Furniture flippers make the old look like new again
WORTHINGTON — When Mary Von Holtum and Herman Duin teamed up to open Fancy That, a downtown Worthington second-hand shop, in 2017, their business was rooted in helping people clean out homes and downsize belongings.
They stocked their store with quality used furniture, antiques and pretty much everything that makes a house a home. As they worked to sell piece by piece in the store, they amassed stockpiles of furnishings that needed either a little — or a lot — of attention.
For Von Holtum, a self-professed Pinterest addict who doesn’t pass up a good show of "Flea Market Flip" or other do-it-yourself offerings on television, there were nearly as many ideas to repurpose, rehabilitate and refresh projects as there were pieces of furniture piling up.
And then COVID-19 arrived, and with it the temporary closure of the 10th Street store.
Von Holtum saw the forced break for the wonderful opportunity it provided — uninterrupted time in the workshop to repurpose and reimagine furniture into solid and functional pieces for today.
“We have probably three or four years worth of project pieces stashed away,” Von Holtum shared. The “we” she refers to are herself, Duin and John Galstad, who each bring unique skills to the table.
Von Holtum is the idea person, dreaming up projects and sharing her vision with the guys.
“She’s thinking of the pretty-pretty, and I’m thinking weight distribution and construction,” Galstad shared. “Herman is my mentor. We kick ideas back and forth.”
Galstad and Duin do the construction — or reconstruction — of project pieces, and Von Holtum does the finishing work such as painting, staining, papering and stenciling. Between the three of them, they provide a steady stream of newly refinished pieces for Fancy That.
Sometimes, a newly completed project piece doesn’t even make it to the display floor before a customer snatches it up, thanks in part to the Facebook marketing done by Von Holtum’s daughter, Amy Johnson, who now manages the retail store.
“She does so much better at the merchandising and keeping the place looking good than I ever could,” Von Holtum shared. “If she hadn’t agreed to take over the retail end, we would never be able to work on projects as we have been.”
Becky Hoeft also works in the retail store between eight and 12 hours per week.
For Von Holtum, the new arrangement keeps her in the workshop, where she is in her element dreaming up ideas and carrying them out with help from Galstad and Duin.
“It’s a shame to throw away the 100-year-old pieces that served their purpose so valiantly,” she said. “We love taking something that someone else used and enjoyed and making it usable again.”
A lot of what the trio focuses on is creating storage pieces. They take horizontal cabinets and flip them into functional, space-saving vertical units, transform old doors into hallway organizers and repurpose headboards into backs for storage benches. Old dressers with updates are also popular, as are desks since students are doing more virtual learning these days.
“Virtually every piece that has gone through (Fancy That) has left in significantly higher quality than it did when it came in,” said Galstad.
“Or cleanliness,” added Von Holtum.
One of their creations was a shelving unit that began as three separate pieces — a brown chest of drawers, a little cupboard and a shelf.
“Somehow they all fit together and we stacked them,” Von Holtum said, adding that they put new heavy duty wheels on it for ease and moving. When the unit sold, the buyer wheeled it down the sidewalk toward home.
While they have had their share of successes in reimagining furniture, there have also been some failures.
“We’ve had a lot of do-overs,” Von Holtum said with a laugh.
It’s to be expected.
“Growing up on the farm you had to fix stuff,” said Duin. “And if you didn’t get it right, you just kept trying,” added Galstad.
That’s how it is in the workshop, too.
Von Holtum, who says she has “just enough” artist in her to make things pretty, said transforming old and unwanted pieces into newly repurposed items remains her vision for Fancy That.
“We’re really trying to focus on the furniture,” she said. “It’s a true recycling thing. Very little gets thrown away. We’re trying to save things from going to the landfill by making them pretty, usable, safe, clean and sturdy.”