The couple giving new life to old favourites talk to Thomas Heaton
THE FRONT OF VITRINE’S Auckland warehouse is a labyrinth: tables are stacked two men tall, chairs and benches fill the spaces in between. There are also old steel lockers, antique fridges, iron bread baskets, even old bar tops. They’re crammed together, all waiting for their eventual facelift.
Julien Thery walks through, pointing out the nuances of each table; there’s the type of wood they’re made out of, the hidden bread boards and drawers. He can tell you where each table comes from. There are the imperfections too – the borer hole, the stains from hot pots, marks from bread-cutting. Some have been slightly bleached and worn down thanks to years of breadmaking.
Many of them are from Normandy in the north of France; some could be from La Marche, south of Paris. Other pieces might come from Poland, former Czechoslovakia, England or The Netherlands. They’re all preloved tables, coming from farms, schools or libraries, fashioned from cherry wood, walnut, oak or pine.
Frenchman Julien has been restoring tables, along with plenty of other pieces of furniture, as a business with his wife Amanda for about seven years. They’ve been providing centrepieces and fit-outs for homes and businesses across the country. Restaurant fit-outs are about 80 per cent of their business.
To say Julien and his team restores pieces would be correct, but that infers they’re being restored to original condition, which is not quite the case. They’re being revitalised, given new life. Blemishes are embraced, knots, cuts, stains and all. Some have been fiddled with too – covered in plastic floral wraps or sanded down.
For one table, the entire process takes one person three weeks, so by the time they’ve restored everything, they’ll have another shipment coming from France. More work goes into each table after Julien and his fellow restorers have finished with them. They’re French polished by one of the few who can do it in New Zealand. “It’s an art,” Amanda explains.
Amanda says they see a lot of firsthome buyers investing in the tables, looking to create their own stories around them. Many of them are buying their very first table too.
“They are buying an object, but they are buying something to have their friends and family around,” Julien says. “It’s important for people; memories are made around the table.” They’re all different, but all have “presence and that feeling of quality”, he says.
There are plenty of other intriguing pieces strewn throughout the space in suburban Morningside. There’s the large black sign with “fourrure” (fur) in large gold font, sitting upright against old steel lockers. In front sits an antique child’s ride-on spaceship, from Belgium. Loup is also part of the furniture – he’s a shrewd, handsome beagle who can be found in the sunny spots. “He’s been there since day one,” Amanda says.
Each piece has its own story, and is about to have its second life in New Zealand. The shopfront is packed with Julien’s hand-selected pieces from a recent trip to Europe. He takes three six-week trips each year, sourcing the best Europe has to offer at flea markets and through contacts. Once a year Amanda and their two children join him in France for the trip.
While all these different treasures span decades and styles, they all have one thing in common. Julien says how they pick each piece is simple. “Everything that we buy, we love.” inthevitrine.com