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Material Matters

A Barrington homeowner creates personal spaces with refurbished pieces and family mementos

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Being resourceful is in Rebecca Schneider’s DNA. “[My parents] were a great team and jointly had a great sense of style,” she begins. “They usually pulled my sisters and I into the work. I remember sitting in the yard talking to my mom while she stripped furniture.” Schneider’s own home in the Nayatt neighborhood of Barrington is outfitted stylishly with refurbished finds and upcycled pieces.

“I’m really proud of reusing, both for environmental purposes and to give items a new life,” says Schneider, who lists Craigslist, consignment shops, and even the curb as her go-to sources for furniture. “I really like knowing there is a history behind a piece and it means a lot to me to avoid the fabrication of more new stuff.” A frequent visitor to that mega antiques fair in Massachusetts, she notes that “just walking the fields at Brimfield makes you realize how much stuff we’ve already accumulated in this world!” She cites her father’s wife as both an inspiration and motivating force. “She is passionately protective of the environment, more so than anyone I know. So, before I buy something new, I can hear her voice wondering where that item will be in ten, twenty, fifty years.”

Giving old and even new fixtures a second life is all in Schneider’s wheelhouse. She looks for pieces with good bones and interesting shapes before working her upcycling magic, which often includes stripping down to the original wood and refinishing, freshening up with coats of paint, or reupholstering. The clearance section at national retail stores can also be a great source for things to hack. “I bought some new candle sconces on an enormous clearance at Pottery Barn. They were peach and green and were just not selling. I refinished them with Miss Mustard Seed’s milk paint. Now they show off their yummy chippiness and look like they have a history,” she says.

When it comes to decorative accents, Schneider goes for sentimental over trendy. Things like sticks, stones, and shells from hikes, or a rock from a family vacation to Red Rock Canyon, are reminders of special times, which she thoughtfully groups into displays. “Just pulling together pieces to set a stage,” says Schneider, who notes that these vignettes are among her favorite things in the home. The appeal of creating storied interiors has led to unique spaces like the display of her father’s vintage tool collection, referred to as the tool wall. “I don’t feel the need to decorate in a coastal style just because I currently live by the sea, if that makes sense. I’d rather have my house reflect our history.”

Ethnic, historic, natural, and vintage items all make it into Schneider’s design style. “I love the hunt for pieces that inspire me and buying old pieces that I know nothing about and using them as a conversation piece. I have several pieces on our tool wall that I do not know what they are for… I love chatting about them with company!” She also enjoys chatting with shopkeepers and lists nearby Hidden Gardens in Barrington, Sea Rose Cottage in Bristol, and The Farmer’s Daughter in South Kingstown as favorite buy-local spots. 

Before moving to Barrington six years ago, Rebecca, her husband Mark, and their two sons lived in South America. “Our art from Brazil is really important to me. It’s beautiful, but what is most important to me is that they remind me of the people there. All of the places we’ve lived contribute to my decor. These pieces make me feel like I’m living inside a story and it feels cozy to me,” says Schneider, who muses that her own history provides a wellspring of inspiration. “I like pulling together things that were cool to me decades ago with things that represent who I am now.”