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Friday, June 23, 2017

What’s Old is New at Universal Furnishings and Offerings

“You never know what’s inside a U.F.O.,” jokes Leonardo Ramirez. It is this type of otherworldly mystery that partly inspired the name of his store, Universal Furnishings and Offerings, or simply U.F.O. What is definitely not a mystery is that Ramirez has fashioned a unique space that provides more than a traditional storefront.

Providing unique twists on being genuinely “green,” the approach employed at U.F.O. is centered around being more environmentally friendly on an ongoing basis. This objective is achieved by using what has been discarded, found, abandoned or sold a second chance store. Reworked, reconditioned and sometimes just reconsidered, the result of this transformative process is a showcase that is more than a simple collection of recycled goods.

Part furniture store, part show room, part art gallery and part creative laboratory complete with workshops, this three-year-old concern is an environment where one can explore, create and even have a bit of fun along the way.

If there is a movement in downtown Phoenix, it appears that independently minded,forward-thinking individuals are determinedly working to create locally run businesses that provide a distinctive flavor to the city that is personal, intimate and driven by a deep-seated concern for community. At U.F.O., that focus has resulted in a space that is as surprising as it is rich in visual and unusual details.

What differentiates Ramirez’ take on a traditional store that features used, vintage and refurbished items is that he has created a visually compelling environment in which to appreciate the items selected. From paintings to furnishings and assorted objects of art, Ramirez is aiming to do more than provide interesting things; he is providing a way of looking at what we have and reconsidering the world in which we live. In a disposable society where things come and go, now more than ever as budgets become more constrictive, the notion of reworking what is at hand makes sense not only fiscally, but also environmentally. Avoiding the pratfall of putting so much into a space that is difficult to discern what is  being shown, Ramirez has created a space that invites you to stay, look and examine each item. From old carefully reworked radios of the past, to chairs given new life with contemporary fabrics and bold colors, this is not a museum for old things. It is a place where the discarded is appreciated as something new. It certainly helps that Ramirez has a conceptual idea of what he is doing, and a discerning eye. This lends his space an authority that is often missing when you visit spaces that are concerned exclusively with the bottom line and no concern for aesthetics or even providing beautiful things to see.

The connective tissue that links the various elements of U.F.O. together can be summed up in one word: “recyclatude.” Rather than simply   discard that which is of no use, “recyclatude” is as much an approach to reconstituting objects as it is a premise for how to look at things past their prime but with the potential for a future with ongoing care.

Beyond refurbishing and reconditioning, the idea extends into the care and nurturing of that which has been acquired. Taken one step further, the idea is that all of this becomes life enhancing. That enrichment comes from taking a proactive stance towards being less wasteful and more cognizant of what we have.

To help in the process of unleashing creative expression, U.F.O. offers ongoing workshops. Bead making, origami and making paper are just a few of the topics past workshops have covered. Taking advantage of the interest in doing more for oneself, Thom Kasch offers classes that feature sewing and puppet making. The classes are popular with a wide age range from adults to 12 years old–if you can handle a sewing machine, you have the skill sets necessary. From beginners to the more advanced, these workshops are providing an outlet and means to recycle that naturally encourages a proactive way of staying “green.”

“I have had upholsters show up and say he is special,” said Ramirez of his on-site upholsterer Juan Carlos, whose talents are evident in the works displayed. Those talents helped to contribute to Phoenix Home and Garden magazine making special note of the creative talent here. Attention has also come from being named “Best Outsider Art Gallery” for U.F.O.’s Unsung Gallery by Phoenix New Times.

“We hold ourselves back, what I encourage is the flow of creative energy,” said Ramirez. “People will see that there are opportunities that exist that we may not have considered.”

When he said, “More than a store, hardly just a store, it is an invitation to explore yourself,” it is clear from everything he has created that there is a lot more here than just another brick-and-mortar business. For those willing to think outside the box, looking for a new fresh way of seeing the world, U.F.O. is not something mysterious and unknown but something special adding a new dimension to the cultural life of Phoenix.

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