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posted: 9/7/2013 1:00 AM

Designer expands furniture company to include DIY products

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  • Furniture designer Amy Howard has a new line of powder paints to refinish old furnishings.

      Furniture designer Amy Howard has a new line of powder paints to refinish old furnishings.
    Patricia Sheridan/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • One-step furniture paint by Amy Howard.

      One-step furniture paint by Amy Howard.
    Patricia Sheridan/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • A display of lacquer paint colors available from Amy Howard at Home.

      A display of lacquer paint colors available from Amy Howard at Home.
    Patricia Sheridan/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 
By Patricia Sheridan
Scripps Howard News Service

HIGH POINT, N.C. -- "Did you know Americans throw away more than 10 million pieces of furniture a year?" asked Amy Howard.

Her company, Artisan Studios, produces her eponymous handcrafted furniture. But standing at the High Point Furniture Market, she wasn't surrounded by new offerings from the Amy Howard furniture collection. She was up to her blond tresses in paint cans, gilts and finishes.

It was the spring showcase of Amy Howard at Home: Rescue, Restore, Redecorate, her line of products made for those who want to rehabilitate old furnishings. It includes powders, pigments, one-step paint, aerosol lacquers, gilts, strippers, stains and more. In some ways, her career has come full circle.

"This is how I got my start 28 years ago, looking for pieces of furniture I could restore," she said.

She and her husband, Gene, would scour flea markets and antiques stores near Memphis, Tenn., finding pieces to redo. Then she began to design and build her own furniture inspired by antiques, and the Amy Howard Collection was born. While she continues to make handcrafted, hand-painted new furniture at the Tennessee factory, this new venture is equally important.

"As I watched the industry change with more and more furniture being manufactured overseas, I got the idea to start trying to save the old, out-of-fashion pieces that were mostly made in America decades before.

"These were our mothers' and grandmothers' things. There may have been sentimental value. I wanted to do something," she said.

Taking the techniques and proprietary finishes that are used in the studio, she began to create products that do-it-yourselfers would find easy to use.

"We wanted to bring the art of restoration to an elegant, sophisticated level that is not crafty or hokey," she said.

She trademarked the phrase "Enjoy the bragging rights" because that is what happens when people do the work to bring a piece of furniture back to life. One of her other tag lines is "Creating a luxury lifestyle the DIY way."

"A pastor of our church asked me to redo a mirror. He said, 'Would you rescue and restore it because God rescues and restores us?'" Howard said.

She created a video that went viral. "I can't be there to show everyone, so this allows me to reach a larger audience."

Howard has done other step-by-step videos for using her products, all at amyhowardathome.com.

She has also started workshops that include art-history lessons in which she explains how she came up with the color palettes, such as the Toscana powder paints.

Pigments for the all-natural Toscana products came from the south of France, adding an authentic Old World patina to the blandest of furnishings. Her one-step paints will cover wood, melamine, concrete, plastic or resin.

"You can go over it in one step. You don't have to strip it or prime it," she said.

But if stripping is necessary, she has a natural soy furniture stripper for removing old paint and finishes. Like her paints, the stripper is low in toxic chemicals.

"Lacquer is very hot right now, but there weren't any furniture lacquers in an aerosol can. You used to have to use a large spray rig or take your piece to an automobile shop or something to have it done, and it's very expensive," she said.

Howard developed a spray lacquer in 14 popular colors. "It's been a huge hit, huge," she noted, smiling.

The Amy Howard at Home line even includes gold leaf. "A lot of people, when they are refinishing a piece of furniture or a mirror, want to be able to have a gilt accent."

She added: "We are even teaching people how to do an antique mirror by stripping the back and antiquing it or doing things like eglomise (a French term meaning 'glass gilded'). You can make zinc out of galvanized sheet metal. You can use it as a cap on a harvest table, on a wall or on countertops. It's a great alternative to stone. Parisian zinc countertops are fabulous," she said.

Her goal is to eventually have mini-workshops all over the country so people can bring in a piece of furniture and redecorate it that day.

"I am not wanting to take anything away from the furniture industry. I just want to enhance it with different options."

For demonstration videos, go to amyhowardathome.com or visit her blog, amyhowarddaily.com.

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