Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. These are the three noble Rs which we’re encouraged to implement in order to effect less waste for the planet. When we think of the three Rs, we think of reducing our single-use plastic consumption. We think of purchasing fewer low-quality retail items. We think of driving less, of repurposing old clothing, and of putting food scraps in the green bin instead of in the garbage bin. But does anyone think of recycling old and outdated furniture? Alison Jackson does. She is the founder of Redefined Finds, a friendly store in Stouffville that not only saves old furniture pieces from landfills, but that also makes them beautiful again.
There is something special about recycling and refinishing an old item of furniture, something which creates a connection to a piece that goes beyond its mere functionality. This is Alison’s favourite part of the job. “I love the creation part of it,” she exclaims. “When a piece comes in, oftentimes I know right away what I am going to do with it. Other times I let it sit here for a while and it will come to me. Maybe I’ll try a few different knobs and handles until I find the right one, and then all of a sudden, the ideas will start to flow. When the piece is actually completed and I was the one who created it from start to finish, I love it. It’s my absolute favourite thing.”
Alison started Redefined Finds eight years ago… out of her garage, if you can believe that! But sometimes the best ideas start small and grow. It was in her garage that Alison began refinishing furniture to sell online. Her side venture quickly expanded, and she found herself setting up booths in two different antique malls (in Pickering and in East Gwillimbury). She began to look at a fixed location for her operation when her booths became too busy for one woman to handle alone. Alison says, “It was too hard to go from Pickering to East Gwillimbury all the time when I was living in Unionville, so it was decided to look at a storefront.” She shopped around and landed on a location on Main Street Stouffville.
Today, Redefined Finds carries hand-painted furniture done entirely in-house, two different lines of specialized furniture paint, accessories and auxiliary products for DIY enthusiasts who want to refinish their own furniture at home, and features the handmade products of approximately 12 local artists and artisans. “We try to keep as much Canadian handmade as we can,” she says.
Because of covid, workshops are not currently a possibility. But when they are, Alison offers a few different types. The first and the biggest is a Paint Your Own workshop. She explains, “People will bring a small wood piece into the shop like a nightstand or a small table. We provide all the products for the three-hour class, and they learn everything from start to finish on how to refinish their own furniture.” There is also an Intro to Furniture Painting workshop which is approximately an hour and a half. For this workshop, Redefined Finds provides the supplies, including the piece to be painted, and participants learn all of the steps to do a piece themselves at home. Additionally, there is an advanced version of this workshop where participants pick up more advanced steps to finishing their furniture on larger pieces, and there are several craft-type classes taught by local artisans that will be brought back in at some point, when it is safe to do so.
The inspiration to dive into furniture painting as a business was, as Alison describes it, an overnight one. “I have a degree in radio and television, and worked in both those fields in country music,” she says. “I ended up getting out of the industry when I had my third child.” A change in her personal situation and time devoted to looking after her children led Alison to realize that she missed working. When her youngest child was ready to enter the first grade, she found herself with some time to spare, but wanted to get into something that would still allow her to be home more often. “I’ve always repurposed things,” she says. “Like, I would take an old dining set and turn it into a bedroom hutch. I didn’t like to throw out anything that was decent. I honestly just woke up one morning and decided that this would be something I could try.”
At this time, repurposing and upcycling furniture was not as popular as it is now. Alison considers herself lucky that it was a relatively new concept when she decided to pick it up. “I called my mom one morning and told her my idea,” she says. “My mom acknowledged that I was really good at that sort of stuff and that it was the right time, with people being more conscious about the environment. I would be on the leading edge of the trend.”
Most of the furniture Alison picks up to refinish comes from customers who are downsizing or refreshing their home. The odd time, one of these pieces will have a wonderful story. “I bought a bunch of pieces from a lady in Aurora that came from her grandmother’s house which she was selling,” she recalls. “There was a huge emotional tie to that house for her; it had been in the family for literally 100 years, and she told me stories all about the different pieces. I bought one to keep for myself and I painted it. Now it’s in my dining room just to remind me of this lady and her story.”
“If you can save a piece of your family history that no longer suits your décor, but you can change it and paint it, then you still have the piece and the essence of the piece,” she adds. “I think that’s the kind of emotional tie that we provide here. There’s so much history, and you’re also doing a good thing for the environment by saving these pieces from going to landfills.”
6258 Main St, Whitchurch-Stouffville
Story by Katherine Ryalen