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Niche Publications

Senior Editor for Niche Publications of the Billings Gazette

Things aren’t built to last anymore, but there’s plenty of old products available for purchase that are.

Those dusty antique stores with shelves stocked floor to ceiling with used goods aren’t just geared for grandpa or grandma. There’s a growing market for timeless, sturdy furniture and décor, and the Hamrells are capitalizing on it.

John and April Hamrell own Stoney Creek Traders and operate the Rescued and Reclaimed Vintage Market, which has events biannually at MetraPark in Billings and in Sidney.

Antiquing runs in April’s blood. Her family owned the Western College of Auctioneering, so she grew up around old stuff. And John has a knack for repurposing antiques, so together they made a business out of finding new purpose in old possessions.

What’s old is new

Stop in a big box store like Hobby Lobby, Shopko or Target and you’ll find vintage-looking home décor with chipped or faded paint. While it appears authentic, the manufacturer probably produced it in the last year, which means the product doesn’t have the historic charm nor the stability an antique affords.

“I guess it’s just testimony how far this movement has come along,” said John.

What sets antiques apart from the imposters is not only the material, but the “soul.” It’s what Hamrell says makes customers cry when they connect to the story behind a cabinet’s barn wood, for example.

“I always tell the story of where it came from,” he said. “It’s cool to have a conversation piece.”

But Hamrell focuses on function more than anything. He wants repurposed furniture to be passed down in the family because he knows it comes from material built to last.

Hamrell recently picked up typeset cabinets and work benches from the Roundup Record Tribune. Family-owned since 1908, the small town newspaper purchased used cabinets, making much of what Hamrell collected dating back to the 1800s. He says a work bench could serve as a kitchen island.

“We tend to gravitate keeping and selling and building and repurposing along those lines,” he said. “(Most people) need to utilize all the space in their home. It kind of needs to be functional.”

Hamrell constructs many dining tables and benches out of “big, old chunky corral posts and barn wood” and incorporates material like metal “so that it looks genuinely old when I’m done with it. I always tell my customers, ‘It’s guaranteed for life.’”

“Our show is always going to evolve, but if you buy a functional piece for your home, it’s never going to go out of style,” Hamrell said.

Distressed to impress

Kate Stevens, owner of Salvage Designs in Billings, returned from the Las Vegas Gift and Furniture Market in late January smiling because vintage pieces are making a comeback nationwide. Her store repurposes and sells old furniture and hosts faux painting classes.

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“We felt pretty good walking out of there,” she said of the market which highlighted “cleaner lines, a lot of wood, real natural fibers … a little bit distressed but not so much farmhouse-y like Joanna Gaines.”

Stevens hopes the fad translates to more foot traffic, but admits it’s getting harder to find old furniture to repurpose because other people are taking up the hobby.

“Montana is just not that old and we don’t have that much variety of pieces to find,” Stevens said. “I think we have more midcentury furniture and that’s another huge trend that’s coming.”

Stevens and her daughter are faux painters by trade, using old furniture as their canvas. The techniques include incorporating plaster, decoupage, foils and salt washes to create different looks and update dated furniture.

Aside from the crafts her and her daughter create, Salvage Designs sells vintage light fixtures made from odd household items like fans, typewriters and tools.

When asked why it’s better to buy repurposed, Stevens said, “Well it’s definitely cheaper, but you get a better quality product. And you know you could still resell it down the road because it’s made so well. It’s solid wood instead of particle board.”

“For me, at my age, I could probably afford better pieces. I’d rather go with something old and repurpose it and I enjoy doing that and say, ‘Look what I did.’ Even though people don’t think they have an artistic bone in their body, it doesn’t take much. There’s so many talented people out there.”