Repurposing the Past
Walking through the door of the Tomorrow’s Antiques shop in the Short North neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, one quickly observes the creative potential for making the old new again. Walnut table legs turned into sconces, an old piano keyboard converted into a wall decoration, tabletops made from repurposed doors and iron grates — the possibilities seem endless. For brothers-in-law Justin Smith and Steven Mills each new project offers a chance to creatively merge the antique with the modern, and bring the historic back to life.
Smith and Mills started working together when Mills bought a nineteenth century home and the two set about restoring it. As Mills re-installed the house’s pocket doors, he felt a profound connection to the house’s history. “No one had done that in 120 years,” he says. When the pair subsequently opened Tomorrow’s Antiques in early 2012 they employed a similar sense of connection to the past in each of their restoration projects.
Working with antique pieces isn’t without its risks. “Once you cut them, you can’t replace them,” says Smith.
For them the greater risk is allowing those historic items to fall by the wayside. Mills says, “There’s this sense of danger that these things are gonna be lost.” Looking at the piano keyboard preserved on the shop wall, he comments, “It gives you a pit in your stomach that these pieces of ivory and ebony could end up in a landfill.”
One of the highlights of their work is helping their customers envision the same sense of possibility about repurposing an older item. “It’s like getting them to jump off a diving board,” says Smith.
They recalled one customer, a local businessman, who had old pull carts stored in a warehouse. Smith and Mills convinced him to turn the cart bottoms into a desktop. While the customer couldn’t quite understand their vision, after they stripped the paint off the cart and converted it into a seven-foot long desktop, the CEO sat down and rested his hands on the desk with a deep sense of satisfaction.
“We sell ideas,” explains Smith.
While Smith and Mills have a passion for creative restoration, a large portion of their work also comes from new pieces of custom carpentry and lighting. With Smith focusing on carpentry, Mills has introduced custom light fixtures to Tomorrow’s Antiques. Together they have worked for local restaurants and shops, installing bars, cabinets, counters, and lights. The lighting, which includes repurposed antiques and custom glass-blown fixtures, have sold throughout the U.S.
As the name of their business implies, Tomorrow’s Antiques make items to last. “Justin says he can tap dance on any piece,” says Mills. While Smith stands by the claim, Mills is quick to point out, “He can’t tap dance, though.”
Sidebar: Have a Hearth
Tomorrow’s Antiques’ signature items include a repurposed piano harp. Turning it vertically, they stand it upright along a wall and construct a shelf along the top of the harp. The shelf offers a space to display books, pictures, and other items so that it can be used like a hearth.
“If you don’t have a fireplace, it gives the fireplace feel,” says Smith.