Kelly Wohlgenant has always enjoyed making old furniture new again.
She once found an old book case at a thrift store, she said. It was missing a back, so she cut a board to size and and placed it. Then she painted the item a reddish-orange color to match her home.
That book case is still in her bedroom, she said.
Wohlgenant has turned her fascination with restoring old furniture into a business. She runs Retro Modern Furnishings out of a two-room space on St. Mary’s Street in Raleigh’s Glenwood South neighborhood.
The store sells tables, sofas, vintage pieces – anything that catches Wohlgenant’s creative eye at an estate sale.
Wohlgenant, 36, grew up in Raleigh and studied industrial design at N.C. State University.
As a child, she said, she loved art, and she was also good at math and science. She figured industrial design, the study of mass-produced products, was the right path for her.
“That kind of married the two together,” Wohlgenant said. “It piqued my interest.”
Jobs she landed allowed her to focus on her creativity. During an internship, she designed luggage.
She spent two years working at Disney World, doing theatrical face painting. She would transform children’s faces into tigers or princesses.
Wohlgenant went on to earn a master’s degree in marketing from Texas A&M University.
Back in North Carolina, she worked five years doing consumer research for RTI International. But she missed design work.
“Call it a midlife crisis,” Wohlgenant said. “I just felt I needed to be creative again somehow.”
So she turned to her hobby of restoring furniture. In the spring of 2014, she put about 20 items on Etsy, an online site in which people sell handmade and vintage goods.
Things didn’t sell right away, she said, including a mid-century dresser with brass handles that Wohlgenant painted peacock blue.
Wohlgenant also started selling at local vintage markets. The first item she sold at a pop-up shop in Raleigh was a 1950s beach chair that she reupholstered.
Meanwhile, she said, her Etsy shop got busy.
In December, Wohlgenant moved into the St. Mary’s Street space, which she shares with the Record Krate. She started in one room and has since expanded to a second room.
“I’ve done really well in here considering the size,” she said.
These days, Wohlgenant said, she sells more in person than online. Larger items, like that blue dresser, are easier to sell locally, she said.
Mid-century modern furniture, made in the 1950s through the ’70s, has become more popular. The clean, modern lines and walnut finish appeal to many customers, Wohlgenant said.
The idea of saving items from the landfill also appeals to Wohlgenant. So does the idea of having something special in the home.
“In most cases, the pieces are unique,” she said. “It’s not something someone else is going to have.”
Wohlgenant has started taking part in First Friday, Raleigh’s monthly gallery walk. She also continues to sell at vintage pop-up shops, including Urban Vintage at downtown Raleigh’s City Market next month.
“It’s kind of a challenge,” she said of her work. “I think I just enjoy looking at a piece and thinking what it could be.”
Find out more
Retro Modern Furnishings is open from noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at 508 St. Mary’s St., Raleigh. Appointments are available weekdays. For more information, go to www.retromodernfurnishings.com.
Urban Vintage will feature antique and thrift items from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, at downtown Raleigh’s City market.