House as Showcase is the third of in a series of five articles about partnership optimization for the building material reuse community. Reuse Contests & Curriculum Design started the series. 


Reuse Centers: Ways to Optimize Partnerships Series

One of the benefits of starting the Reclamation Administration is that I get to see how reuse centers optimize partnerships within the community. The whole house showcase is one of my favorite collaboration projects.

House as Showcase

For many people “seeing” the potential in a material is challenging.  Piles of hardware or stacks of used lighting components can look like junk.  Retail outlets rarely show inventory without a display area. But reuse centers can be at the mercy of volumes of materials and few workers to organize them. The result is unappealing piles of product on shelves or the floor.  Those of us who can see the beauty beyond the mess find this experience bittersweet.  There are more interesting finds for us, but a person can only buy so much.  Then there is the heartache of seeing all that interesting material languish unused.

One reuse center tackled the issue of material languish by using inventory to decorate an entire house.  Some reuse centers have display areas or even design rooms within their stores.  But a lack of space can inhibit this option.  By using a donated vacant house as a showroom, the reuse center sold items literally off the walls.  Lighting fixtures, outlet covers, doors, sinks, paneling, windows, and many other random household items are displayed for sale in the home.  Walking through the house, customers are able to see the items in context.  Customers could better “see” the material’s potential for their own home. They could also buy the item off the wall hardware and all.

The display house’s interior is ever evolving, which would make an interesting photography project. More importantly the material is moving, being sold to create space for more reusable components.  Possibly the most important element is that people are inspired to use reclaimed materials.  That the transformation of junk to viable product is as simple as displaying it in the right context.  The other benefits of using an entire house is the attraction of interior design to reuse.  The opportunity to stage materials is a great way for staff to show off their artistic skills. There is untapped potential in the artists and craftspeople that work in the reuse industry, especially in the reuse centers (after all, they work with the material every day).

Obtaining an entire house for the purposes of displaying reclaimed materials, is not viable for every reuse center. However, the materials are coming from somewhere and in some cases it’s a house that is being demolished.  There is widespread urban blight in this country. Many municipalities are struggling with abandoned houses and unfortunately entire neighborhoods are being demolished.  Actively using abandoned buildings is an effective way of keeping vandals and crime in check.  There is potential for partnerships in this area if you can just “see” it.

Next Up: Business Evaluations

The Reclamation Administration is a great databank for reuse centers collaborative partnerships. There are a few that stand out as particularly successful models. Partnerships are an excellent way to get exposure, marketing, materials, and revenue, while supporting the local community.

Stay tuned for the next article in the series on partnering with educational institutions to go beyond the medium of reuse.