Matthew Kovacevich works on an old stool in the shop at his Auburn home. He prefers the quality embodied in most older furniture. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

After learning more about this small end table from Czechoslovakia, Matthew Kovacevich of Auburn was enchanted. He applied half-a-dozen coats of beeswax before feeling satisfied with the results. Submitted photo

Two years ago, Matthew Kovacevich of Auburn was scrolling through Facebook Marketplace when something caught his eye.

It seemed to be a simple hardwood end table, albeit one with a unique shape. But when Kovacevich went to pick it up, he found “a little chunk of history.”

The table was from Czechoslovakia, the owner said, a piece her parents had picked up off the sidewalk to furnish their apartment.

Underneath the table, he found the signature of a notable furniture designer from Czechoslovakia, and a Google search showed it was likely created near the beginning of World War II.

Kovacevich was enchanted. He bought the table and took it home. Half-a-dozen coats of beeswax later, the end table looked like new.

“Crappy Ikea furniture, it’s solid, it lasts,” he said, “but it doesn’t have a story behind it.”


Not content simply buying new, some people like Kovacevich prefer instead to give new life to old furniture. It’s a hobby that many have found solace in, especially since pandemic-era lockdowns.

Upcyclers look for old, quality furniture on Facebook, in antique stores or discarded on the streets, seeking to either restore it to what it once was or give it a new, creative spin. Many say the process feels magical, even spiritual.

Most use their renewed pieces to adorn their own homes, but a few including Kovacevich and his wife, Catherine Creighton, are even working to elevate their passion into a personal business.

Since restoring the small end table in 2021, Kovacevich and Creighton have reconstructed desks, chairs and other furniture, often with a whimsical spin. They’re working to build up a small inventory before launching their business, Worthwhile Find.

For Corey DuFour, the desire to create his own world drove him to modify or create virtually everything in his Lisbon Street eatery in Lewiston, Obscura Cafe & Drinkery.

DuFour learned the value of repurposing materials as a child, when he and his brother built their own tree houses that they connected by bridges. As adults, they started an artistic furniture business in Monmouth, before DuFour decided to branch off and co-create Obscura.


Drawn to the vintage styles of the early-to-mid-20th century, DuFour knew he wouldn’t be able to find pieces to fit his vision easily.

“It’s another time when magic still existed, it felt like,” he said. “There were still innovations coming out that would (blow) your mind,” like flying, or watching the first moving picture, he said.

So, he set out to make it himself.

Corey Dufour serves customers from behind the bar at Obscura Cafe & Drinkery in Lewiston. Dufour created the up-cycled bar from recycled shelves and other hardware. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Much of the current woodwork in Obscura was built with materials found in the shoe store that once occupied the building. Obscura’s stairs, for example, were built using black walnut DuFour discovered hidden behind a makeshift wall in what is now the restaurant’s kitchen. Obscura’s bar and more were constructed largely using old shelves from the store.

He even modified modern speakers to better fit the mood.

“I can’t explain it. Just the feeling, like, I always want to create it myself,” he said. “I kind of need it. It’s an odd feeling, and when you’re done, you’re almost like, you’re sad a little bit (that it’s over). Part of the creative process is like a drug, that’s the only way I can describe it.”


This artistic vision, the desire to create something beautiful, is a core feeling among people who restore and revamp furniture.

Donald Ellis of Lewiston found an old 1800s-era Eastlake dresser, above, and gave it his own creative spin, right. Submitted photo

After sanding it down, he added photos of Marilyn Monroe from a vintage photography book and repainted it black. The dresser also has a fourth hidden drawer at the bottom. Submitted photo

Donald Ellis of Lewiston said he believes every project he takes on represents a minute piece of history, with its own soul to match.

“It’s almost like having a giant piece of art in your house,” he said. “When it’s done, I want people to notice it.”

Ellis has much more fun being creative in his work, rather than simply restoring old furniture. For one recent project, an 1800s-era Eastlake dresser, he painted it black and added images of Marilyn Monroe. But he’s learned that too much customization makes the pieces more difficult to sell.

“Sometimes, you might feel like you’ve created, you know, Mona Lisa,” said Ellis. “Nobody buys it, and it’s OK. You learn (to draw) a line between how crazy you might get in a creative sense.”

For habitual upcyclers, selling eventually becomes important, not only to help finance their work, but to declutter their homes.


“I just can’t keep them all,” Ellis he said. “At one point, my basement looked like Tetris with dressers and different things, bookshelves. . . . Right now I’ve gotten things more under control.”

Jiselle Howe-Fortier of Paris spent no more than $5 on this octagonal end table. Then she got to work, right. Submitted photo

After repainting it white, she decided to try something new and painted a misty mountain scene on top. Submitted photo

Adding her own art is often an essential part of the restoration process for Jiselle Howe-Fortier of Paris.

She and her husband work together to revitalize old pieces of furniture. He usually focuses on the woodworking and sales, while Howe-Fortier adds the artistic flair.

The first piece Howe-Fortier painted was a small, hexagonal table in disrepair. She and her husband planned to remake it in farmhouse style with aged white paint.

But when they finished, she was inspired to do more. She ended up painting a misty mountain scene with pine trees on top.

“Personally, I just like finding the old gems and stuff that technically you can’t get back to how it originally looked,” she said. “It’s damaged, it needs some love. And then, just making it something farmhouse looking or very unique.”


Not just furniture, Howe-Fortier also adds art to old saw blades and windows. She especially likes taking custom orders, she said.

Like many other upcyclers, Howe-Fortier and her husband are working to expand their hobby into a business they’ve named Kind Canoe Restoration. Come spring, they hope to sell their work from their barn on Paris Hill.

But for other people, including Amanda Grenier of Lewiston, upcycling furniture is a personal, one-and-done endeavor.

“Growing up, I had hand-me-down furniture and all that stuff,” she said. “I was really into painting it and doing things, but I never had the resources to do more.”

Amanda Grenier of Lewiston purchased a solid wood bureau on Facebook Marketplace in 2020. After 10 months of trial and error . . .   Submitted photo

… she completed the kitchen island. The final piece is turquoise, with gold accents, new legs and a wooden top. Submitted photo

Rather than purchase a kitchen island, Grenier decided to try her hand at making one herself. Ultimately, the project took far longer than she anticipated – about 10 months from start to finish – and cost more than purchasing something new.

But the end result was worth it, she said.


To start, she found a suitable black bureau on Facebook Marketplace and gave it a fresh coat of paint. Only, the texture was all wrong, and the new turquoise color began to bubble.

So she set to work painstakingly stripping the turquoise and black paint from the bureau with thinner, a process so difficult, she swears she will never do it again.

“It was a lot of talking myself into not just throwing it away and moving on,” she said.

But underneath the chalky black paint, she found beautiful gold accents.

In the end, Grenier painted the rest of the bureau turquoise, adding a counter top, new handles and legs. Now, it’s the centerpiece of her kitchen, physically and artistically.

Grenier advises first-time upcyclers to smart small, with a clear vision of their end goal in mind. Using good quality furniture is especially important, she said.


Donald Ellis of Lewiston bought and later sold this restored dresser on Facebook Market place. First, he chemically stripped it three times to remove the old finish and then used four different stains to create the gradient color scheme. Submitted photo

Then, he sanded, primed and painted the sides, base and center trim, finally adding three coats of satin polyurethane. In total, the project took him a month. Submitted photo

“I kind of had a loosey-goosey idea of what I wanted,” she said. “I kept changing my mind a little bit, and that’s where a lot of the costs would come, especially (from) buying paint and redoing it numerous times.”

Until they try it themselves, most people don’t realize the amount of time and effort it takes to restore old furniture, Ellis said.

“You might be on the last coat of something that you’ve been working on for two months, and then come down to check it out when it’s drying and there might be dust in the poly,” he explained. “So now you have to sand it down and redo it.”

But all agreed that the final end result makes the difficult process worth it.

“The best part of it is to create something,” Grenier said. “Bring it from (your) mind to a physical object, and to see that process and enjoy it. It’s your opportunity to make something unique to you.”

Matthew Kovacevich and his wife, Catherine Creighton, upcycle furniture in the shop at their Auburn home. Since restoring a small end table in 2021, Kovacevich and Creighton have reconstructed desks, chairs and other furniture, often adding a whimsical spin. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

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