Omaha-area shops capitalize on the growing interest in refinished furniture

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Posted: Monday, March 17, 2014 12:00 am

When Laci Mulick lost her job last year, she needed to help support her family of five. So she started selling the furniture in her home.

Then she began buying old furniture, refinishing it and selling it via Facebook.

“I was too poor to afford new furniture,” Mulick said. “That's really what it came down to. ... I would find things (for $20), and if I could make 40 bucks on it, that was my grocery budget.”

Eventually, Mulick met Angie Von Dollen, the wife of her husband's friend and a former interior decorator with similar interests. The pair hit it off and, after finding the perfect Benson space for lease, in October opened the Vintage Chandelier to sell repurposed and refinished furniture, often in bright, vibrant colors.

With the help of Pinterest and DIY blogs, old furniture is becoming more popular, and shops like the Vintage Chandelier are capitalizing on the trend. Several shops in the Omaha area specialize in selling old furniture made new again, either as their main business or as part of offering unique or repurposed home decor items.

Customers are attracted to old furniture for its style and strength, Mulick said. “Furniture built 100 years ago is still as good today as it was then because it was well-built.”

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At Hutch at Midtown Crossing, Brandon Beed and Nick Huff are finding a demand for their specialty: midcentury furniture.

Customers “do want some of the new furniture, but they want to partner it with a signature piece actually from the era to make it more authentic,” Huff said.

On Mondays, Von Dollen and Mulick visit garage sales and thrift stores on the hunt for new projects — most pieces are damaged — and work nearly around the clock making sure the store is full.

“We are so lucky because we have very supportive husbands,” Mulick said. “My husband works two full-time jobs, comes home at night at 9:30 p.m. and sands until 11:30 p.m. just so I can have something ready for the store the next day.”

Mulick and Von Dollen have learned how to work on furniture through trial and error. They get help with work they can't do, like polyurethane finishing. Otherwise, Mulick said she lets a piece “speak to her” when it comes to choosing colors.

The pair have also started accepting custom orders for customers who aren't confident enough to work on something themselves but have a piece that needs updating.

Hutch started out in a basement space in the Old Market and moved to Midtown Crossing soon after.

Beed and Huff recently have gotten into refinishing and reupholstering pieces through contractors rather than thrifting only high-quality, undamaged pieces. “We can take something that has like 400 cup rings on it and burn marks and make it look absolutely brand new,” he said.

Both businesses seem to have found success by using social media. Posting items, especially newly refinished or reupholstered pieces, on Facebook or Instagram gets attention. “Those are our only means of promotion,” Huff said.

“Facebook, honestly, has been our biggest client,” Mulick said.

Old furniture is nothing new to Robert Smith, who has owned furniture restoration and glass etching company Wooden Ways & Olden Days in Omaha for 40 years. Rather than turning an old piece into something modern, Smith repairs antiques and restores them to their former glory.

“For somebody that wants some furniture ... that old furniture is still your best value by far,” Smith said. He guessed that the business of furniture repair and restoration would be on the decline, as older generations downsize and eventually pass away and solid wood pieces become harder to find.

Bert Taylor, 41, is a repeat Hutch customer, having purchased a boomerang coffee table, a credenza, a sunburst clock and two side tables since October.

“I like it because it's timeless,” Taylor said. “I know that boomerang table is a 1950s Lane piece. That to me is an investment.”

Jennifer Riley, 42, another repeat Hutch customer who has purchased a rocking chair, dressers and end tables, said: “I like the fact that I can find something that somebody else used in 1955 ... that now I can use for another 50 years. They don't make furniture like that anymore.”

The Hutch owners, who quit their full-time jobs when the store moved to Midtown Crossing, have seen an increase in sales throughout the year and are even able to pay themselves, although they still rely on design work to make ends meet.

The Vintage Chandelier has seen a steady increase in profits month over month since it opened, Mulick said. “We absolutely are making money. Every month we are increasing (sales).”

The store takes some of the burden off of her husband, she said, and it “keeps our history out of the trash.”

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