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Saturday, September 10, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Salvage sisters see treasures where others see trash

Special to The Seattle Times

Experience the salvage sisters


These artsy Lynnwood women sell home and garden goodies made from "junk" and offer a variety of DIY classes.

Studio sales: The salvage sisters hold a huge Saturday Sale just three times a year to sell their reclaimed and transformed items. The next sale is one week from today. Each sale is themed, and prices are very affordable — $2 for a doorknob and $18 for a paper-towel holder made from a spinning-wheel spindle, a cheese dome base and a 5-pound weight.

Remaining sale dates this year: Sept. 17 (back to school/office organizing) and Nov. 12 (entertaining).

Times: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Where: 2125 196th St. S.W.,

No. 113, Lynnwood.

For more information: 425-774-5296 or www.thesalvagesisters.com

Studio classes: Throughout the year, the salvage sisters offer workshops to help others unleash their creativity. Starting Oct. 1, such one-day classes include journal and invitation making, bottle-cap magnets and cards, collage paperweights and button flowers.

Even more: If you have an unfinished project, try the UFO (unFinished Object) workshop, where you can use the studio, materials and the salvage sisters' expertise — while paying only for the materials used.

Also, the salvage sisters will offer any of their workshops, or one you design, for private parties hosted at their studio. They bring the space, materials and fun — you bring the guests.

Contact: Call 425-774-5296 or go to www.thesalvagesisters.com for specific classes, costs, times and to register.

Have you ever actually seen a silk purse made from a sow's ear? Me neither. But if anybody could do it, I'm putting my money on Beth Evans-Ramos, Lisa Hilderbrand and Amy Duncan.

These three women, collectively known as "the salvage sisters," rescue tired, poor, huddled masses of junk and breathe new life into them as wonderfully delightful home and garden accessories.

Take a look:

• With a little scrub, a little polish and a flourish of tear-drop crystals, a discarded brass floor lamp glows as a bird feeder elegant enough to sit in the gardens at Versailles.

• A castoff pair of wooden skis mounted to the wall becomes an inventive picture rail (at right). The skis' grooved surface keeps displayed plates, pictures and other items secure. Years of waxing give the "ski-rail" a naturally smooth finish and warm patina.

• A metal tole tray that once served tea still serves in the kitchen, only now as a message board. Hung on the wall and combined with buttons turned into magnets, the tray is fun and functional.

Separately and together, these enterprising sisters — united not by blood but by their common love for what they call "good junk" — see treasure where most of us see trash.

"My brain is like a TV screen," says Evans-Ramos, perhaps divulging the secret of her creative process. If only the rest of us could access her channel.

Where we see a worn-out, deep-fat fryer, the salvage sisters see a perfect planter.

Where we see an old, rusty child's skate, they see a soap dish.

Where we see a metal tool caddy, they see a towel rack. (Hint: Flip the caddy upside down, mount it to the wall and drape dish towels over its handle.)

"We just love metal and rust," Hilderbrand says of the sisters' quirky addiction. Although, "We like silver as much as we like rust," Evans-Ramos chimes in.

In truth, there isn't much this trio doesn't love.

"It's a curse," Duncan laughs.

Packrats by nature ("My mom is ultra-frugal," Hilderbrand says), these Dumpster-diving junkies love nothing more than finding and taking reclaimed, recycled, broken or forgotten bits and pieces and turning them into usable goods.

In their clever hands, idled machine parts and old gears become candle holders, an old cloth tape measure and some upholstery tacks become an instant chair rail, glass doorknobs become fancy peg racks.

Soon, the strings and keys from a donated piano will become something wonderful. Just what, exactly, they don't know yet.

"The piece will tell you what it wants to be," Hilderbrand says.

Lust for rust

So, how did three women with different strengths and disparate careers become united in their lust for rust?

Well, kind of by accident.

Four years ago, Evans-Ramos, a garden stylist, met Hilderbrand, a landscape designer, through a garden club. The two became fast friends who started junking together and scheduling "play dates" to collectively turn their rusty old finds into fabulous goodies.

Last year Evans-Ramos met Duncan, an artist specializing in paper media, while standing in line at an estate sale. When both ignored the main floor to dash off to the basement for the really cool stuff, it was kismet.

Soon Duncan was joining Hilderbrand and Evans-Ramos for play dates and, in almost no time, the idea for the salvage sisters business was born. (Not to be confused with the capital-S Salvage Sisters from the East Coast, who recently wrote a book about "finding style in the street.")

Up and running less than a year, their rescued-junk business marries the women's different tastes and talents into an operation that's part design, part sales, part teaching.

Because they don't have a dedicated workspace, each sister works on her own at home: Duncan and Evans-Ramos in their basements, Hilderbrand in the area under her carport ("I get good ventilation there," she quips).

Sisters' studio

Their 650-square-foot studio in Lynnwood is a bright, attractive space that doubles as a showroom for their finished pieces, and as a classroom for the year-round workshops they offer to help others unleash their untapped creativity using materials at hand.

The studio is open to the public just three times a year for a gigantic Saturday-only sale.

The next sale, a week from today, features a back-to-school/organize-your-office theme.

The studio is a veritable eye-candy store, filled floor to ceiling with interesting vignettes that Duncan, the resident artist, reworks again and again.

It's here you'll find Evans-Ramos' stunning "hinges table," a low, round coffee table ringed with a series of hinges, round end up, that gives the table a pie-crust-like appearance (below). The ivory-painted table is a masterpiece of ingenuity — and a bargain at $32.

Price is right

Because nearly all of their components are reclaimed, recycled, donated or otherwise free, the sisters charge only for their labor and resulting artistry.

This keeps sales prices reasonable and well below retail.

"We want to make it so everybody can afford something," Evans-Ramos says.

Once you've seen what these three women can do with discarded items, you'll think twice before throwing anything away.

"It makes you sick seeing how much is going to the Dumpsters," Evans-Ramos says.

On the other hand, now that you've met them, you'll understand why each salvage sister has a bumper sticker that reads, "I brake for junk."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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