My Place or Yours: Bath Houses, Potholes, and Landfills, Oh My!

Photo Source: Un Jour Un Artiste

Photo Source: Un Jour Un Artiste

I love to see old and common things put to new uses.  It really became a hobby when I rented my first grown-up apartment and got to pick out my own furniture (I think I singlehandedly funded Etsy that year).  Except for my (broken, sunken-in-the-middle) Ikea couch, all of my furniture is antique or upcycled.  I’m writing this post right now from atop an old barn door desk with porch column legs.  (Can take the girl out of Wisconsin, but can’t take the farm out of the girl.)

It’s in that spirit, that I bring you a few of my favorite re-use projects:

  • As with the beginning of any good story, this one starts in a bath house in Paris called Les Bains.  After nearly 130 years (most recently as a popular night club), the building sits empty for the first time ever…empty and full of decay and debris. Though the owners plan to reopen the space in 2014, they wanted to do something to honor the bohemian history of the building before renovations begin.  The space, which played host to Warhol, Basquiat, Proust, and Prince was opened to 50 international street artists with permission to paint, build, and draw all over everything (I know some 3 year-olds who would dig that).  Sadly, the doors to this makeshift art gallery were never opened to the public, and as of today, May 1st, the work will be systematically dismantled to make way for contractors.  However, a few photographers were granted exclusive access to document the artists and their work – you can see a selection of their photos at This is Colossal, if you’re in a rush, or see all of the photos at Un Jour, Un Artiste – there’s some really mind-blowing stuff in there.
  • The Guerilla Gardener – Steve Wheen transforms potholes in East London into miniature gardens in this video, “Holes of Happiness.”  His goal, he says, is to create “unexpected moments.”  And apparently lots of people found this as charming as I did because an entire book of his little gardens was published last year.   He’s even gardened with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall – after which he wrote, “Next time we go gardening together she promised to bring Charlie…”  I want to be British, so that I can say cute Britishy things about the royal family. I also want Steve to move here and garden my fire escape. I’m telling you – he could make a killing in NYC where the average backyard is the size of a pothole.   Wheen’s blog features updates on new mini-gardens as well as mini-garden submissions from all over the world.  It is literally impossible not to “awwww” when watching this video.  If you don’t, you are the Tin Man.
  • The Landfill Harmonic – is an ongoing music project in Cateura, Paraguay – a slum built on a landfill where most of the inhabitants make a living collecting and sorting nearly 1500 tons of refuse a day.  Members of the local community saw an opportunity to refashion some of the garbage into instruments for the neighborhood children and turned oil cans into cellos, scrap metal into violins, and piping into saxophones.  Check out this short video about the orchestra, and you will be amazed by how beautiful they sound.  As the orchestra director said, “The world sends us garbage.  We send back music.”

What are your favorite ways to reuse everyday materials and spaces?!

(My Place or Yours is a regular feature about places and spaces doing cool things.  Please submit your ideas to thewonderistblog@gmail.com!)

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