Life Life

29/01/2018 - 16:45

Breathing new life into old things

In the hands of the craftsmen, old rustic furniture, such as tables, chairs, doors, wardrobes are saved from dumping grounds and "brought back to life".

Wooden door - a popular object for restoration

No one knows exactly when, but on the streets of Dam Phuong and Tran Nhan Tong (Tay Loc ward, Hue city) a new practice appeared. There, old household furniture is bought then restored into their former glory. According to people who follow this vocation, although it is not a craft passed down from generation to generation it has been practiced for dozens of years. There are families with three generations making their living from the practice.

This vocation does not have a proper name. Roughly speaking, it involves buying or collecting unwanted furniture, ranging from tables, chairs, beds, and wardrobes to any junk wooden household items, after which they are stripped, repaired and turned into usable objects again.

Ms. Khieu has pursued this vocation for more than 20 years even though she had no previous experience with carpentry. Thanks to the skills she picked up on the way, she managed to open a shop and later extend it, earning her living from the items disposed of by other people. "This is not a vocation passed down from ancestors, I have been following it by imitating and learning from others. This vocation has been practiced here for 20 years."

Due to the fast pace of modern life and the rising prevalence of factory-made items, the number of abandoned old wooden objects is on the increase. Meanwhile, if restored, values can be added to them on a grand scale as they have stood the test of time. 

"I specialize in restoring old wooden doors. People tend to dispose of them in large quantities in summer or during construction peak times. In terms of quality, they are better than those made from laminated wood. Therefore, if we make every effort to restore them, we can add a lot of value to them, making them of great durability. The restoration process is rather simple, but it entails a great deal of patience. Patience is the prerequisite for this vocation. Normally, I get used furniture for one-tenth of the price of new items, but after being restored, their cost multiplies by many times. During busy time, I have to take on five to seven more workers," Ms. Khieu shares.

Now, on the two mentioned streets, there are more than ten households earning their living by restoring old objects, making restoration peculiar to the streets. According to the craftsmen, this vocation requires them to be meticulous, careful and able to understand customer psyche to create items that suit customer tastes.

Besides, the craftsmen also need to be able to provide advice on interior design - which goes with what; to turn old objects into new and beautiful ones, and to cater for all the needs of customers. Satisfying all of that ensures "job security" for the craftsmen.

"This vocation has managed to exist until today thanks to the fact that there are still a lot of people favoring old things. Old items are not completely useless; on the contrary, they manage to stand the test of time because of the quality of the wood they are made from.  In order to restore old items, first we need to repair, strip and sand, then paint them with PU colors so finished items look just like new," reveals Ton That Minh Tue, a 29-year-old craftsman based on Tran Nhan Tong street.

Tue says that old items range from simple things such as window railings to king-size wardrobes and beds with fine and delicate patterns and carvings. The craftsmen need not only to be meticulous but also to have a good grasp of carpentry so that during the restoration process the original patterns are preserved intact.

"On average, a craftsman manages to restore two items a day. However, king-size items or items with a lot of sophisticated patterns, such as altars or wardrobes take weeks to complete. Our customer base covers not only restaurant or coffee shop owners but also people moving into unfurnished houses. Our products are of good quality but at a low cost. Items are also restored to order," Tue goes on.

Using restored items is still a popular choice as it is quite economical. Phan Xuan Vy, a cafe owner, reveals: " I would like the atmosphere in my coffee shop to evoke a sense of nostalgia for the past; therefore, I go for wooden restored items for the interior decoration. Although they are used items, after being restored their values are on a par with new furniture, even of higher quality."

Story and photo: Le Tho - Dieu Linh