By Mary Beth Breckenridge Akron Beacon Journal
BARBERTON, Ohio Pamela Andrella and Arica Neill's business is about more than giving old furniture new life.
It's also about giving life new direction.
The mother-daughter team runs Alter'd Relics: Design Studio, a home decor shop that specializes in repurposing vintage furniture.
Only a matter of months ago, the business was just a distant dream, a maybe-we'll-do-that-someday kind of plan. But the two had their hands full with another project, preparing a nursery in Neill's West Akron, Ohio, home for the child she and her husband were expecting.
Mother and daughter combed tag sales for a dresser and glider to outfit the baby's room and used their skills to turn those pieces into treasures. They crafted a perfect place to welcome the child they awaited so eagerly.
Sadly, that nursery was never put to use.
Neill went into labor on Aug. 5, more than six weeks before her due date. At the hospital, it was discovered that the baby had no heartbeat.
The sudden death of tiny Tobin Shane Neill left a hole in his mother's heart.
She struggled with her grief but found solace in the nursery she and her mother had created. As she sat there one day, she came to a realization: The creativity she had put into that room could be a therapeutic outlet.
"I thought, there's something else I need to do with this energy," Neill recalled.
She had a willing accomplice in her mother, a lifelong scavenger and longtime furniture restorer. Andrella, who lives in Green, Ohio, has seen the potential in other people's castoffs ever since she dragged a monogrammed leather suitcase out of the neighbors' trash the summer before she was in fourth grade. She once sold furniture she'd repurposed at Best Kept Secrets, the shop she ran for 10 years in the storefront next door to where Alter'd Relics is now.
"Before there were pickers," she said with a laugh, "I was doing that."
She is also no stranger to pain. At age 36, she lost her husband and was left alone to raise their four children, who at the time ranged in age from 2 to 9.
She knew the consolation that came from work she enjoyed and the empathy of caring customers. She wanted the same for her daughter.
They set up shop in an empty storefront in downtown Barberton, scavenging a counter and old doors to serve as a room divider from elsewhere in the building. They tore the covering off part of a wall to reveal brick and pulled up three layers of flooring to get to the wood underneath. They shopped estate sales and resale shops for tired but good-quality furniture they could enliven with paint and a little vision.
After more than two months of tireless work, they unveiled their business with an open house at the end of November.
The shop sells vintage furniture and pieces Andrella and Neill have spruced up with paint, along with jewelry, home accessories and other goods created by a few local artisans. They also do custom work and sell Blue Minerals chalk paint powder, an additive that turns latex or acrylic paint into chalk paint.
Eventually they hope to offer classes to teach others how to revive their own furniture.
The shop is open only sporadically, because Andrella and Neill operate it in addition to holding down full-time jobs, Andrella as assistant to the president of Summa Western Reserve Hospital, and her daughter as a medical secretary at Akron General Medical Center.
The original plan was to open the shop only one weekend a month, Andrella said. But the response has been so positive that the store is currently open from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, as well as a few days each month the two call "splurge dates."
And if people should happen by their shop at 554 W. Tuscarawas Ave. at other times, they can stop in if the owners are around.
"If we're here and the lights are on," Andrella said, "of course they're welcome."