Kaye McWhorter is not afraid to look like a crazy woman -- when it comes to a good bargain, that is.
"I saw a bench on the side of the road in my neighborhood in Dallas, and it couldn't fit in my car. I stuffed it in the back seat and couldn't even close the door. I'm sure people were thinking, 'What in the world is that crazy woman doing?' " said McWhorter, 67, who lives in Memphis, Tenn.
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That bench, spray-painted a different color and good as new, now sits in her upstairs guest bedroom alongside twin beds with old garden gates as headboards, a spray-painted wicker chair and several other wayside discoveries to complete a look straight out of the Hamptons.
"It's fun," McWhorter said. "It's that trash-to-treasure thing."
The retired schoolteacher has filled her five-bedroom, 3½-bath house in Memphis with found treasures -- sometimes repainted, sometimes reupholstered, sometimes re-purposed, and all indistinguishable from her more legitimate purchases.
When she drove by a bench disassembled on the side of the road, she saw front-porch potential.
"It was totally in pieces," she said. "All the pieces were there. So I picked it up, screwed all the pieces together, and painted it black."
Shutters and garden gates play a lead role in her decorating style, including the backyard.
A blank wall on her patio beckons for one of her recycled arrangements.
She used a wire garden gate from a junk store and a grapevine container, planted asparagus ferns and mums, and now she has a planter for seasonal arrangements as a backdrop for a patio seating area.
"I switch out what I plant seasonally," she said. "I like to create vignettes. I have places here, places there."
To accessorize the steps from the lower patio with its garden gate vignette to the upper patio and the yard, McWhorter installed some wooden garden gates she discovered on one of her drives.
"I noticed they were putting in new ones, and they had these old ones just laying around," she said. "I always carry a pen and pad with me, so I left a note and asked the owner if they were getting rid of them, could I purchase them, and left my name and number."
The owners called her and let her know no purchase was necessary, so she painted the gates turquoise and used them as her own.
"My husband always says you can't get a date if you don't ask," she said. "Now it's one of my favorite things in the house."
Paint is very important to McWhorter's process.
When her aunt moved out of her house and they removed the window guards, McWhorter grabbed a couple, spray painted them bright red, and installed them in the back corner of her yard.
"They add a nice bit of color to that corner of the yard, especially in the winter when things are drab. It adds a nice burst of color," she said.
It helps that McWhorter is pretty crafty.
"I assembled our barbecue grill from scratch," she said. "I can just sort of look at something and know what to do."
Her ability to sew has come into play a few times, such as reupholstering a chair
Using a tiger stripe material and gold fringe, McWhorter sewed a cushion for the wooden chair and put in pads on the arms, and now the piece sits in the living room along with a high-end antique coffee table she found for $10 at an estate sale and two repainted wicker ottomans she found on the road.
"I'm just amazed at what people get rid of," she said.
She's gotten her husband, Lyn, a workplace chaplain, to join in with her, as well.
"He's real good about letting me know when an estate sale is going on," she said.
Besides finding the usual drive-by discards, hitting the thrift stores and keeping up with estate sales, McWhorter is not above going to an antique shop, but mostly for entertainment purposes.
"I think it's funny to see how much they're charging for something when I picked it up off the side of the road or paid a minimal amount of money for it," she said.
Upcycling has been a part of McWhorter's life for a long time.
"I've been doing it most of my life," she said. "I guess it goes back to being young and not having very much money. I just like the fact that I can get a good bargain. If you have an eye for things, you can really get a good bargain."
She has a couple of tips to offer the trash-to-treasure newbies.
"One of the best times to go is the day before garbage pickup," she said. "That's when people throw out the good stuff." As far as what to do with it?
"You just kind of have to try things out."