Forgotten furniture and abandoned antiques get a second life at Modern Vintage Design Studio in Sandwich.
No piece of furniture is as alluring or romantic as the vanity table, an artifact from a bygone era. Vanity tables, with elegant drawer pulls, large mirrors, and intricately carved legs, were once a staple in every bedroom, places where women spent hours primping. It’s not hard to imagine that every vanity was once the scene of an interesting personal story.
“I feel like the vanities are such personal pieces,” says Kristen Schober, co-owner of Modern Vintage Design Studio (MVDS) in Sandwich, which opened its doors in Merchant’s Square this past May. “Now women are so rushed in the morning, doing their makeup and getting ready, but at one time they sat there for hours. It’s such a feminine experience. I always think to myself when I am working on vanities: who sat here and looked in these mirrors before?”
At MVDS, Schober, 28, and fellow co-owner Cara Crupi-Dulmaine, 31, give vanities and other carefully chosen furniture and home decor items a second chance to be an important part of people’s lives. The studio space and boutique is a collaboration between the two women, who draw inspiration from their surroundings and use items found around Cape Cod for their unique treasures. By creating pieces made of old doors from Nantucket, tin from turn-of-the-century Cape buildings, and washed up driftwood from the beaches among other materials, the duo have fashioned a distinctive balance of luxury and aesthetics.
The story of MVDS begins with childhood dreams. Schober, who grew up in Sandwich, was creative as a child. She loved to draw and enjoyed painting with her grandfather, a commercial artist in Chicago. After designing a logo for Trés Chic studio in Sandwich, she developed a friendship with the owner, Teresa Morris, who introduced her to what would not only become her passion, but her future: “The owner taught me how to paint and use power tools, and I fell in love with the work I was doing,” says Schober. Soon she began working on furniture in her spare time––her creativity and her penchant for old furniture intertwining.
Crupi-Dulmaine followed a similar path. She grew up in Sandwich and spent her childhood sewing with her aunt and enjoying other crafts. After college, she worked as a graphic creative director, taking textile and surface design classes on the side. She began designing swatches and shipping the pieces out for fun. After having a child in 2011, she stopped working full time and decided to pursue her own interests.
Schober and Crupi-Dulmaine have known each other since childhood. Both women attended Simmons College in Boston. Both simultaneously developed an interest in furniture and fabric, and soon began designing fabric swatches and restoring furniture in Crupi-Dulmaine’s basement. What started out as a hobby quickly grew into a business after the pair started brainstorming ideas.
In September of 2011, the two began to collaborate in earnest. They looked into opening their own store and studio. “We didn’t want to keep doing craft fairs, and we needed work space. It was getting too hard to do all of this at home as the business grew,” Crupi-Dulmaine says.
The studio and shop today overflow with an abundance of fascinating furniture: repurposed and redesigned vanities, tables, chairs, bed frames, benches, and desks. Schober spends several hours each week combing flea markets, estate sales, yard sales, consignment shops, and searching Craigslist to find the perfect pieces.
Her boyfriend’s parents, whom she calls her “pickers,” also scour sources of collectible items on her behalf. “Old pieces just have so much character, and furniture isn’t made like that anymore,” Schober says. Her favorite pieces are the ones that she says “need some love.” Turning finds into something beautiful and worthy is the essence of the partners’ business philosophy. To that end, Schober uses different painting, sanding, and waxing techniques to both accentuate and fix up the imperfections of each piece.
Crupi-Dulmaine upholsters the furniture and makes pillows and window treatments to highlight each piece of repurposed furniture. The fabrics are marvelous bleached-out pastels and bright colors in bold, yet whimsical designs as well as damask prints that Crupi-Dulmaine designs in-house for printing at a North Carolina company. The fabric, designed by hand or with computer software, combines the seamstress’s love for graphic design and her considerable sewing talents.
One highlight of Crupi-Dulmaine’s craftsmanship is a series of whimsical custom fabrics devoted to various Cape towns, each pattern a collage of graphics depicting landmarks, businesses, and other icons. The Sandwich fabric, for example, includes local favorites like Scorton Creek, Sandy Neck Beach, Shawme Pond, the Boardwalk, Town Neck, and East Sandwich Beach.
Crupi-Dulmaine also takes commissions for custom wall pieces and window treatments. Besides selling pieces in the retail space, MVDS does commission work for homes and offices. Customers approach MVDS with a picture of an empty room and the pair design and create pillows and valances as well as furniture to showcase each individual interior.
At MVDS, redesigning time-worn furniture doesn’t simply help retell a story—it honors the past. “I love having a piece of history in a home, serving its new family,” Schober says. “I love telling customers who come in about our different pieces, where they came from, and what they were once used for.” At Modern Vintage Design Studio, holding on to the past means telling a great story again.
Ashleigh Bennett is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in East Sandwich. Hillary Wenzel contributed to this story.
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