The Wave: a Peninsula, South Bay, Santa Cruz and San Francisco Publication – February 28 – March 14, 2002

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First published in The Wave, a Peninsula, South Bay, Santa Cruz and San Francisco Publication
March 14, 2001

Garbage Is Next to Godliness

by Sandy Brundage 

Carol Tanzi has designs on your trash.

The energy of Carol Tanzi on five hours of sleep could power the entire Bay Area. She talks clearly but fast. After waking up at 4:30 a.m. to hit the gym by 5, she interior designs, talks to the media, eats, makes notes, teaches workshops, helps the community on the Skyline Presidential Advisory Council, and dumpsterdives, probably all before noon. She’s appeared on CNN, The Rosie O’Donnell Show and countless other programs because she loves garbage. Loves it!

Her latest focus is on the Goddess of Garbage, an alter ego that fights waste by showing people how to “recyclize” trash into art. “I’ve always noticed as an interior designer how people used to throw things out — there was so much junk around.” Tanzi said. “Like Styrofoam. Like plastic water bottles. Like pieces of wood, nice pieces of wood like mahogany ribbon.”

A late bloomer, Tanzi decided to drag recycling into the twenty-first century five years ago by showing people how to decorate with disposable waste. But dirty, smelly garbage is hard to love. Mention recyclizing to anyone, Tanzi said, and “they immediately get this glaze and think oh, yeah, it’s gonna be junk. And to tell you the truth, some close friends and one or two clients – not to mention colleagues – have a hard time with it. It’s so foreign. This doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m always out there about two to three years ahead of everyone else.”

That visionary talent manifests as a knack for smelling trends. You could win bets on Tanzi’s color and fabric sense. Just found out green and gold are It? She called that five years ago. Horsehair in? She predicted that last year. “And I knew, of course, the’50s would be back, because I was born in the’50s!” She laughed, but we think she’s serious, too.

“I think everybody has the right to have nice environments; we come to our home to relax, to let go,” she said. So we wondered what sort of home the Goddess of Garbage lets go in. Two words: terrible mess. Two more: table landscapes. “It’s just a mess,” Tanzi admitted. “Some days I get the buzz to clean it up but it still doesn’t look any better. But a table in the den has a wonderful red lacquer tray, and I put Asian treasures on it, and I always have a potted flowering plant or flowers around.”

The mess is partly the result of bringing work home from the dump. As her reputation grows, people leave more and more junk on her porch, but she also hits the bins so often that shes writing a guide to the etiquette of dumpster diving: Always ask permission before removing a piece of trash, and never go diving in the rain. She’s also discovered that not all Bay Area dumpsters are fair game. Going through the trash is a misdemeanor in Marin County, perhaps because of safety concerns, or quite possibly because local celebrities have realized that trash speaks volumes about the dumpee, and they like their privacy.

She recently scored a piece of etched copper. “I haven’t done anything with it yet, but I thought maybe a combo of wood and copper pedestal, maybe a Parsons table… but I haven’t decided because I have too many ideas. Some new website projects, these bamboo poles to wrap around a coffee can with rawhide, two small cardboard containers for an end table with door knobs, paper collage, faux finish…The’to do” list goes on.

Does the Goddess dream of shutting down the most hated store in the Bay Area,that wasteland of creativity and taste? “No, I like IKEA. It’s very priceable for people; and they have a lot of clean lines, and contemporary items, and those look really good with what I create and with old things. I could do a whole room of Goddess designs and IKEA.

“She is not immune from its dangers, however, having gotten lost (like most of us) while trying to find the exit, trapped in a never-ending aisle of clean contemporary Swedish knick knacks. But that’s par for the course. “I always seem to go in by the back door to get to the front door,” she added, sounding for a moment like fortune cookie koan.