Archived Story

Reuse, recycle, reupholster

Published 9:03am Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gary Brekke, owner of Gary's Furniture Restoration, works on a 100-year-old table. Brekke's shop is celebrating its 35th year in business. (Daily Star Photo/AARON MUELLER)
Gary Brekke, owner of Gary's Furniture Restoration, works on a 100-year-old table. Brekke's shop is celebrating its 35th year in business. (Daily Star Photo/AARON MUELLER)

By AARON MUELLER
Niles Daily Star

NILES – Gary Brekke can never bring himself to throw away a piece of old wood. It’s just too valuable to him.

The owner of Gary’s Furniture Restoration, a business celebrating 35 years this year, is a self-described “pack rat.” His building, located on North Fifth Street in Niles, is filled to the brim with not only tools and pieces he is working on, but also piles and piles of old wood.

“Some of it is as old as the building itself,” he said.

The building was constructed in 1980, nearly double the size of the previous one across the street.

“We could use a building twice the size yet, because of all the stuff in here,” Brekke said with a laugh. “A lot of it is junk, but it’s stuff you have to have. You can always dig it out for something.”

Recently he dusted off an old table leaf that he had been keeping since the 1970s for a table that he was refurbishing.

“You just never know when you’re going to need it,” he said.

Brekke saves old materials because he is so picky about his work.

“I’m pretty fussy,” Brekke said, pulling out a large box of old screws. “I put only old screws in the furniture. I always use slotted screws, not Phillips screws. Because that’s what they use in the originals.”

For Brekke, it’s all about maintaining the integrity of the piece of furniture.

“We like to keep it as close to the original as possible,” he said. “No one knows I’ve worked on them when I get done.”

Although Brekke cares for each individual customer, he candidly said he’s not in the business for the customers.

“I’m actually working for the furniture,” he said. “I’m working for the guy who is going to use this 15 years down the road or 100 years down the road.”

Brekke does all his work with the original craftsman in mind.

“He was the guy who put it together, and I’m keeping his thing going,” he said.

Brekke’s love affair with woodworking began at an early age. At age five, he began crafting toys out of peach crates on the family farm in South Dakota. He started building more complex toys, like wagons, in junior high school.

In 1969, he earned a bachelor’s in woodworking from what is now called Nothern State University in South Dakota. After several different jobs in Niles, including working as a teacher at Ring Lardner Elementary, he began his furniture restoration business.

Eddie Greene, who does the stripping and finishing, joined his company 24 years ago. Brekke’s wife Peggy has been doing the bookkeeping for the company since the beginning.

“I’ve been working with wood my whole life,” Brekke said. “I love what I do. There’s a difference between doing what you have to do and doing what you love.”

This love for woodworking, Brekke says, has been the key to the longevity of his business.

That and word-of-mouth advertising. Recommendations are the only form of marketing his business has done over the years, outside of a few ads in the Niles Daily Star.

The first ad he placed in 1975 read: “Niles stripper – a furniture stripper, that is.”

“It was a pretty risque ad for that time,” Brekke laughed.

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