Starting a new tradition
Photo by Sarah C. Phelps
Martha Channer (left) and Jennifer Austin (right) show off a lampshade Austin recovered by adding new fabric and trim. The stool (right corner) is an RJ Austin Design original, one of a pair made from a Waukesha Engine piston mounted on a cast iron flag pole base. Photo by Sarah C. Phelps
In 2006, Jennifer Austin had a problem. She was in the middle of the remodel of a 1937 farmhouse that she and her husband had purchased on Lawndale Road, and although there were many features she enjoyed, the unique-but-dated built-in kitchen wall cabinet had to go.
However, Austin, who owns RJ Austin Interior Design, didn’t feel it was right to send this piece of history to the dump. Instead, she removed it from the wall, refinished it with a new coat of paint, added new hardware, repurposed a piece of limestone as a countertop, and set it in the living room as the perfect cabinet to hold her glassware and other breakables.
Almost everything in Austin’s house might have been something else at another point in time. From the table built from the farmhouse’s original hardwood floors to the stools made from Waukesha engine pistons from the City of Santa Rosa, Austin’s home is a showcase of the beauty of repurposing, a design style which she and her and fellow designer Martha Channer, of MC2 Design in Sebastopol, call “new traditional.”
Described variously as a blend of “Old-World New-World” or “East coast formal and West coast contemporary”, “new traditional” design is about repurposing antique or vintage furniture and updating it to blend with a more contemporary design style. According to Channer, “new traditional repurposing” can be done with furniture from any time period – from antique to vintage 80s – as long as it has good basic structure and style, or what Channer calls “good bones.” Austin said clients come wanting to take a piece of furniture that “may not be their style, but it’s quality furniture, or it may have sentimental value, and we show customers how to use that in their house, without it looking out of place.”
In May, 2011, Austin and Channer, both members of the Sonoma County chapter of the Interior Design Society (IDS), participated in the Designer Showcase 2011 at Fox Hill Estate by designing rooms in The Showcase Home, built by Jon Reiter. The Showcase Home, which featured reclaimed architectural elements from Europe, and eco-friendly building materials, was the perfect venue in which to present the “new traditional” design style that Channer and Austin have found in common. From their teamwork came a fast friendship, as well as a mutual desire to introduce an old idea to a new audience. Both Austin and Channer agree that in the design world, sometimes people feel like they need “permission” to re-use old furniture or blend time periods. The “new traditional” style is giving that permission, said Austin. “We both believe this is not a new concept in Europe, but we’re introducing it here in our county,” said Austin.
“New traditional” serves various sentimental purposes, but Austin and Channer said it also makes sense from an environmental standpoint. “We’re encouraging people to not to be a throw-away society in that respect,” said Channer. Austin said many older pieces of furniture are made from high-quality woods that can no longer be obtained and much of our “new woods” come from cutting down the rainforest. “It’s environmentally friendly and emotionally satisfying,” said Austin. Channer added that she and Austin also place an emphasis on using local artisans and vendors. With more than 20 years of design experience between the two of them Channer and Austin bring a toolbox of skills, product design and local resources to the table.
What if you need new hardwood floors in your 1937 farmhouse? You could rip them all out and toss them in the junk heap. “Or you can hire a designer, save the original floor and make it into a table,” said Austin. “Or wainscosting,” added Channer. Both of which Channer and Austin have actually done.
“We’re hoping our way of thinking will be remembered in the future,” said Channer. “We’re starting a tradition and hopefully we’ll be remembered in posterity as the generation who started reusing everything.” And it couldn’t hurt to have it look good to boot.
Find out more and view portfolios by RJ Austin Interior Design at rjaustindesign.com or 322-5085, and MC2 The Science of Design at www.mctwodesign.com or 888-4856.
Sarah Phelps is an editor and staff writer.