Kelly Millspaugh Thompson hauls goods around her native City of Falls Church in a green 1976 Ford pick-up truck she lovingly calls Ira. The truck, in part, inspired the name of her latest business venture, a vintage furniture refurbishing operation called Stylish Patina.
She and her husband joked that Ira, a Craigslist find, had a lot of “patina.” While the term refers to the layer of tarnish that builds up on aged wares, the word means much more for Thompson.
“I just loved that word, patina,” Thompson said. “To me, it was a combination of old, and interesting, and having character.”
While the beloved truck fueled the name, the chance to pursue the new business came from a recent career change.
Thompson was a vice president of operations at Hooked on Phonics before leaving her job to focus on her consulting firm, Jump-Start Consulting, about a year and a half ago. The newly gained flexibility in her work schedule let her focus her efforts on a hobby she had enjoyed since college – finding and refurbishing old pieces of furniture.
Her hobby began when she was just out of college – out of necessity, she says – when she needed to furnish her apartment on a tight budget.
“I had just graduated college, and I was looking to furnish my first apartment, but I didn’t have a lot of money for furniture,” Thompson said. She took to sales to find bargain pieces she could refresh.
Fifteen years later and Thompson was still adding her own special panache to furniture finds, but not yet selling her products.
“I just started doing more and more of it, and finally said I should try to make a go of this, and try to make this a business,” Thompson said.
Out of that desire, Stylish Patina was born.
She attached the name to the small business she was starting after she showcased her furniture in May at a local vendor fair. The operation has since grown. Thompson has had a vendor space since July at Stifel & Capra in the City, and joined with the FOUNDRY store owner Yvette Freeman to open the Stylish Patina Barn in Frederick, Maryland. She has sold her furniture in the repurposed barn on the third weekend of every month since its opening in December.
The operation has kept Ira – who Thompson calls her first employee – rather busy, from hauling pieces found during her “treasure hunting” trips, to delivering the reinvigorated finds to sales.
“I get just as many comments on Ira as I do on the furniture,” Thompson said.
When it comes to finding the perfect piece, Thompson says she scours yard sales, estate sales and resale shops looking for items. Furniture with unique carvings or ornate shapes that she can give special attention catch her eye, and she repaints the objects but also distresses around the flourishes in the figures to mimic the wearing that would happen naturally over time. She also looks for solid wood pieces, which she says aren’t as common on today’s market.
“I think I love the fact that you’re repurposing something from the past,” Thompson said of the draw to her hobby, and added that her projects are in line with the environmental concept of going green.
At her dealer space in Stifel & Capra, customers can find not only pieces of furniture with a fresh facade – like her latest favorite, a blue and cream buffet she describes as having a “vintage, kind of French-y style,” that she painted and treated with clear and dark wax finishes – but also items suited to those with a taste for the vintage, like a collection of old hard-cover Hardy Boys books. She also sells her preferred brand of paint at the store, and doles out tips to customers and fellow DIY-ers looking for their favorite color. Thompson has, since the beginning of the year, been teaching classes at the Falls Church Community Center on the basics of refurbishing furniture, and through her blog at stylishpatina.com lets readers into the life and work of a furniture fixer-upper.
Stifel & Capra is located at 260 W. Broad St., Falls Church. The Stylish Patina Barn is located at 4051 Stanford Court, Frederick, Maryland. For more information, email [email protected] or visit stylishpatina.com.