin rave about upcycling.

UPDATE: Bidding and Voting are closed, but you can click on the links below to see results.

If you would like to vote for your favourite upcycled piece – visit the Upcycle Challenge Voting Page.  Voting open between Sept 10 and 23rd, 11:59pm.

If you would like to bid on a piece, click on the Upcycle Challenge Fall Home Show page. Bids open until September 25th, 2012.

Special thanks to Lowe’s for contributing the paper and hardware and to Benjamen Furniture Refinishing for stellar work with the paint sprayer.



1. Furniture Refinishing

Benjamen Furniture Refinishing
104 Kenhar Drive, North York , ON M9L 1N4
Owner/Manager: Ben Oshana


2. Paint colour

Behr Electric Orange


3. Hardware

Madison Knob $3.97 each, Lowe’s Home Improvement


4. Wallpaper

Accent Walls from NextWall in Moroccan Red/Orange – $39.95 per roll, Lowe’s Home Improvement


5. Office Organizers

Flyt Magazine Holders – 5 for $2.99, Ikea

Kassett DVD Boxes – 2 for $7.99, Ikea


6. Fall Home Show – “Living an Organized Lifestyle” Presentation

Thursday, September 20th – 3pm

Friday, September 21st – 5pm

Saturday, September 22nd – 11am

Sunday, September 23rd – 11am


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