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'Upcycle' finds into something fashionable

Jennifer Nicole Muniz is creating a painting on

Jennifer Nicole Muniz is creating a painting on a window she found. (April 10, 2011) Photo Credit: Barbara Alper

It's that time again -- spring cleaning. But before tossing out items sucked into closet vortexes or thrust under beds, consider repurposing them. You'll get the feel-good effect of being "green," while perhaps saving some green, too.

A number of Long Islanders have turned to "upcycling," which is finding new, creative uses for materials that would otherwise be bound for the trash. Meet some who have even spun the pastime into a business:

'Found' jewelry

WHO: Alice Sprintzen, 64, of Syosset

WHAT SHE USES: Keys, clock springs, clarinet key pads, typewriter balls

WHY: The retired high school art teacher got her start in jewelry making by setting buttons and halved marbles into necklaces, but bike rides around her neighborhood provided more unlikely objects, such as shards of car lights. Back in her home studio -- complete with a torch, a drill press and a polishing machine -- Sprintzen moves objects around until she sees a figure or an abstract form.

"They have a past meaning, which gives them a greater interest, and when people look at them, it often reminds them of something in their past," she says.

Kind of like "Buddy," a necklace made of a toy globe half, a doll teapot, adding-machine parts, a doll head, a watch part, sterling silver and glass beads ($1,450). Most of her finished jewelry ranges from $500 to $1,000, but Sprintzen says she enjoys the imaginative process of creating jewelry more than selling it.

"We often see things as precious because they're worth more money," she says. "Even something rusty can have a beautiful texture, a beautiful color . . . that could stand next to a diamond."


Reclaimed wood

WHO: Jennifer Muniz, of Huntington

WHAT SHE USES: Scrapped or reclaimed wood and windows

WHY: Muniz knew she was on to something after friends praised her transformations of "hand-me-down" furniture into painted treasures as a hobby.

Two years ago, the Huntington resident went "pro" and started Art in the Garage. The business focuses on restoring furniture, as well as creating handmade signs out of old windows, mostly recycled wood and leftover paint. Muniz collects materials from the side of the road and buys damaged scraps from stores. Construction sites or other people donate leftovers from their projects.

"I think it's really valuable because otherwise this stuff would be junk," she says. "It's so sad when that cabinet has been in your family for 100 years. . . . You don't want to throw it out because it has sentimental value. That's where I come in."

After cleaning and prepping wood and windows, it takes Muniz mere minutes to customize them with paint. But the feedback from projects, like the oxymoronic sign for a grandmother that read, "What happens at Yenta's stays at Yenta's," is enduring.

Says Muniz, "I am never so happy as when I am sitting in my garage and I'm just painting and creating."

INFO: Wooden signs ($10-$50) and windows ($100-$200) available at Greentique in Port Jefferson (631-509-1815) and Nook & Cranny Boutique in Islip (631-277-7600). Muniz's restored furniture ($150-$200) can be purchased at Say La Vie in Cold Spring Harbor (631-659-3833). She also accepts commissions at

Crocheted wonders

WHO: Sue Pohevitz, 48, of Baldwin

WHAT SHE USES: Old VHS tapes, vinyl records, cotton T-shirts

WHY: For Pohevitz, upcycling has long been a way of life. "We grew up in thrift-shop clothing, and I'm always trying to make something out of nothing," she says.

Pohevitz makes purses by crocheting the black strips in VHS tapes. Each bag ($18) requires two full-length VHS tapes and lots of time -- "not comfy on the hands," she says, but "it looks cool."

Also looking the part are her upcycled bowls -- one made out of old vinyl records (she won't say exactly how she makes them) and another from her daughter's pajama pants.

Perhaps the most labor-intensive are her crochet rugs, made from old cotton T-shirts gifted from friends or picked up at thrift stores. It takes 16 shirts to make just one mat. "They don't go far," Pohevitz says.

While she enjoys the fact that she makes "something interesting, rather than have it in a landfill," Pohevitz quips. "It's not like a tree-hugging thing. . . . I think anything going into the trash might have a longer life."


Eco-friendly products made on LI

-Raymond Henson, 67, of Patchogue, creates votive candle holders, soap dishes and coasters out of exotic scrap wood reclaimed from discarded staircase balusters. These items ($8-$18) are available at The Shoppe in WH Design Studio -- Architect + Gallery in Patchogue (631-289-0033,

-Rita Palma, 48, of Bayport, makes pillow shams made of 100 percent cotton loom leftovers from an Islip sweater factory. The casual shams ($11.50 for a 16-inch square cover, $13.50 for 18-inch) are available at Rita's Real Foods in Bayport (631-883-6303).

-Doreen Kulich, 51, of East Northport, fashions belt buckles made of old license plates and bobby pin trios with found buttons and earrings. These accessories ($23-$27) can be found at Kulich's online store (

-Dora Morris, 49, of Garden City, produces reusable and washable cotton/spandex grocery bags in a variety of prints such as zebra, flower, and paisley to avoid wasting plastic bags. The bags, dubbed Adorables by Dora, are $14.95 at


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