Refreshed by Jess: How one local designer turns second-hand furniture into first-rate art
On any given day, you may find Jess Randall, owner of furniture-makeover and design business Refreshed by Jess, popping into any one of the many second-hand, thrift, or antique stores around Gaston County, hunting for hidden furniture treasures. It takes her just a few minutes to park, run in, and scan the furniture selection, looking for a piece she can bring back to life.
When she finds it, she loads up her van or trailer and is on her way in no time, back to her home and work studio in Gastonia.
Randall has sanded, repaired, stained, and painted her way into her own niche of furniture refurbishment, one that mixes the use of natural wood grain and rich paint colors to create art in furniture form.
Though working with all eras and styles of furniture, Randall loves to work with the MidCentury Modern (MCM) style of bedroom pieces most: low-boy dressers, talls, hutches, end tables, and night stands. “I value the quality furniture made over 50 years ago,” Randall says, and so she looks for cool vintage pieces with interesting details that she can highlight using paint, stain, and hardware.
Randall imbues each one with her special sense of style and whimsy, often using painted geometric shapes, floral wallpapers, or stenciled patterns to set each one apart. A dresser may have hidden flowers on the sides of its drawers; an unexpected starburst may surround a drawer pull; an animal print may hide behind a hutch door.
Often, Randall doesn’t have a picture in mind for the final product, so there is no rush to her work.
“I don’t always know what the end will look like,” Randall says. “I need time and space to think about a piece.”
Some undergo changes even once they seem finished— once Randall completed painting an MCM storage cabinet in one shade of green, only to find a new shade she liked better. That led her to add a decorative floral pattern, transforming a simple storage unit into a true statement piece.
Community Through Furniture
Randall didn’t start out in Gastonia— she grew up in Charlotte and, most recently, lived just over the state line in South Carolina. When it came time to move, she searched for an affordable community not too far from her daughter’s school.
She found an apartment in Gastonia with easy access to restaurants, shops, and parks. She can easily ride to Martha Rivers Park and appreciates the closeness and walkability of historic downtown Gastonia.
Around her apartment building, she’s known as “The Furniture Lady.” She’s converted her dining room and patio into her workshop. Her kitchen counters contain more paint supplies than kitchen gear, so those nearby restaurants come in handy, and she usually has at least three projects in the process of refurbishment. Neighbors occasionally help her carry furniture finds into her apartment and, in turn, she helps fix broken knobs, handles, and hardware. It’s a small way to show her appreciation.
Randall has been in the furniture makeover and design business for just a year and a half, but her talent and skill have grown exponentially— winning her awards like the Zibra Furniture Flip Contest in the process. With a background in art, a keen eye for assessing a piece’s potential, and the patience to watch any YouTube video that would teach her how to solve a problem, her first project was her own bedroom furniture.
Enjoying the challenge, when a friend asked for help furnishing a new home, Randall excitedly took the job. Although half of Randall’s projects are commissioned by clients—both new and repeat customers whose possessions Randall says she is honored to be entrusted with– more and more of her projects are pieces she gets to pick out and renew however she likes.
Selling furniture online takes more than simply snapping photos and posting ads. Randall carefully stages every single shot using accessories such as lamps, planters, and baskets that she’s found at area craft stores, second-hand shops like Gaston Pickers and Heritage Mill, and hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s.
“I’m on East Franklin Boulevard at least three times a week,” Randall laughs.
She pulls rugs from all over her apartment and hangs artwork to set the stage. Her vignettes have inspired customers to ask about buying everything in her photos, leading Randall to branch out into home decor and design. She’ll help clients source accessories and art to go with their refreshed furniture, showing them how to update their home or business in a stylish, but budget-friendly way.
In her commissioned work, Randall helps clients choose furniture colors that can either blend in or stand out in their space, but when she has full creative freedom, she works with a wider color palette.
As a Melange Paints Ambassador, she has created her very own colors: the creamy pink “Coralcotta,” the soft blue/green “Monte Teal”, and the soon-to-come rich, yellow “Golden Hour.” They tie in well with her other favorite colors of emerald, gold, pink, and mustard yellow.
As she says, “My colors aren’t for everyone, but will be right for the right person.”
What's Next for Refreshed by Jess?
Randall’s plans for the future include expanding further into her Gaston community by showcasing her furniture at local shops, pop-up markets, and vender shows. She’s looking for more booth space in order to sell her paints as she encourages her clients to tackle their own projects. “It’s so gratifying to see the result of something you’ve redone.”
She wants others to feel that satisfaction.
Randall wants to support other artists in the area by teaming up with a friend to co-market her furniture with her friend’s canvas artwork—a “talking piece” over a “talking piece” collaboration. And Randall doesn’t want to neglect her online platform. With almost 10,000 Instagram followers, she is honored to inspire and advise others in the furniture refinishing community, just as she has been inspired and advised by those who came before her.
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