• US@UO: Creative Recycling with UO Display Artists

    “Every day is Earth Day when everything you use has been used before,” says John Lyman, a Display Artist at our UO store in Milwaukee, WI, whose design philosophy is totally centered around how to source, discover, experiment with, and breathe new life into reclaimed and recycled materials. In honor of Earth Day, for this installment of US@UO (which shares the stories behind the inspiring individuals that make up the UO community) we visited two amazing Display Artists — John in Milwaukee and Eddy Sorenson, Senior Display Coordinator in Cambridge, MA — to discover how they incorporate eco-friendly materials into both their personal work and the pieces they create for UO stores. 

    John Lyman
    Milwaukee UO Display Artist John Lyman doesn't just include recycled materials in his designs, he lives for discovering and repurposing them. Creating work from 100 percent reclaimed materials, John's love for "finding something new in something old" take him all over, like to the Milwaukee barn we traveled to with him to source materials for a current project. John was given permission to salvage materials from the unoccupied, 100-year-old barn, where he was able to gather not only old barn board flooring but also tools, workbenches, and the original fixtures...or what he calls just another day in the life. 
    Photos by Danielle Burren

    Can you share more about your history with UO?
I’ve been with Urban Outfitters for five years now at the store in Milwaukee, WI. I can truly say I love my job here at Urban Outfitters. I have learned something every single day and that constantly makes things interesting. I am always proud to be a part of it…[we’re] straight up building magic! I have been inspired by so many people at UO and truly believe everyone has something to contribute. Did I mention I love my job?

    Can you walk us through a typical day in the life?
    I wake up around 4am and drink coffee and stare at my computer. Then I hop into my sweet Astro Van and drive past any construction or demo sites. I grab any treasures and head into work. ( I once a had a merchandiser who on her first day into work pulled up to a stop sign to see my head popping out of a dumpster.) After doing my thing at UO, I go on to build for 4-6 more hours with my friend Alt. I wish I didn’t have to sleep so I could build more. I am addicted to any and all reality building shows… I was even on one called Tiny House Builders. It was on HGTV for a hot minute. When I’m not building things you can find me having dance parties with my six year old son. 

    Can you share more about where you’ve sourced reclaimed materials?
I have to mention my right-hand man and great buddy Michael Gerlach. He is both a UO and non-UO building brother. We are both all about reuse, mostly local and somewhat historical materials. We have built a ton of stuff together, from lathe tables we sell to hardwood floating slatted walls for our store. We have had good luck finding access to amazing places, from a nine-story, 120-year-old grain elevator to an entire farmstead. We have scored the most amazing treasures. There is something awesome about entering these old places and seeing endless possibilities for the reuse of everything. It’s been said a million times, but materials of a certain age are just totally different. 

    I love when at Design Builds the truck pulls up and the wood and old fixtures are from my backyard, here in good ol’ Wisconsin. As strange as it sounds, I am always finding something new in something old. The amount of wood and other materials that are sent to a landfill is insane. I just don’t have enough time to rescue all, but I sure try.

    Have you incorporated these into any projects for UO?
    Last winter Michael and I found over $8000 worth of black walnut flooring that we used to build our floating sale wall in UO. I found walls in a barn by my house (I live in the city ) that was a horse barn for the first funeral company in Milwaukee. I used that wood and conveyor belt buckets from a 100-year-old coal plant to the plants on our living cash wrap wall. 

    What about in your personal work?
    The side work I do is ALL 100 percent reused material. Even the fasteners. I have helped build furniture for bakeries, designed shelving units for Tattoo shops, and made custom local live edge glass tables with glass. I am currently doing a build out for a small business.

    Follow John on Instagram

    Eddy Sorensen
    “There is so much waste that is waiting to be reused or repurposed, you just have to constantly be searching it out.” Such is the philosophy of Eddy Sorensen, Senior Display Coordinator at our store in Cambridge, MA who has been with UO for almost nine years (the store where he works is the second UO store and will celebrate its 35th anniversary this fall!)

    For the second stop on our US@UO trip, we visited Eddy’s Massachusetts hometown as he went on a scavenging trip — starting in his own wooded backyard to look for materials for future design-build projects, looking for “anything that has interesting shape, texture and could be used for a project,” he explains. Next, we visited a dilapidated barn in the area to explore how their perfectly-aged boards could be given a second life. 
    Photos by Chris Fowler

    Can you share more about your history with UO?

    I began with the company in Chicago back in 2006 and worked in the Chicago area as a display artist. In 2011, I moved up to the Northeast and began my current job. Before I joined Urban I went to school for graphic design/ fine arts outside of Chicago and had a plethora of odd jobs and projects that led me on my path to working for Urban Outfitters (everything from substitute mailman/car parts delivery guy/vocalist/illustration and graphic arts jobs, the list goes on and on, let’s just say lots of “experience”). 

    What’s a typical day at work like for you?

    A typical day at work is always very untypical, always developing new display concepts in the store and working with the team to push innovative ways to use and reuse materials. It’s basically construction and industrial design at the speed of fashion so you have to be very flexible and methodical about the way you approach each project or turn in the road. 

    How do reclaimed or recycled materials play a role what you design and build?

    Currently I have been really into finding a balance between natural elements (wood/reclaimed/stone) and industrial materials (acrylics/cement/lighting) and have been working toward creating art that combines these materials as one. I find myself always looking back to artists from the '60s and '70s and their idea of future art forms, whether it is kinetic, light-based, minimal, or technology-driven.

    Can you share more about some of the projects you’ve worked on for UO that have incorporated reclaimed materials?
    A recent one that comes to mind was a structure that we made solely out of reclaimed branches and rope in the Cambridge store. We sourced all of the materials out of my backyard which pushes up against a forest. It turned into this nomadic arched backdrop to our Without Walls shop in the store.

    In creating display pieces over the years, I’ve used a little bit of everything, from found beams to repurposed lighting to barnboard. The trick is to have good source connections: there is so much waste that is waiting to be reused or repurposed, you just have to constantly be searching it out.

    What are some of the biggest challenges that come with working with reclaimed materials?

    The hard part is finding material that has recently fallen or has been drying above-ground: it’s more dense and can be dried out to be worked more easily than anything that’s started to rot out. After the crazy winter we had, on this trip I found a few good, recently-fallen tree branches with some cool marble textures and burls. I also visited a couple dilapidated abandoned barns in the area both to explore, and to see what kind of barn boards were available. There are so many cool old-growth boards and barns that have been around for ages out here. It is always interesting to see what you can find. During that trip I did pick out some barnboard and a few old industrial light fixtures that were hidden amidst the chaotic structure, so all in all it was a good day. 

    Follow Eddy on Instagram