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SPECIAL ISSUE: THE AGE OF AFFORDABLE | BOOKS

Successful salvaging with style

November 10, 2005|Craig Nakano

The Salvage Sisters' Guide to Finding Style in the Street and Inspiration in the Attic

Kathleen Hackett and Mary Ann Young

Artisan, $14.95

The authors of this book present themselves as sisters by blood and in spirit, crusaders for home decor with an unconventional beauty. Based on their modus operandi, their moniker is apt. Hackett, a former executive book editor for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, often scours street corners in Brooklyn looking for castoff dresser drawers, which she flips on end and mounts on walls as eclectic book shelves. Young, a stylist for home decor magazines, hoards driftwood near her Maine home for an array of uses, including nature-inspired installations hung on walls.

They share more than 50 such ideas, some of which actually work. Recycling a long oar as a stairway handrail adds personality to a utilitarian space. The aforementioned drawers-turned-bookcases earn points for sheer audacity, not to mention humor. How often does furniture make you smile?

Now, if only the other suggestions were as successful. A neglected concrete birdbath might have some intrinsic, overlooked beauty, but would anyone really use its basin as a fruit bowl, no matter how many times it has been scrubbed? And rolls of toilet paper as objets d'art, even if set in a pretty plant stand?

In perhaps the cloudiest brainstorm, a shard of mirror is declared art -- more "Eeek!" than chic. Detailed lists of materials and how-to instructions are of little use when the projects are this grim. That said, there is value in the book's underlying message -- and a hope that its ambitious projects documented here will inspire salvaging among readers.

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Crafty decorating

Dollar Store Decor

Mark Montano

Universe, $19.95

Don't take the title too literally. "Dollar Store Decor" is a collection of make-it-yourself decorative accessories, not just trinkets of the 99 Cents Only genre. The subtitle, "100 Projects for Lush Living That Won't Break the Bank," is more accurate, though it doesn't take long before that word "lush" gets called into question.

Case in point: wind chimes that only the blind could love, made with a needlessly tortured wire whisk and some innocent, unsuspecting spoons. Worse is a dreadful project involving torn shower curtains to achieve a "car-wash" effect in one's living room. Next time I want to lather my Honda on my hardwood floor, I'll look that one up.

What saves the book are its humble aspirations and lack of pretense. Whereas some other budget-decorating manuals lean heavily on a sassy attitude, slick photography or the overselling of flawed ideas, Montano's book sticks to straightforward crafts projects, many of which are perfectly appropriate for a child's bedroom, a dorm, perhaps a shelf in the home office or the patio at party time. I wouldn't decorate my kitchen cabinets with thumbtacks, but a bud vase wrapped in twine to achieve an earthy, natural-fiber effect? Sure, why not. A serving tray made of dominoes verges on charming.

The book pays off if you enjoy the craft process and appreciate offbeat decor that eschews the kind of assembly-line chic of the Crate & Barrels or Pottery Barns of the world.

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