Story by Jennifer Poppy | Photography by John Giordani & Jennifer Poppy


“Lucky we live Hawai‘i.” That well-known saying reverberates throughout the Islands. You hear it echoed off airport-terminal walls, mentioned on hiking trails, and repeated on beaches. We truly are lucky to live here, and with that gift comes the responsibility to malama ‘aina — to care for the land. One way to do so is to make something beautiful out of what might have otherwise ended up in a landfill. Here are three “upcycling” ideas that just may inspire you.

As with any upcycling project, the goal here is to reuse, rather than consume. For items you do not own, check with friends, local thrift shops, Craigslist, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, or your local hardware store.

Driftwood Chalkboard

DIY chalkboard projectEasy


  • cabinet door or wooden board
  • sandpaper (if needed)
  • assorted driftwood
  • clippers
  • hot-glue gun
  • primer and chalkboard paint
  • painter’s tape
  • your choice of paintbrush, roller or sponge brush

Chalkboard paint typically comes in 30-ounce cans. The 24”x19” chalkboard shown on this page requires approximately 4 ounces each of primer and paint.


Prepare your cabinet door by cleaning it thoroughly, sanding it if necessary. Next, use painter’s tape to mark off the area that will be your chalkboard, then apply primer with your paintbrush. After the primer coat dries, add a thin layer of chalkboard paint, applying strokes in one direction. Let it dry according to the paint can’s directions, then add a second coat, applying strokes in the opposite direction. It will take three days for your chalkboard to cure. After it’s cured, rub chalk across the board before using it. Arrange the driftwood pieces around the chalkboard to your liking, then affix them using a hot-glue gun on high heat. It’s a bit of a puzzle to place the driftwood; you may need to use the clippers to shorten the pieces to fit just right.

Mosaic Steppingstone

DIY stepping stone projectAdvanced


  • assorted sea glass
  • seashells
  • craft marbles
  • clear contact paper
  • Quikrete (about 1/8 of a 60-lb. bag)
  • trowel
  • bucket
  • nonstick cake pan
  • chicken wire
  • wire cutters
  • WD-40


Place the cake pan right side up on a sheet of clear contact paper and trace its outline. Do the same with the chicken wire. Set both aside. Select the sea glass, shells, marbles and any other decorative pieces you want for your steppingstone and arrange them as you like inside the pan. Transfer this mosaic of pieces to the contact paper with the design facing the sticky side. Mix the Quikrete per the bag’s instructions, using a trowel, bucket and water. Spray WD-40 inside the pan, and put the contact sheet in with the design facing down. Carefully add about an inch of Quikrete, then place the chicken wire on top for added support. Fill the rest of the pan with Quikrete. Allow the steppingstone to dry outside. After twenty-four hours, turn the pan over and remove the steppingstone. Peel off the contact paper. Set the stone out in the sun to dry for two more days before use.

Chair Planter

DIY chair planter projectModerate


  • old wooden chair
  • paint (4-8 oz.)
  • paintbrush
  • sandpaper (if needed)
  • old cooking or garden pot
  • assorted plants
  • soil


Prepare your chair by removing the screws from the seat and detaching it from the frame. Next, clean the chair — sanding the finish, if necessary — then paint it. Once the paint dries, experiment with different items you have on hand until you find the perfect planter that fits in the chair. If you are using a basket or pot, it will need to fit tightly inside the chair frame, or have handles that can rest on the frame.

Another option is to create a basket by stapling chicken wire to the seat frame, then adding coconut husks or garden fabric. Once you have your container in place, pot as you normally would, adding stones for drainage, then soil and, finally, plants.


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