Johnsons continue tradition of building, restoring furniture
BY ANDREW FAUST SPECIAL TO THE ENTERPRISE
Oct. 21, 2011
HIGH POINT – A snowlike dusting of wood chips and furniture scrapings covers the workbench where he stands quietly in clothes stained by splattered glue and furniture polish.
He flips through the pages of a three-ring binder, protected by thin plastic sleeves, adorned with faded photos of his projects throughout the years.
A young woman gently leans against a sleek designer armchair. A boy wearing vibrant floral-print shorts proudly smiles next to a wooden wheel. His wife and himself, 20 years younger, stand beside an ornate hand-carved cabinet. Another picture shows him busily working at his workbench.
“This one was taken right here, see the door?” asks Gary Johnson, owner of Johnson’s Antiques and Furniture Restoration, as he points at a darkly stained wooden door surrounded by piles of scrap wood and unfinished projects.
These are his masterpieces: his furniture and his family.
Johnson sits at his kitchen table inside the former furniture factory, which he converted into a gray shingle farm-style house for his family.
“Well, I actually grew up with my dad building furniture, doing reproduction, repairing and refinishing,” says Johnson. “It really just slowly became a big part of my life.”
Beginning about 100 years ago with his great-grandfather, Jesse Gardner Johnson, the Johnson family has dedicated generations to quality craftsmanship.
“It’s one of those things that’s just genetic,” says Johnson. “It’s in you, whether you know it or not.”
As a child, Johnson helped his father, Victor Orval Johnson, with restorations but never planned on continuing his family’s business. Instead, he studied art and electronics, worked a full-time job and helped his father on the side.
However, when his father died in 1972, he became the fourth generation of professional woodworking craftsmen in the Johnson family.
“I had my regular job, but everybody talked me into going into furniture restoration, because they figured I would be as good as my dad,” he says. “I guess it had become like sawdust in my blood.”
While Johnson’s primary responsibility is rebuilding and restoring furniture for his clients, his wife, Florecia, manages the business and helps with some of the restorations, but the craftsman bloodline of the Johnson family is not over.
Both of Johnson’s children, Rochelle and Roby, are continuing the family’s furniture legacy.
Rochelle Johnson-Coleman formerly worked as the head designer for Henredon Furniture Industries, where she became Ralph Lauren’s lead furniture designer.
“Ralph Lauren would actually send his old pieces down here, out of his home, and Rochelle and I would copy them,” says Johnson.
Roby, a professional photographer, and his wife, Cheree, work full time at the family business. Even their 10-year-old daughter, Deanna, has started helping with restorations.
“We all can do just about every function,” says Johnson. “That’s one thing that keeps it all sort of exciting.”
From rotting antique furniture to carousel horses, historic artifacts to Santa Claus statues, and guitars to guns, Johnson has seen it all.
“Today, we restore anything from new furniture in showrooms, all the way back to stuff that was made in the 1700s and older,” he says.
Johnson’s business relies most heavily on word-of-mouth advertising, and with thousands of restorations under their belt, his family’s reputation for repairing furniture speaks for itself ... and, it speaks loudly.
“We’ve done work for every state in the United States, Japan and England,” says Johnson.
In fact, their sterling reputation has helped land several high-profile clients, including former President Ronald Reagan, Ralph Lauren and the Smithsonian Institution.
Johnson describes his restorations as incredibly detailed, labor-intensive work.
Each masterpiece requires many hours of attention, and depending on the piece of furniture, the restorations can last for more than a month.
However, unlike other forms of art, his work does not contain a mark or signature to credit himself. Instead, he strives to make his work blend seamlessly with the past.
“You’ve got to really give it a haircut that doesn’t look like a haircut,” says Johnson, describing his intricate restoration technique.
“We’ve just always had work, and maybe that’s from our reputation,” he says. “I try to do it right, and sometimes I’ll go so far trying that I’ll lose money ... a lot of time I’ll lose money, but I don’t mind doing that just to get it right.”