Handmade: Restored furniture business booming

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

In 2009, Lisa Milton equipped herself with old pieces of furniture, paint and an open mind, and began putting together the makings for what has become a successful recycled furniture business.

In the beginning her plan was simple – purchase vintage furniture from resale shops, paint it, and list it for sale on Craig’s List. Having her own business would give her the “flexibility” she needed to be available to her three daughters, who at the time were ages 5, 10 and 12. However, the demand for her beautifully refinished furniture finds grew, and selling from the family’s Detroit home no longer worked for the business she named Redesign and Restoration.

So, Milton, who’d been a stay-at-home mom for 13 years, moved the growing business just “up the street” from their home to a “modest retail location” on Mack, where she later began teaching herself how to reupholster furniture as a way to offer an additional service. And, although she had her mother’s old Singer sewing machine and upholstery book, she contacted a professional for a bit of advice.

“I called an upholsterer, and he said, ‘The best way to learn is to just do it,’” she stated. “So, I started off very small. He did tell me I would need the right equipment, like an air compressor and a staple gun. I purchased that stuff, and I started practicing on chair seats, and then started doing a little more.” The first “real” piece she reupholstered was a settee to fill a custom order.

“Upholstery is huge because a lot of people have furniture they inherited from their mom or grandmother,” she said, adding that it’s not always necessary to replace the cushion. “I only replace it if it needs to be replaced. A lot of that stuff is just a higher quality than what they make today. A lot of them might be down cushions, or horse hair in-between the springs and the seat.”

As the company’s lead designer, Milton, 48, said the finished look of many items is determined either by the condition she finds them in, or her desire to “update” the piece. “I try to make it something that I can see in my house – something I would buy for myself,” she said. “Sometimes I do French country, and sometimes Hollywood regency.” Much of her home reflects the latter because “it can transfer into a more modern style.”

She and her husband, Kandia, who markets the business, and now makes and sells “live wood” tables with plumbing pipes attached, moved the store 21/2 years ago to a larger space – 14430 E. Jefferson at Chalmers in Detroit. Milton sometimes works in the back, while “the rest of the store is set up like a showroom,” despite the fact that they don’t get a lot of foot traffic in the area.

Most sales they receive are through the store’s website (redesignandrestoration.com), and mostly from out-of-town customers, whom they deliver to whenever possible. About two months ago, they drove one of Kandia’s tables to New York, after it was purchased by a flower shop in Greenwich Village. They ship nationwide by Greyhound any orders they’re unable to deliver.

Reupholstery prices for wing-back chairs start at $450, with customers providing their own fabric (and chair). Among popular in-store items are their Louis-style “portrait back” chairs, with fabric prints of such well-known individuals as Joe Louis, Diana Ross and Rosa Parks (pictured seated on the bus). Also, sometimes unfinished items are put on their website, and customers can send their fabric and pick the type of paint finish they’d like. “I’ll make suggestions, and they usually send me a picture,” said Milton.

Redesign and Restoration also rents furniture for special occasions and promotions. “We do a lot of very ornate furniture in white. People like to rent that for weddings and white parties,” said Milton. “And, people, who have a business, come in and rent the vintage furniture to do a promotional picture.”

Starting in 2017, Milton said Redesign and Restoration will offer light-upholstery workshops for adults, and craft classes for children ages 7 and older.

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact Redesign and Restoration (14430 E. Jefferson, Detroit) at (313) 926-3573, or redesignandrestoration.com. Email: redesignandrestoration@gmail.com.