Ever wonder what happens to those forlorn-looking couches cast out at the curbside?

Many — perhaps most — end up in the dump. But thanks to the kindness, ingenuity and bravado of one Toronto business owner and designer, one castaway leather couch became a series of handmade leather clutches in a story that delighted Metro Morning listeners today.

It all started when Roncesvalles resident Natascha Sharkawi dragged to the curb a 10-year-old leather couch that had suffered some critical damage from her puppy's teeth.

"I expected somebody to pick it up or it to go out with the garbage the next day," she said in an interview Friday with host Matt Galloway.

Instead the abandoned couch caught the eye of Sharkawi's neighbour Gillian Hyde. That was a fortunate turn for all involved because Hyde is a designer and owner of Pip Robins Accessories.

"Upcycling" old materials into something new has been a big part of Hyde's business since it started seven years ago. She has a line of totes made from vintage millitary duffel bags, keychains from 60-year-old leather straps, and a line of totes made from Canada Post bags bought at vintage shops.

clutch 2

A leather couch that fell victim to a puppy's persistent chewing gained a new life as one of these stylish clutches. (Gillian Hyde)

She spotted the couch, and saw an opportunity.

"I saw it in the morning and I decided that I would leave it there for the day, just in case a family could use it," she said. "I decided that if it was still there at nighttime that I would see if I could take that leather."

It was, and she did.


Local designer Gillian Hyde was able to turn the couch material into clutches, selling one to a client in the Bronx, N.Y. (Gillian Hyde)

But this had to be a stealth operation. She didn't have permission to destroy the couch. So Hyde came back to it under the cover of night, dressed in a black hoodie and armed with a utility knife and scissors.

"I had my hood up, trying to be as incognito as possible," she said. "I crouched down and I started cutting."


Natascha Sharkawi was shocked, then delighted, to see material from her castaway couch returned to her in the form of a hand-crafted leather clutch. (CBC)

An expert hand, she had the couch stripped to its stuffing in 10 minutes.

Once the couch was sheared of its cow-hide, Hyde began to turn it into clutches (those are small purses guys). One was sold to a customer in the Bronx, N.Y. Another went to a client in Ontario's Niagara region.

An unexpected gift

But Hyde wanted to offer some payback to the person who, inadvertently, provided her with the raw materials for her wares.

"I thought it was the least I could do for her," said Hyde. "I wanted to do something kind."


Here's the anonymous note Gillian Hyde left for neighour Natascha Sharkawi. She stripped the abandoned couch of its leather but left Sharkawi with a custom clutch made from its leather. "I thought it was the least I could do for her," she told CBC News. (Gillian Hyde)

And so she returned to the scene of the "crime" and left at the doorstep one of her custom clutches inside a box with an anonymous note.

Attached was a card that said, in essence, sorry about the couch, hope you enjoy the clutch.

Sharkawi was shocked, but in a good way.

"I thought it was amazing … really sweet," she said. "And I thought it was a very thoughtful gesture on her part."

Despite the anonymous note, the two women connected through a neighbourhood Facebook group.

The story was well-received by the Metro Morning audience on Friday. 

And Hyde took to Twitter to say she's Hell-bent for your used leather. If you give it willingly it saves her the trouble of that whole cat burglar routine.