Ask the expert: Amy Fredrickson and The creation of Revitaliste
If you’ve ever considered updating a piece of furniture, you surely know that it is not for the faint of heart! There are so many decisions to make and details to consider…and heaven forbid your attempt at modernizing totally ruins Great Aunt Cheryl’s armoire! Lucky for us, companies like Revitaliste exist to make the revitalization process easy breezy. I recently interviewed the founder of Revitaliste, Amy Fredrickson, and am so excited to share her story with you! Her background is just fascinating, and I loved hearing how Revitaliste evolved from her personal pain point to a business concept to a successful company. Enjoy!
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KM: Take us way back - what was your childhood home like? Did you grow up around vintage and antique pieces?
AF: My parents invested in beautiful, quality-crafted furniture when they were first married. I learned early on that furniture with good bones can live in virtually any space and meld with any aesthetic. Each decade, they revitalized the furniture to be more “current”: in the 70s our home was all browns, golds and oranges, in the 80s everything was transformed with powder blue and mauve, the 90s were all earthy neutrals…and so on. When I was in high school, my maternal grandparents passed away and we inherited their beautiful antiques. My parents seamlessly integrated those pieces into our home by changing the finishes and the fabrics.
KM: What was your work background before you launched Revitaliste?
AF: Similar to the decor of my childhood home, my career has had several chapters. I started my career in finance, working for large investment banks in New York, London and Buenos Aires. After a decade, I transitioned to the world of branding, working at creative agencies on brand strategy and brand valuation projects in the US, Europe and South America. I then tried my luck as an entrepreneur, launching a web-based custom clothing business in the first internet wave…which “burst” along with the overall internet bubble in 2000. I went on to do a Masters degree and after graduation decided to harness my business and language skills to work in the non-profit sector supporting entrepreneurs to build thriving businesses in developing countries. Marriage and motherhood made that career path a bit more challenging (I was living in rural Mozambique). And the most rewarding job of all…full-time motherhood with my kids for five adventure-filled years prior to launching Revitaliste.
KM: On your website, you mention developing your flair for revitalizing furniture while living in NYC. What was the first piece of furniture you found and made your own?
AF: My first revitalized piece was a beautiful antique secretary that had been left on the curb in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side. It had beautiful lines, but was painted in a very outdated yellow color - I was surprised that anyone would simply trash it because it was outdated. I convinced my roommate to help me haul the piece up to our fourth floor brownstone apartment! I momentarily flirted with tackling the refinishing myself.
But with limited time, patience and skill, I turned to the phone book to seek the help of a professional refinisher. The final product was so exquisite! I couldn’t believe that this beautiful piece was nearly sent off for landfill! After that first transformation, I was hooked.
KM: From what I understand, Revitaliste grew from a pain point you experienced after moving to the Bay Area. Can you share a bit about that experience?
AF: After many years of revitalizing furniture in New York, I had slowly and organically developed a network of trusted artisans to help me realize my visions for each revitalized piece I brought to them. I found my first refinisher via the Yellow Pages (and, I believe, fate) and all subsequent artisans via word of mouth from within the artisan community.
When we moved to San Francisco, I had many pieces I wanted to revitalize to better blend with my new home. Having no idea where to go or any referrals in my new city, I was surprised by how much more challenging and time consuming the furniture revitalization process was. It was difficult to get quotes from artisans, I didn’t know where to buy fabric, I didn’t have any movers who charged reasonable prices for picking up one piece of furniture at a time, and not all the revitalization work was done to the quality standard I wanted. I was spending an insane amount of time trying to get these pieces re-done! If I wasn’t so committed to revitalizing (versus replacing) these pieces, I would surely have thrown in the towel.
KM: Was there a specific moment you realized you wanted to create your own business? What were your first steps?
AF: One evening at dinner with a friend and my husband, I was outlining in great detail (e.g. complaining) the inefficiencies of revitalizing furniture. The friend, an interior designer, concurred that in fact it was a problem for the entire interior design industry. And my husband suggested that rather than bemoaning the problem, I should fix it. And that’s all it took! I set to work sketching out where the inefficiencies were and how to eliminate them. I spoke to a LOT of people - designers, design savvy friends, revitalization artisans, people in the fabric industry and finishes industry. The first 6 months were pure research and concept development. And then another 4 months creating the brand: name, logo, basic website, marketing material.
KM: How did you go about connecting with your first clients?
AF: My very first clients were all friends or acquaintances, and having just moved to San Francisco, that wasn’t a very large group of people. So I also started pounding the pavement by pitching Revitaliste’s services to antique and vintage stores, the San Francisco Design Center and other design related retail venues - I asked these stores to promote Revitaliste to their clients. And I started networking within the interior design community to spread the word. It took a full year of hustling to start to get a little traction.
KM: How has Revitaliste evolved in the past few years?
AF: The business has really taken root in the past two years. I’m thrilled with our tremendous growth which has been primarily fueled by word-of-mouth referrals from happy clients. I accredit this to the amazing work of our artisan network and the unwavering commitment to excellent customer service from the team at Revitaliste.
KM: Having spent time on both coasts, how would you describe the different aesthetics?
AF: I find it interesting how history and environment play a role in shaping the collective aesthetic of place. In general, I think the aesthetic of the East Coast is more grounded by an appreciation for antiques and provenance. Nature seems to be a central source of inspiration for design on the West Coast. I see the San Francisco aesthetic as more serene and drawn to sophisticated coziness while Los Angeles feels more vibrant and colorful.
KM: Are there any misconceptions people have about your work?
AF: People often compare the cost of revitalizing furniture with the cost of buying new furniture. From my perspective, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison. A revitalized piece is a one-of-a-kind creation, while a new piece can be purchased by anyone. The price of the two may be comparable but the end result of a revitalized piece is totally unique.
We’ve heard people suggest that only high-end furniture is “worthy” of revitalization. We believe that if a piece is sentimental, has unique lines, is collectible, or perfectly fits a space or function in your home then it’s a great candidate for revitalization.
We increasingly revitalize new furniture. This is a much more affordable way to have a bespoke piece than custom building it. For example, we’ll reupholster standard office chairs from a mass retailer using gorgeous fabrics to create a totally custom look.
KM: What do you love most about your work? What is the biggest challenge to running your own business?
AF:I absolutely adore working with our artisan network. I’m personally in the workrooms on a regular basis to collaborate with and learn from our artisans - they are masters of their crafts and I have the utmost respect for their work.
We have thus far funded the company through organic growth versus outside capital; this means that we can only spend as much as we’re making. It can be rather frustrating to feel resource constrained, particularly when we’re pushing so hard to keep up a healthy rate of growth. In these moments of frustration, I channel the energy of the extraordinary entrepreneurs I worked alongside in developing countries. Their industriousness, ingenuity and perseverance in extremely challenging environments continues to inspire and fuel me in my own entrepreneurial pursuits.
KM: What has been your most exciting project?
AF: Any project in which we’re transforming a deeply sentimental piece for a client. I always love to hear the history of the pieces we work on…and their have been some really touching stories throughout the years at Revitaliste. One example is a gorgeous, century-old heirloom secretary desk that a client inherited from his grandmother. Growing up, he spent many weekends at his grandmother's home, and one of his most vivid memories of her is at this desk, writing letters and doing the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. We refinished the desk and added some tech upgrades to bring it into modern day without compromising the ornate carving details.
KM: What would be your dream project or client?
AF: Our mission is to make furniture revitalization super seamless, efficient and accessible for everyone. The clients who choose to work with us find value in our service offering and the peace of mind knowing that their furniture will be perfectly revitalized.
KM: What is on the horizon for Revitaliste?
AF: After a year of huge leaps in the breadth and depth of our service offering, 2019 will be a year to solidify the big initiatives we implemented in 2018. In June we launched our services in Los Angeles and in October we launched an online fabric library showcasing over 5,000 fabrics from boutique textile designers around the world. We’ll continue to build out the fabric library by adding new designers and technical functionality over the course of this year. And we’re excited to expand and deepen relationships with the vibrant design community of the Greater Los Angeles Area. There is so much potential in that market, and we’ve only scratched the surface!
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Thank you Amy and Team Revitaliste!