Upcycling Hero Jimmy Connelly Works Magic In His Etobicoke, Ontario Studio

Did you know that Canadian TV makers are huge leaders in the world of lifestyle programming? Well...they are!

Most global viewers don’t know that shows like Property Brothers, Our Town, Holmes on Homes, Income Property, Making it Home with Dave and Kortney and many, many more are created by Canadian production companies. And in the TV industry, there are a lot of well-kept secrets, particularly in the world of ‘factual’ or ‘lifestyle’ shows.

A lot of those ‘best-kept-secrets’ are the amazing people who work behind the scenes. Designers, tradespeople and experts of all kinds help bring the big world of Canadian factual TV to life. Many years back, I was a huge fan of Debbie Travis’ The Painted House, one of the shows that pioneered Canadian lifestyle TV.  Debbie Travis was, and is, a very smart lady. She knew when to put one of those behind-the-scenes stars on camera.

The man she often had by her side was artisan painter and master upcycler Jimmy Connelly. I fell in love with his Scottish accent, his wit and his charm, but most of all, I fell in love with the magic Jimmy could do using his creativity and an eye for reimagining. 

 

 

Jimmy Connelly working on an antique style dresser

photo credit:  Jimmy Connelly Studios

 

A few years later, when I was producing another series called Antique Style, I needed to find a way to quickly make two substantial pillars in a gracious old Queen Anne mansion in Gananoque Ontario to look like marble. Thankfully I remembered Jimmy and he made the magic happen.

In the years since I have put Jimmy on various TV shows and he always delivers, but it was when he invited me to step into his studio for a peek at some of his latest work that I was really impressed. 

Ladies and gentlemen, Jimmy is doing everyone in Canada a huge favour. He is saving piece after piece from landfill and turning one man’s discarded trash into high-end treasure. And if you’re into having one-of-a-kind pieces, being environmentally responsible and saving your pennies, you want to learn Jimmy’s tricks of the trade…or at least where to buy his pieces! 

Jimmy can salvage just about anything! So, what can we learn from this wizard of worn-out castoffs? How about creating floating panels from old slab doors that Jimmy found at a demolition site? They were used as, an art installation in the model home at the National Home Show.

 

 

Floating panels, an art installation in the model home at the National Home Show, were created out of old slab doors.

Photo credit:  Simon Burn

 

Having one of a kind pieces, things that we drool over in design magazines is something that we all aspire to. But let’s face it, in Canadian cities, many of us are having to save our pennies to even become homeowners!

Houses and condos are expensive, we all know that. But signing the purchase agreement is just the beginning. Once you get your new digs, especially if it’s your first, you have to furnish it and that cost can be astronomical.

Jimmy told me about one of his favourite penny-wise tricks: “I've learned the garbage pickup schedules in the more affluent neighbourhoods. After all, one man's junk is another man's treasure! And I keep a small toolbox in my car. If I see a piece on the street that's too far gone, there's always a chance that it might have interesting hardware to save for other pieces. I've founds lots of crystal knobs or other whimsical one-of-a-kind drawer pulls or knobs.” Apparently, what it comes down to is always being on the lookout. 

Jimmy also suggests that just because a piece has traditional lines doesn’t mean that you can’t reimagine it to work in your contemporary or eclectic space. One example is a French Provincial, cabriole leg table now a one-of-a-kind statement piece! 

 

 

Jimmy has taken a French Provincial, cabriole leg table and created an eclectic statement piece

photo credit Simon Burn 

 

Can you imagine yourself rescuing, reimagining and emulating Jimmy by creating something new out of your roadside or thrift store finds? Well, Jimmy has some tips for you. He loves using chalk paint, a decorative paint known for its matte or chalky appearance, for his projects as it can be applied with little or no prep work. With the exception of metal or shiny laminate, you can paint over any clean, dry surface. Jimmy has even painted his shoes!!! You can use waxes and finishes to seal and/or create a patina to give pieces a vintage-inspired look that can work with a variety of décor styles from modern to minimalist, and bohemian to baroque. Chalk paint is also water-based, allowing easy clean-up. There are many brands of chalk paints to choose from. Fat Paint and Colorantic are both proudly Canadian.

Fusion is a Canadian brand of mineral or milk, paint that Jimmy has also had considerable success with. Jimmy used mineral paint on an old worn-out silver plate piece that he picked up at a Value Village for about two dollars turning it into a shabby chic tray.

 

 

Jimmy found this shabby chic tray at a Value Village. It was an old worn out silver plate piece that he picked up for about two dollars!

photo credit:  Jimmy Connelly Studios

 

Jimmy Connelly is more than doing his part in keeping millions of pounds of Canadian cast-off furniture out of the landfill. He suggests that you skip the big box stores and head to Habitat for Humanity’s Restore, Value Village, Salvation Army thrift stores, or roam the streets for garage sales. “As the better weather arrives, hopefully, we’ll see the return of flea markets and garage sales. Get there early if you want the most variety to pick from”, Jimmy says.  “But if you’re really looking for bargains, go at the end of the day when vendors are more willing to negotiate.”

Other great places to try are second-hand furniture shops that specialize in pieces from hotels that regularly replace their décor. Jimmy shops at Advance Furniture in Scarborough ON and Royal Anne Liquidations in Oakville, Ontario.

 

 

Jimmy found these pieces at one of his favourite second-hand furniture shops that specializes in pieces from hotels which regularly replace their décor.

Photo credit:  Jimmy Connelly Studios

 

As Canadians, we generate a lot of waste. One statistic says that each and every Canadian will add about 720 kg (1,587 lbs.) to the landfill every year. To put that in perspective, think of the largest male moose you have ever seen…chances are he only weighs 1,500 lbs. That is a lot of landfill! 

I was not happy to discover that currently, Canada is not tracking how much furniture waste (called ‘f-waste’) is being sent to landfill. By not keeping track, it’s hard to identify just how big the problem is and how much impact recycle/reuse work that people like Jimmy are doing will have.

I know that we can and should do better. I found one European study from back in 2014 that estimated that the ‘circular economy’, the business of recycling/reusing/upcycling, could add 2.6 trillion euros to the European economy by 2030! I can imagine there would be a similar impact in Canada providing jobs and economic growth, and at the same time shrinking landfills. After seeing the magic that Jimmy Connelly can work giving the discarded a new life, I hope that you’re motivated to think twice about buying new mass-produced pieces from big box stores. Reinvent, reimagine, recycle and give yourself the gift of creativity, wrapped up in a big beautiful bow of environmental responsibility. 

 

To learn more about Jimmy's work, classes and workshops, visit Jimmy Connelly Studios. If you love Jimmy’s pieces and the idea of doing your part for the environment but don’t have a DIY bone in your body, you can often find Jimmy’s pieces at Putti Fine Furnishings in Toronto or The Singing Lady in Etobicoke. And if you ask him really nicely he might even refinish something you have gathering dust in the attic or garage.

 

Interested in learning more about upcycling? Then check out these additional Houseporn.ca articles:

- In Toronto, reclaimed materials became Sustainable Home Furnishings By Forever Interiors In Toronto

- On the east coast, we're fans of Relove Furniture Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Upcycled Home Furnishings by Birdmouse, Prince Edward Island.

- Ethically sourced wood gets elevated by Arisan Woods Home Decor In Grimsby, Ontario.

- And we give a standing ovation to this charming Kitchen By Christina Symons In Vancouver made from recycled and upcycled materials.

 

 

Theresa Kowall-Shipp is a TV producer, director and writer.  Her interest in home design grew from exposure to her family’s construction and architectural woodworking firm and producing or directing dozens of hours of design TV. 

Posted In: Ontario

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