New life for old furniture
● By J. Chambless
Thrifty Vintage in West Chester offers repurposed furniture and decorator items in a distinctive mix.
By John Chambless
As a young child, Beth Stiles would sit on her bedroom floor and push her furniture around with her feet. “Every single month, I would push things around my room,” she said, laughing. “It drove my parents crazy. But I liked change. I was trying new things.”
That may have been the start of her new business, Thrifty Vintage in West Chester, where she turns old furniture into new showpieces, using just the right paint and her designer’s eye.
During a recent interview at the pleasantly packed store on North Church Street, Stiles said, “I grew up in West Chester, graduated in 1998 from Unionville, and then I went to West Chester University. I graduated with a degree in sociology and was a social worker until I had my kids. Then I was a stay-at-home mom. My whole family still lives around here.”
Stiles and her husband have two children, Ashley, 10, and Evan, 12. In 2009, without a large budget for home furnishings, Stiles took a good look at a painted piece she had bought in 2008 for her kitchen and thought, “I could do that.”
“When you’re young you don’t have a lot of money,” Stiles said. “I had done a lot of scrapbooking, and I drew and painted in high school. I’ve always been artistic and creative.”
That first project turned into several, and from 2012 to 2016, Stiles sold her repurposed furniture online as The Thrifty Vintage Mama. “I like decorating, but I do it on the least amount of money possible,” she said. “The online site was where I got a lot of my followers and custom jobs.”
But her work took up a lot of space, and the garage of her family home in West Chester was getting overstocked, “so I started looking for a storefront in the area,” she said. She found the cozy shop on Church Street and set about filling it. Thrifty Vintage opened a year ago, offering repurposed furniture by Stiles, along with handmade goods by consignors who are all regional. There are now 21 other crafters and artists represented, and their work is carefully arranged and blended by Stiles so that customers can easily envision using the pieces in their own homes.
“They’re all from Chester County, and they all have different styles,” Stiles said. “They mostly work out of their homes. I wanted to help them and represent them, but also have my own shop. My goal is to get the store to be 90 to 95 percent repurposed and refinished items,” but until that time there are a few new, imported pieces that fit the design aesthetic, just to fill the shop space.
“The artists can bring in what they want, and they have no specific space,” Stiles said. “I decorate the way I want. It’s a blend.”
When it comes to selecting which pieces of furniture Stiles will take on, she has a few rules. “No pressboard,” she said, because it’s flimsy. “And nothing with veneer,” because it peels. “I’m looking for good used pieces that are solid wood.”
She also pays a little so she can do her work and sell the pieces at a reasonable price. “I get a lot from Facebook Marketplace, Habitat Re-Store, Craigslist,” she said. “And people give me things.”
A vintage buffet in the shop has been painted a sunny yellow, with just enough scuffs and texture to make it look interesting. “I keep my prices really, really low, because I need to get things in and out of the shop really fast,” Stiles said. “I take old pieces nobody wants. Stuff in here is priced from $3 to $400.”
She is inspired by nature’s colors, so a lot of her furniture has floral tones. “I’ll look around at flowers, or signs, or kids clothing. One time I did a piece called Blue Jean Baby because I saw a pile of blue jeans on Pinterest and I loved the color mixture. We made a dresser look like blue jeans. I’m trying to get people to bring colors into their houses.
“I like to keep the wood if I can. If it shows a good grain, I will sand it down and save it, especially edging, or fronts,” she said. “I love keeping the original hardware if I can.”
Any major problems with the structure or joints of a piece are repaired by Stiles’ husband, and she handles the beautification part. “If there are pieces that have decorative areas on them, I’ll accentuate that with the paint,” she said.
And all of her items have a pleasantly textured, scuffed and worn look, as if they have been well-used and loved. “It’s good with kids. I suggest that to people,” Stiles said. “I had hand-me-down furniture and my two dogs, and they chewed it to pieces. Everybody going through that phase, with young kids, can’t afford a lot of really expensive furniture. These pieces can take a beating and they’re very well made. I give people some chalk paint with the finished piece and say, ‘Here, if it gets scratched, just rub some paint on and it’s fixed.’ Most of the time, they like the pieces a little distressed, and I like that, too.”
Stiles said her own home is more modern, with a few vintage pieces as accents. She works closely with local artisan Nancy Franks, who helps with completing jobs and supplying ideas.
Stiles is launching what she’s calling Thrifty Home. “It’s basically ideas for interior decorating. I’m really into staging things like dining room tables, or gallery walls, or tablescapes,” she said. “I’m going to offer that service after I finish a piece for a client. I just did a table for a friend of mine, and she’s keeping it all. I can dress up a room for under $50.
“Everybody loves my dining room table,” Stiles said, laughing. “It’s an Ikea table, but we put farmhouse wood on top of it, so it looks huge and dramatic, and stained and weathered. It’s awesome.”
Right now, Stiles said, “I’m too busy,” with the demands of running the store and refurbishing furniture – as well as her family – taking up pretty much every hour of the day. She gets the word out on social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, offering ideas and tips, and asking for feedback as projects go along.
She and Franks just finished redoing a kitchen at a cost that was a fraction of what a contractor was going to charge the homeowner, using their skills with paint and color to finish the successful job.
In the back room of the store are objects waiting for Stiles, including castoff crib rails that will be painted and hung from the ceiling, strung with lights. There’s an antique railing from the West Chester University campus in the shop now, adding architectural interest 10 feet off the floor. There’s an old steamer trunk that’s in need of her special touch, and a 1970s sideboard that is uninspired at the moment, but will soon be a showpiece of someone’s home.
All of this work takes energy, and as Stiles animatedly talks about her passion for finding the right décor, it’s clear she has the ideas and the fortitude to take Thrifty Vintage into the future. “My daughter Ashley helps me all the time,” Stiles said. “She’s exactly like me.”
To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.