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Redecorate, Reuse, Recycle

09 January 2024
by Regan Hofmann

Redecorate, Reuse, Recycle

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Give old pieces new life to decorate your home more sustainably

Come January, many of us feel the urge to redecorate. Whether it’s to make room for that exciting new holiday gift or as part of a new year’s resolution to get the clutter under control, this is one of the busiest months of the year for sales of new furniture and other home goods. And while it’s always nice to start the year with a fresh-feeling home space, we try to go about it the Italian way, by giving older pieces a new life.

Amarena cherry container as a vase

Just as food waste is forbidden in the Italian kitchen—think of scrappy favorites like pappa al pomodoro, which starts with stale bread, or leftovers ingenuity like Giada’s mom’s pasta pizza—throwing out a perfectly good piece of furniture is equally unthinkable. Italians are masters of reinvention and reuse, and their homes showcase the same beautifully sustainable dedication to living without waste. From the tiniest item (like washing and reusing food containers instead of buying Tupperware) to the largest (like passing down furniture pieces over generations), Italians are trained to see and respect the value in the things that surround them.

Much of this is because Italians live with layers of history everywhere they turn. They walk past centuries-old palazzos on their way to work, use water fountains built on ancient Roman infrastructure, and shop in centers built to impress long-dead kings. In many cities, you literally can’t dig a hole without uncovering historic artifacts! As a result, they are accustomed to working with what’s already in place, making small tweaks rather than starting from scratch. 

This reuse-and-recycle philosophy can be hard to adjust to from the American culture of newness, but it’s worth the effort. For one, it’s much more sustainable, both for the planet and your bank account. And while it’s often more work to repurpose an existing piece of furniture to fit your needs than to just buy something new, it’s much more fulfilling to look around your home and see the hard work and the stories behind each object you own. 

Rather than running out to the store next time you feel the urge to redecorate, consider these simple swaps:

Try to fix it first. A broken appliance or busted drawer might only need a few minutes of attention to make it work like new again. Before you give up on that item, try searching for repair tips online. You’d be surprised at how much information you can find on YouTube! 

Give older styles a makeover. If you’re redesigning your house from farmhouse cozy to mid-century sleek, you don’t necessarily have to get rid of your old pieces. Changing the look of a cabinet can be as simple as swapping out the handles for a different style, or refinishing it in another hue to fit your new vision.

Panettone tin being used as a card box

Turn single-use items into keepers. You don’t have to go full nonna and keep a cupboard full of old yogurt containers, but try to look beyond the “disposable” label! Interesting glass or ceramic bottles and jars can become vases, sturdy boxes can become storage containers, and so much more.

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