“I love the idea of taking something that was beautiful and making it beautiful again,” says Cathy Melton about her shop, Vintage Barn Boutique, which opened in July in Just Imagine’s former space on E. Middle St. Melton restores vintage and antique furniture and hand paints it to resell. She is surprised at how brisk business has been since she opened–she has sold “lots of chairs and tables.”
A year ago, Melton, fifty-two, moved back to Michigan, after ten years in Florida. She and her husband, Brian, bought a house in Chelsea, where one of their four children lives. “What a winter to move back!” she says. It was during the worst days of the polar vortex–when their furnace went out–that she brainstormed her business idea. As a real estate broker in Florida, she’d always “loved the staging and design process of selling a house.” She also appreciates both the history and high-quality workmanship of older furniture–most new furniture, she says, is “inferior.”
Melton started out by fixing up friends’ furniture and soon launched a business selling pieces online. Within a few months, her garage and her husband’s office were overflowing with inventory she’d purchased from auctions and estate sales. When she learned about the vacant early 1900s storefront with the high tin ceilings, she knew it would be “perfect for a start-up” like hers.
Melton walks around her shop and points out some of her favorites. Against one wall is an ash-wood 1920s chef’s cupboard. Nearby is a 1970s Ethan Allen stereo cabinet that she painted sky blue and white, inspired by a family vacation to Cape Cod. “When I look at a piece, I think, ‘What would this want to be?'” she says. That’s how a 1960s wooden serving tray with fancy legs was painted a rich red color–“modeled after an expensive shoe.” She also “gave new life” to a 1920s Martha Washington mahogany sewing table with muted gold paint.
“I’m a wood purist,” she says–she’ll only paint over wood that can’t be salvaged. When she can’t fix a piece, she takes a road trip to get help from her father, a retired mechanical engineer who lives in Melton’s native Sylvania, Ohio–he’s even built a tool for her to fix an elaborate spring system in a chair.
Most of the furniture she sells is in the $100 to $200 price range. “This is a chance for people to purchase good quality at a good price–I don’t price-gouge,” she says.
Melton wants to build a barn in a few years–that’s why “barn” is in the name–to sell her treasures, with the goal of building a destination business. She also carries select consignment pieces, and says she’s always open to selling products by Michigan artists–from jewelry to CDs and artwork.
Vintage Barn Boutique, 108 E. Middle St., Chelsea, 788-7100, Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m., closed Mon. vintagebarnboutique.com