SF Gate, San Francisco Chronicle – Tuesday, February 12, 2002
|Excerpted from Interior by Curbside Unlimited
San Francisco residents recycle their lives
by Carol Lloyd, special to SF Gate
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
©2002 SF GateAlthough most pickers and divers I found have a bit of the bohemian about them (even when they are corporate professionals as well!), we do in fact have a decidedly bourgeois deity, the Goddess of Garbage, who has made her fame promoting the idea that dumpster diving can also be a path to fine interior design.A native of San Francisco and now a resident of Burlingame, Carol A. Tanzai flies in the face of every stereotype about trash picking and dumpster diving. She’s nearly 60, lives in a conservative bedroom community and is an award-winning interior designer. But she’s also spent the last four years developing the Goddess persona to proselytize a new approach to design. She advocates reusing old items, recycling and creating furniture from disposable waste and even the joys of dumpster diving.Tanzai gives lectures at design schools, visits public-school classrooms (see Carol Speaks) , and has even made a number of appearances on TV shows including “Rosie O’Donnell”(Photos of the Goddesss and Rosie), “Evening Magazine” (Photos of the Goddesss on Evening Magazine), and “The Howie Mandel Show.”(Photos of the Goddesss and Howie).
“The Goddess tries to help people see that you don’t have to buy everything new,” says Tanzai about her alter ego’s mission. “There’s amazing stuff that gets thrown out every day, and if you use your creativity, you can create wonderful things.
To hear her describe her recent finds, it’s evident that Tanzai enjoys the heap hunt as much as the most devoted damp-eyed antiglobalization dumpster diver. But instead of postdated tofu, she goes in search of unusual construction materials. “One of my best finds was a piece of mahogany from the interior of an old elevator,” she says.
The idea of becoming a goddess came to her after she felt that as an interior designer, she was doing more than her fair share of adding to the landfills. “You have no idea,” she says. “Clients will come to me and say, ‘I want to get rid of everything in this room.'”
She decided that stern lectures about reuse and recycling were not working. “People’s eyes glaze over when you say the word ‘recycling,'” Tanzai says. ‘I thought, ‘It’s not boring. It can be fun.'” She’d always enjoyed scavenging and making use of old objects and materials, but she’d never made it an explicit part of her business.
Now her clientele fall into two categories: those who hire her for her interest and skill in recycling, and those who want her services as a traditional interior designer. And while the Goddess has grown in popularity, she still meets plenty of resistance from her fellow designers.
“I’m pushing a rock up a hill,” she says. “Most other interior designers think I’m crazy. They do not see the benefits of doing this style of interior design, because there are not big bucks in it.”
So is San Francisco really unique in its trash trade? Hardly, but it does encapsulate the whimsical enthusiasm for the past that San Francisco hipsters have. I say ‘whimsical’ because, if we were really such traditionalists, we would have stayed at home in Cleveland or Kansas City instead of uprooting ourselves and moving here. We are rootless appreciators of history; we trade our pasts with impunity. Old clothes, old houses, old lamps: It’s all cool — almost novel.