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Right at Home: Artful decor from recycled paper

| Sunday, July 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Many of us dispatch our used paper to a bin, the first step on the way to Recycle Land. These household accumulations of paper and cardboard are just one more thing to get rid of.

Luckily, there are designers and artists who see possibilities in all that wood pulp. They're busy using it to create art, decorative accessories, even furniture.

So, what you sent to the recycling center just might find its way back, in some form, to your home.

Trent Mayol's company, SmartDeco, designs and makes heavy-duty cardboard furniture that's simple, stylish and easy to put together without tools. The idea came to him when he was a University of Southern California neuroscience major dealing with the packing and logistical hassles of his fifth college-housing move.

“Nobody likes dealing with furniture. Especially those living what we've deemed the ‘one-year-lease lifestyle,'” Mayol says. “These people are young, economically savvy, and never in the same place for too long.”

SmartDeco's pieces, which include a desk, sidestand and dressers, are engineered to hold up to 400 pounds, with multiple layers of fiber and a center arched reinforcing panel. Yet, they're lightweight and easy to move.

Available in Kraft finish (the natural brown of the cardboard) or white, the Modesto, Calif.-made furniture might appeal particularly to college students, but has enough of a hip look for a wider audience, too. Customize the pieces if you want; a plastic snap-on protective shelf cover comes with each one. (www.smartdecofurniture.com )

Seattle design studio Graypants makes striking light fixtures out of repurposed cardboard boxes, in a series called Scraplights. The corrugated cardboard allows light to play dramatically through the fixtures, and it's treated with a nontoxic fire retardant. (www.graypants.com )

Amy Gibson's medium is magazines. The Seattle artist folds sections of recycled periodicals into color slabs, which she combines into one-of-a-kind wall art and mirror frames. (www.etsy.com/shop/colorstorydesigns )

If paper décor intrigues you, visit other Etsy.com stores for items or inspiration. Israeli artist Ruti Ben Dror offers functional bowls made of origami folded paper. San Antonio, Texas-based Shannon Ruby crafts clocks out of recycled magazines and paper; some are made of a myriad of curled paper circles, others are starbursts made of colorful rolled pages. And she'll custom design. www.etsy.com

You'll find similar brightly hued work done by Indian craftspeople, in folded or spooled storage boxes and vessels at HomeGoods. (www.homegoods.com )

Restoration Hardware Baby & Child has papier mache animal heads, including sharks, antelope, giraffes and stags, made by Haitian artists out of recycled paper similar to newsprint. Each piece has the look of a typographic sculpture. (www.rhbabyandchild.com )

Sometimes inspiration comes when you're just trying to clean up a bit. A decade ago, photographer and artist Adrienne Moumin was relocating from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Maryland. Before she moved out of her rented darkroom, she began printing up a bunch of architectural shots she had lying around. She noticed that the prints had the makings of a collage, so she printed some more, and the project took on a life of its own.

“I started the series in 2003, thinking it was what I'd do in the meantime while I searched for a rental darkroom,” Moumin says. “It soon turned into the main art form I practice.”

The pieces, many of which she showed at the recent Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York City, are intricately hand-cut assemblages drawn from the geometric, often fractal images of skyscrapers and other urban elements that she had photographed and turned into silver gelatin prints. (www.picturexhibit.com )

Got a carful of old maps, but now have GPS? Decoupage cartographic pages onto waste bins, serving trays or furniture, or wooden or cardboard letters for instant décor. Old atlas pages make cool lampshades, drawer liners or framed wall art. You'll find instructions galore online.

Kim Cook is a staff writer for the Associated Press.

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