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Treasure: New shop offers blend of vintage items

Khristi Zimmith
Special to The Detroit News

Road trips to flea markets and new shopping destinations are one of my favorite rites of spring. Antique lovers looking to expand their horizons should check out the new Butter Barn in Ottawa Lake, near Ann Arbor, where dealers Amy Nolfo and Brad Bingley host monthly antiques events in their newly built barn. We caught up with Amy in time for the March sale this weekend. For more information and an address, check their website at butterbeansantiques.com.

How did you get interested in antiques?

Antiques and repurposing vintage materials have been a part of my world for all my life. My mother was an artist and antiquer and my father was repurposing vintage materials before repurposing was cool. He’s now 90, but I remember as a kid tagging along as Dad would acquire various scrap iron and steel, salvaged building materials etc. Some pieces would make their way to our home like the salvaged scrap metal that with some artful welding became a beautiful, arched fireplace door in our basement growing up…As an artist, mom had an amazing eye and I loved watching her create vignettes in our home with her finds. They each played a role in what is now both my passion and my life’s work.

Describe your style and what people will find at your sales.

Our style is comfortable first and foremost. Our look is a casual, vintage-inspired blend of antiques, vintage and repurposed home furnishings and decor. The pieces and parts that become part of the furniture Brad builds are salvaged right here in Michigan & Northwest Ohio.... From the big city of Detroit to local small town farms, we search nonstop for the materials we use to build our creations. We aren’t just builders, we are keepers of the past. Brad and I both firmly believe in not just helping our clients furnish and decorate their homes, but also to share in our mission of “fixing that which is broken.” It’s a mantra Brad shared with me years ago and it’s something deeply meaningful to us. These beautiful materials and pieces of the past are of great quality and beauty if one takes the time to reimagine them, to repurpose them into family heirlooms that don’t become part of our “throw-away” society.

The repurposed harvest tables, kitchen islands, cabinets and sculptural assemblage art that Brad builds for our business work right alongside the antique furnishings and furniture we sell because the materials are old and reclaimed. They too have a story... The porch post legs on the eight-foot harvest table once graced a home in downtown Detroit, the reclaimed walnut top was hand-planed by Brad and was salvaged from the hayloft of an 1890s barn near Saline. The materials have a story and a past, just like the “purist” antiques they are displayed among. We offer a blend.

What do antiques offer homeowners?

Antiques and vintage offer homeowners a unique opportunity to tell a story... To create a warm and inviting environment on any budget. Even the most thrifty shopper can find unique, high quality pieces to furnish their home. For those with a larger budget, high-end investment quality pieces are out there. Pieces that will grow in value unlike the “build it yourself table in a box” from the big box stores. The antique & vintage world also allows one to be creative and express themselves, to create a one-of-a-kind “curated” or “collected” look for their home. It’s a highly personal way to furnish and decorate. You end up, over time, with something that can’t be bought in a stack of catalogs. Our clients are fun, smart, creative, savvy women & men who have made a conscious choice to create one-of-a-kind home environments. We LOVE doing deliveries... It’s always a delight to see how clients are utilizing their vintage finds.

Where do you shop?

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you! Sometimes I shop right out of the back of a local farmer’s pickup truck and sometimes I’m 100 yards into a rain soaked, muddy cornfield, knee deep in muck examining a blown down barn for salvageable wood…Brad and I pick nonstop, and we have pickers that work for us that pick nonstop. We need a lot of inventory to keep the barn full. We turn approximately 70 percent of our inventory during our four-day monthly barn sales. In addition, Brad builds a tremendous amount of custom furniture for our clients, this in turn calls for a tremendous amount of quality, salvaged, raw materials. The picking alone is more than a full time job.... And I LOVE every minute of it!

Tell me about Brad’s custom work.

I’ve heard about those folks that leave “corporate America” to follow a dream. But I’ve never known anyone who pulled it off.... he did. Between our monthly barn sales Brad is hard at work fulfilling custom orders. His custom harvest tables, kitchen islands, console tables, retail displays have become customer favorites. His company, “The Tao of Restoration” offers custom fabrication of home and retail furnishings. Brad’s heart and soul go into each piece. He works with both individual clients and with many of the top interior designers / decorators in the region to create custom pieces for their clients. My favorite story is that of a young woman from Indiana, who brought her grandmother in her 80s to our workshop, along with a load of wood from her grandmother’s farm. Brad built her a lasting tribute to the farm and her grandmother in the form of a very special entryway table. We have many stories like this and it sums up perfectly what we love most about custom work. It’s about history, it’s about the future and families and memories. Brad considers it an honor to build custom pieces for our clients.

Other favorite shops/sources ?

Michigan has the best collection of outdoor summer shows in the nation! I love the Saline Antiques Market at the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds in Ann Arbor. That same location also hosts the Ann Arbor Antiques Market three times a year. “Antiques at the Fairgrounds” is held twice a summer, the first weekend in July & the first weekend in August in Petoskey. The twice a year “Springfield Extravaganza” in Springfield, Ohio, is also a treasure hunting paradise. My other favorite for vintage shopping is choosing from any of the wonderful small towns in Michigan that have great local shops.... My three favorite antiquing “towns” downstate are Blissfield, Adrian & Tecumseh. In the Detroit area the thrift stores and local antique shops are great fun as well!

How do you think the antiques biz has changed since you’ve been part of it? What do you see in the future?

We do not promote ourselves as “antique dealers.” We deal in antiques, vintage and reclaimed, repurposed furnishings. The common thread among all of our collections is good design, good quality and good value for our clients. And this new business model of blending well-crafted furnishings from reclaimed materials along with vintage and antiques is appealing to today’s customer. It’s good for our earth, it’s good for the communities where businesses like ours thrive and it has opened up our business to buyers who might have never considered antiques and vintage.

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to trashortreas@aol.com. If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned