WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
PHOTO | KELLY’S ANTIQUES
Back in 1989, after 35 years at the Big Rock Nuclear Plant in Charlevoix, Don Kelly was ready for retirement and looking for something new in his life. He had always enjoyed working with wood and decided to attend some woodworking shows. He met a vendor who had recently obtained a patent on a then-new product for stripping paint from furniture. He decided to try the product and learn more about refurbishing old furniture.
It wasn’t long before Kelly opened Kelly’s Antiques in Charlevoix. Over the past 30 years, Kelly has become well known for his amazing woodworking and restoration abilities and his knack for taking reclaimed materials and turning them into pieces of art that anyone would be happy to have in their home.
At Kelly’s Antiques, you’ll find 7,000 square feet packed with everything from player pianos to chandeliers to floor safes and steel heat register grates. The inventory is mostly antique, but there are plenty of pieces Kelly refers to as “almost antique.” All you need is a bit of imagination, but if you need help picturing your dream piece, he is happy to use his artistic talent honed over the past 30+ years. He has a gift for helping customers see the magic in something that initially might appear as junk.
Kelly takes pleasure in refurbishing old furniture he retrieves from his travels around the state (and further afield). “Taking an old rugged-looking piece and transforming it into something gorgeous that a customer will treasure forever gives me great satisfaction and pride.” For example, a rusty old steel floor register turned into a magnificent table makes for a fun conversation piece in a customer’s living room. That is precisely the kind of thing that he finds rewarding.
Over the years, Kelly has become one of the few who have mastered wicker furniture restoration. He loves the challenge of working with wicker but says it takes patience and time. “Not many people will take the time needed to properly rework a wicker piece.” Kelly’s patience paid off. He says wicker has made a big comeback, and he easily sells a hundred pieces per year.
Other highly sought-after items are harvest tables. Kelly restores many he finds and creates others from recovered materials. For example, legs from a chair combined with an old wooden door can be reworked into a one-of-a-kind table. He creates tables from 4 to 14 feet in length, sometimes customizing them according to what a customer seeks. Sometimes they just come from his imagination. In 2021 he built, restored, and sold close to 50 harvest tables.
At any given time, Kelly’s Antiques will likely have 50-60 dressers, 20-40 beds, well over 50 chairs, china cabinets, maybe a roll-top desk or two, church pews, bookcases, old school desks, a variety of tables ranging from kitchen/dining to end tables and nightstands on display – and maybe even a couple of pianos. They also have an eclectic array of lighting, including chandeliers and lamps of all sizes. But act fast! The inventory is ever-changing; if you see something you like, it may not be there when you return for it. Kelly encourages those with a crafty side to find an item and take it to refurbish themselves. But for those who think “do-it-yourself” is not in their wheelhouse, he is happy to do for them as he has done for hundreds – probably thousands – before.