Jason Rens

The ReBuilding Center

3625 N Mississippi

Until a year ago, Jason Rens was living in Boulder, Colorado, sporting a ZZ Top-style beard. But when Jason read a magazine article about Portland's ReBuilding Center, a building material reuse center, he became enchanted by the idea of converting old materials into new ideas.

"I love old things," this student of architecture explains, "I've got to be part of this." And, as simple as that, Jason decided to ditch Boulder and move with his girlfriend, a fashion designer, to Portland. When they arrived, he applied at only one place for a job—the ReBuilding Center, of course. To his delight, they hired him to help with customer service.

Are you a ReBuilding Center groupie?

Of sorts. A classy one, though.

You have fresh eyes on the city. What have you noticed about people in Portland?

There's good dirt on everyone's shoulders. It's a "doing" community. Everyone seems up to something, whether it's the Zoobombers or people coming to ReBuild to fix up a porch.

What's your favorite thing about the city so far?

How well it has been preserved, like the original doorknobs and light fixtures in all the houses.

What advice would you give someone who wants to build something for the first time?

The process is breaking it into steps and understanding materials. When you see something in completion, you say "wow." In its completion it has this awe. But once you start to think about it as a series of connections and layers, you realize anyone can do that. But doing it well and beautiful—that's a different story.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to do a few easy fix-ups to their house?

Dig deep. Find out what's under all the modern stuff. You might find wood floors under that carpet. Dig in and expose it. Bring it back to life.

What about using old objects or things?

I love the idea of seeing objects in new ways. Say, drawers. You can build a shelving system. Or old window sashes can be room dividers. You can run wild with doors—make a table or hang one on the wall. They're so old and classic.

Why do so many words and terms in construction sound sexual—like "hammer," "screw," or that part in toilets, what's it called, "the ball cock?"

Plus "drills" and "studs." It's a pretty homoerotic industry. A lot of the names are probably from poor old repressed men at the turn of the century. PHIL BUSSE