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Creative Salvage

In a Bay City warehouse, Anthony Acosta assembles lighting fixtures, wine racks, clocks, countertops, and furniture in his medium of choice: antiques, repurposed building supplies, and bric-a-brac, pulled from the finest antique stores, estate sales, and barnyard heaps in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Pipes, barn wood, and dented pans are revitalized in the studio of Distressed Design.

Anthony Acosta describes himself as “the kind of guy who likes country and metal.” He says this to contrast his taste in music with the majority of musical tastes in his hometown of South Beach, Florida, which he left in 2012. But the sentiment might very well describe why he’s been getting along so well near the Saginaw Bay, where the metal of industry has always thrived at the edge of the wild country. And there’s no doubt Acosta, as the artist behind Distressed Design, in his description of himself, also refers to his sense of style: “I like the very, very industrial, or the very, very classical.”

In a Bay City warehouse, Acosta assembles lighting fixtures, wine racks, clocks, countertops, and furniture in his medium of choice: antiques, repurposed building supplies, and bric-a-brac, pulled from the finest antique stores, estate sales, and barnyard heaps in the Great Lakes Bay Region. Some items, for instance, a milk pail or bicycle rim, will grab Acosta’s attention, and he’ll begin to see what else it could be: a galvanized lampshade or a bike chain chandelier.

“A lot of items I find are very classic, and I like to keep them that way,” he says, although it’s not unusual for his creations to resemble the style of steampunk, a genre of science fiction imagining a highly mechanized American West. Acosta wants his designs to highlight Michigan’s agricultural and industrial history.

Although he has some “pickers” who scout garage sales and flea markets on his behalf for raw materials, the ideas for his art don’t often precede the objects he gathers. “I have to see it,” he says. “Sometimes I don’t see a finished product. Sometimes it takes months. I’ll walk by one day and something will pop into my head.”

Only occasionally does the process work the other way. “Sometimes I’ll sketch, then see a piece and know it’s perfect for what I’ve sketched. I have a notebook full of sketches. I’d say 90 percent will never come to fruition,” he says.

Once he has the image in his mind, a piece will take anywhere from a few minutes to a few days to complete. If he can collect enough of each individual part, an assembly line can make everything quicker; however, the nature of his source materials means each piece is wholly unique, with plenty of obstacles to hurdle.

“I’m working with materials that take time and offer unique challenges,” he says.

Acosta has been collecting and revitalizing as Distressed Design since July 2013, although giving new life to old objects is not a new activity. “It’s something I’ve always done,” he says, acknowledging that he showed an early interest in construction, with a big box of LEGOs and a “knack for taking things apart.”

“Eventually I got some power tools; it was natural,” he says.

A first-generation American, Acosta spent the summers of his youth on his grandfather’s ranch in northwest Spain, where his uncle, an engineer, taught Acosta some of the basics of design and construction. “He took me under his wing and showed me some things, to make sure this was something I actually wanted to do,” he says.

Acosta later studied architecture at the University of Miami, and worked as an architect in South Beach until 2008. Before he and his wife moved to mid-Michigan, Acosta poured and installed custom glass-and-concrete countertops.

At Distressed Design, Acosta’s architectural background frequently comes into play, especially during appointments and consultations with clients. “I think of how [each piece] would fit in the room. Especially with lighting, I pay attention to the shadows it casts. Will it highlight a single spot, or light the whole room? That’s something I can thank architecture for—you have to study how light affects different spaces,” he says.

For now, Distressed Design has no brick-and-mortar storefront. Acosta meets privately with clients to design and build custom work from scratch, or to modify preexisting pieces to fit his clients’ needs. He will also “revive” clients’ cherished yet underused family heirlooms. Acosta says, “I like to take that”—an unwieldy, handed-down armoire, for example—“and turn it into something they can use on a daily basis,” like a coffee table or credenza.

The majority of Distressed Design’s sales, however, come from a digital storefront on
www.Etsy.com, an online marketplace for handmade and vintage products. Customers can browse photos of available pieces, which Acosta generally prices between $50 – $200, including shipping costs. He encourages customers to send messages before purchase if they’d like to customize their order. “Ultimately, it’s not my clock, it’s not my lighting fixture, it’s not my wine rack,” he says, “It’s theirs.”

Yet, each piece Anthony Acosta sells is his: his sense of style, his country, and his metal.

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