Living the Upcycle Life: One Person’s Trash is Rachel’s Treasure

I’ve always loved going to flea markets and garage sales and dreaming about the possibilities in an old chair or dresser. And many a time, I packed an old piece of furniture into my mini-van and drove away with high hopes…only to put it on the curb months later.

But Rachel Oldenburger actually makes good on the promise of an old chair or table. Rachel is owner of Vintage Butterfly, where she “upcycles” furniture and creates custom furniture.

“I really stumbled into my business, The Vintage Butterfly, completely by accident! I bought a house in in 2013 and I had almost no furniture…and no money to buy anything new,” Rachel explained. So with the little money she had, she set off in hopes of finding treasures at garage sales. She even cruised neighborhoods on trash nights for side-of-the-road pick-ups.

This is when she decided rather than settling for other people’s trash, she would turn them into treasures. So she took a shot at painting and refinishing pieces and discovered that she had a hidden talent. “People would come to my house and compliment me on my pieces that were once trash.” Suddenly family and friends started asking Rachel to “flip” pieces for them. And so, The Vintage Butterfly was born!

Although Rachel never formally studied art, “unless YouTube counts as an education,” she joked. But she and her family have always had a passion for art and DIY projects—both big and small. “Growing up,” Rachel explained, “we did everything on our own: landscaping, painting, demolition, you name it, we did it ourselves.” Even the heavy lifting! “I remember helping my dad lay the hardwood floors in our kitchen when I was 13 years old and yelling measurements out the window while he cut them in the driveway.

With The Vintage Butterfly starting to pick up on the side, during the day, Rachel was a teacher at Ridge Elementary School in Ridgewood, NJ. Our family was fortunate enough to have her twice. She put that same passion and creativity into teaching that she puts into her custom creations. She treated each child like a unique treasure. She nurtured their passions and taught with humor and always was more patient than I thought was humanly possible. Her students adore her. “I don’t believe in judging a book by its cover. I teach the kids I work with in my classes that they can do anything they set their mind to.” She teaches her kids that if they don’t know how to do something, that they can learn. She’s followed that same motto in her business.

A little more than a year ago, she added a new passion to her list, motherhood, when her sweet son, Shea, was born. “He’s my inspiration now.” Life as a working mom is a lot to juggle but especially when your child is battling a life-threatening health condition. Shea was born with CHD (congenital heart defect) and had two open-heart surgeries before he was even a year old. Although Rachel found teaching to be extremely rewarding and she loved her student, her heart was pulling at her to be home with little Shea. So she decided to go all in with The Vintage Butterfly and set up shop in her garage. It’s fully stocked and it’s awesome.

While some women dream of lavish trips and sparkly baubles, Rachel dreams about tools. “My Christmas gifts from family members are tools! And I get Lowes gift cards for my birthday,” she laughs. “If that doesn’t tell you everything, I don’t know what will!”

When I asked her who does the heavy lifting in her business she replied, “Me!” Rachel isn’t just the creative vision behind her work; she’s the brawn! She handles everything from hauling furniture off the side of the road and lifting it into her jeep to building her own pallet signs, staining, painting, you name it.

I asked her how she knows if a piece is worth flipping…you know, when is it time to put a decrepit piece of furniture out of its misery? Her response? “I am going to be honest, I’ve never met a piece of furniture that needs to be “taken out back,” if you know what I mean. If the structure of a piece is compromised and no longer can function as a dresser, it can be taken apart and made into a shelving unit.” This is where you realize that with Rachel, this isn’t just a hobby. She truly has a talent. I can dream of having that vision, but never will. “I live the upcycle lifestyle, which means everything can have a second life.” When she can’t “renovate” a piece, she creates what she calls “Frankensteins.” The top may have come from a broken nightstand, but the bottom is an old lamp stand. Here’s a tip; she says the BEST pieces to flip are solid wood.

And in addition to upcycling furniture, she makes custom wall art, including beautiful and inspiring canvas art and pallet signs. Watching her hand at calligraphy, I was amazed how easy she made it look…until I tried it and totally bombed. But there’s help for that. Rachel hosts private Wine & Sign Nights, where she will come to your home and teach you the ropes to making your own beautiful wood sign, made completely by you! (Think girls’ nights, baby and bridal showers, and kid’s birthday parties!)

Not surprisingly, Rachel is obsessed with HGTV. Things starting falling into place in the spring when she got a call from HGTV that they were casting her for HGTV’s Emmy Winning Flea Market Flip, a show that sounds like it was made for her! Given only $500, the Flea Market Flip contestants scour the aisles of flea markets in search of items they can buy, fix and then flip for a higher sum. You’ll be able to watch episodes starting this fall. I can hardly wait to see Rachel’s transformations!

Have a piece you want to upcycle? Or want to try a class or catch Rachel on HGTV? Check out her website,

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Author: Heather Zachariah

Former Art Director for Home Magazine, Heather Leahy Zachariah, left her career in publishing after baby number number one. She now works from home as a freelance graphic designer and a chauffeur to her 3 busy kids. "Working on TipsFromTown has been a wonderful outlet for me. It renewed my love of publishing where I can design colorful, enticing pages online and allows me to share the things I love about being a mom." Heather grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a place that still is near and dear to her. " After living in Brooklyn for 18 years and studying Graphic Design at Pratt Institute, she now lives in the Jersey burbs. "I love living so close to NYC, but in my heart, I'm an Ohio girl."


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