Upcycling leads to new business for CH duo

Dori Nelson-Hollis and Jessica Schantz at their workshop in Cleveland Heights.

Many of us, at some point, have dreamed of finding the courage to leave our jobs and careers and reinvent our lives.

Cleveland Heights residents Jessica Schantz and Dori Nelson-Hollis are next-door neighbors who, unbeknownst to each other, decided to leave their jobs—as CSU lecturer and HR executive, respectively—around the same time. Both sought more personal balance and alternative ways to channel their creativity.

By pure chance, they bumped into each other while shopping for tools needed for their own home-restoration projects.

“Dori was refinishing a dresser cabinet, and I was trying to re-do my kitchen without buying all new materials,” Schantz recalled. “We realized we had a common interest in DIY-remodeling projects, and we both had supplies we could share. After that we started helping each other as we taught ourselves how to fix things.”

According to Nelson-Hollis, “A couple of months before the pandemic shut everything down, we saw our neighbor leaving several antique chairs by the curb for trash pickup. They were old yet beautiful and full of potential, and just like that our collective lightbulb lit up.”

As residents sheltered in place and tree lawns filled with unwanted furniture, the two went treasure hunting, looking for discarded real-wood objects and furnishings with interesting craftsmanship, textures and details. Together, they founded Upcycle Design, and are breathing new life into pieces once destined for the landfill.

Their first commissioned project, in summer 2020, was designing and constructing a large conference table for a law office out of a dining room table found at a flea market. Since then, old doors, frames, wood boards, windows, trims, and all sorts of furniture and textiles have been re-imagined and transformed with new purpose and rediscovered beauty.

The duo’s design ethos is simple: re-imagine instead of buying new—an attitude that extends beyond physical space. On their website, www.upcycledesigncle.com, they note that Americans discard more than 11 million tons of furniture each year, according to Waste360.

“It is about cultivating a mindset of appreciation for the things we already have, valuing their history, and embracing the potential for transformation,” Nelson-Hollis explained. “In re-imagining their spaces, people can discover not only the joy of creativity but also a deeper connection to their environment and a more sustainable way of living.”

Their work has had a positive effect on the community. Residents contact them to have furniture repaired, refurbished, and re-imagined, enabling them to find new purpose for forgotten or unwanted pieces. People alert them when potential treasures are spotted on tree lawns, and call to offer excess or discarded building materials. (For the latter, Schantz and Nelson-Hollis often suggest the materials be taken to Rebuilders Xchange in Cleveland, a circular-economy hub and architectural salvage business for builders and designers.)

In the near future, the two plan to offer workshops for those who want to learn how to repair or repurpose their own pieces.

“As we look forward to spring cleaning, rather than succumbing to the constant urge to buy new things to refresh our homes, try shopping in your house first,” suggested Nelson-Hollis. “There is no need to buy new furniture to refresh a living space, especially here in the Heights where 100-year-old homes are filled with wonders that only need to be seen with different eyes in a different space and with a breath of creativity.”

Readers can find Nelson-Hollis and Schantz’s designs at Made Cleveland on Coventry (where Schantz also works in the office part time), and by visiting their website and following them on Instagram @upcy.cle.design.

Catalina Wagers

Catalina Wagers is a resident of the Fairfax neighborhood. She supports causes and programs focused on the advacement of NEO through better access to education, policy advocacy, and environmental protection, and is co-founder of Cleveland Heights Green Team.

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Volume 17, Issue 3, Posted 3:02 PM, 02.28.2024