“You can get good quality here at a minimal price,” says Rachel Liu, 43. “You can create a home with stuff that no one else has.”
A few weeks later, the homemaker showed off the refinished $150 mantel now decorating the brick fireplace in her renovated kitchen. After she sanded the worn piece, its elegant lines emerged from under several coats of paint.
The carved wooden frame hanging above the mantel and the stone tile on the hearth also came from Community Forklift, as did several pieces of furniture in the living room. “This is a way of getting heirlooms without having to inherit things from relatives,” she says.
From the salvaged windows and other recycled elements, she and her husband built a one-room pavilion in a corner of their back yard. “It cost us about $1,500 to complete, compared to the $25,000 that one contractor told us it would take to construct from new materials,” says Derek Liu, 44, a systems engineer.
The 14-by-14-foot structure is enclosed with stacks of the old windows and reclaimed doors so the walls are nearly all transparent. Rachel Liu says the garden retreat provides a well-ventilated shelter to refinish secondhand furniture, such as the beat-up glider given to her by a neighbor.
The type of repurposing practiced by the Lius is growing, as more homeowners look for cost-saving and environmentally friendly ways to renovate. At Community Forklift, sales of salvaged products — from Tiffany-style lamps to toilets — increased from 2011 to 2012 by 46 percent. The eco-conscious home improvement center plans to expand into a nearby 15,800-square-foot warehouse in Prince George’s County in the fall.
“We’re in a time when reuse makes a lot of sense,” says Community Forklift chief executive Nancy Meyer. “The overall contraction in the economy has made people more conscious of how they spend money and make purchases. Due to what’s happening in the environment, there is beginning to be a consciousness about waste and wanting to do things differently.”
Since opening in 2005, Community Forklift says that it has diverted nearly $8 million in construction materials from landfills and enabled 20,000 homeowners to repair and renovate homes.
On a recent weekday morning, business was brisk at ReStore in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. John and Anne Macdonald, both retired Army generals, were hunting for used appliances for their rental property. “The price is right,” says Anne Macdonald, inspecting a gently used $875 LG refrigerator that would have cost $2,200 new. “If you can keep something out of a landfill, that’s good for the environment.”