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Thursday, April 17, 2014 12:01 am

Repurposed furniture: A market of old and new

Julie Butler of Tossed and Found has put together rooms in her store, which features recycled and reupholstered furniture.


Before throwing out that dresser with a broken drawer or the outdated coffee table, be aware there are a few people in Springfield who can turn it into something new.

With an increasing amount of people using Pinterest, a website featuring do-it-yourself projects, do-it-yourself home improvement is crossing the minds of many. But some of the large-scale objects you might want to leave up to the professionals.

Jodi Cole, owner of Flea Market to Fabulous, located at the corner of Spring Street and Lawrence Avenue in Springfield, has become an expert at taking junk furniture and turning it into eye-catching and vibrant pieces that sometimes even change uses, such as turning a work bench into a kitchen island. With the help of expert painter Nancy Viola, Cole has operated the store on Lawrence Avenue for eight years, long before Pinterest existed. Since then, it’s evolved and she’s filled the building with hundreds of vibrant repurposed pieces, as well as vintage and antique pieces and several ongoing projects. That’s why she calls the store today a “working shop.”

“The creative aspect of taking something and turning it into something else is so rewarding,” she said.

When Cole opened the business, she began using the word “repurposed,” but today, it’s a buzzword. With websites and television encouraging do-it-yourself projects, Cole said the market has somewhat shifted to more people trying things on their own first.

“We encourage that, give it a try,” she said.

But when it doesn’t work out, you can call Cole.

Furniture redesigners say one of the best aspects of the business is transforming historical pieces to fit today’s styles. While that vanity passed down from Grandma may be meaningful, it can be changed a bit to suit your style.

“Let’s just reinvent it so you love it,” Cole said.

Reinventing is essentially what Cole and her team do. A recent visit from a young boy working on a project for his autism therapy sums that idea up: “He said he was supposed to take pictures of things or people that have changed but still remain true to who they are,” Cole said.

While Cole has a building packed with a variety of reinvented treasures, a few new shops in town are taking on the repurposed furniture market with their own twists.

A newer shop caters more to the vintage modern style of recycled furniture. Julie Butler has opened Tossed and Found, at the corner of Lincoln and Madison Streets in Springfield, where she uses her eye for design to help put a modern edge on vintage furniture. Butler has set up a number of settings and vignettes featuring one-of-a-kind repurposed furniture sporting the latest colorful designs and trends. Butler designs the recreated pieces she finds at estate sales or auctions, from Chicago to St. Louis, and then has others paint and reupholster the pieces. 

A table painted by Nancy Viola at Flea Market to Fabulous, where she works alongside store owner Jodi Cole.

Butler noted that it can be hard to find a specific vintage modern piece in Springfield.  She combined that need with her passion for designing to open the shop last July.

“These pieces have good bone and good character,” she said. “They can lend themselves to any kind of decor. They can lend themselves to something new or old. Today’s homes are kind of a mix,” she said.

One reason she thinks the market has shifted to vintage and repurposed furniture as opposed to box-store furniture is that people are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. Additionally, she said older pieces have already proven to be lasting.

“They’re made better,” she said. “They’ll stand the test of time. You can just repaint them to suit your decor.”

Butler has her shop set up so that when you walk in, you feel like you’re in a vintage modern room from setting to setting. Her knack for design can be seen in stacks of colorful new china sets and other decor placed around the store, from children’s ironing boards to her own floral arrangements. But her focus is on the furniture, often with a spray-painted finish with bright new fabrics as the focal point. Whether it’s a lime-green sofa or a black-and-white polka dot bench, Butler has found an outlet for her craving to design.

She also offers pieces that can be specially designed and custom sewing projects.

An even newer shop, Recycled Cottage, opened its doors Jan. 31 at 1326 S. State St. Co-owners Nikki Baker and Tina Thornhill have already had several pieces leave the little house in the few months they’ve been open. Baker noted that while there are other recycled furniture stores in town, they all work together and make up a community that caters to different styles. At Recycled Cottage, the style is shabby chic with a mix of bright and shadowy colors.

The designers at Flea Market to Fabulous took an old vanity and turned it into something brand new.


For Baker, she said, repurposed furniture is about originality.

“It’s about uniqueness, continuing the story, and going green,” she said.

The shop’s repurposed pieces include a vintage dresser from the ’30s or ’40s that came from Springfield’s former Stern’s Furniture. She’s repainted it with Annie Sloan paint, a chalk paint product the store centers around.

While Baker loves to recreate anything from a small table to a bedroom set, the ultimate purpose of the store is to help others do their own recreating.

“We love encouraging people to express the creativity they didn’t even know they had,” she said.

The two are gearing up to offer a number of classes, including chalk paint classes, and a class on Wood Icing, which is a paste that can be used to create texture on wood, metal and other surfaces.

The two also feature a number of small items for sale, including embroidered items and vintage dishware throughout their boutique-style store. They have a room with some stocked up project pieces that customers are welcome to pick through and start their own work.

Baker and Thornhill could probably fill a bigger building, but Baker said small is just the way she likes it. She gets the chance to know everyone in her store and help them with whatever they have in mind.

Ultimately, she said, it’s about making your home a place where you’re comfortable.

“Truly, people have an opportunity to make their home reflect them,” she said. “If they think they have no creativity, they’re wrong. Your home is your first communicator with yourself.”

Contact Lauren P. Duncan at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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