WRITER | MARY ROSE KULCZAK
PHOTOS | AMY NOLFO AND BRAD BINGLEY
News travels fast when it is a Butter Barn weekend. Friends and family send links via social media, prompting a flurry of texts that inevitably say the same thing: “We must go!”
Just off US 23 in the small town of Ottawa Lake, the Butter Barn is a unique monthly shopping destination. Part pop-up boutique and part-antique and flea market, the Butter Barn features hand-crafted farm tables, refinished and repurposed furniture, and an ever-changing trove of treasures that have been carefully cultivated into new vignettes and seasonal displays each month.
“The Butter Barn was born from a desire to create a unique, monthly experience for kindred spirits who have a passion for vintage, design, repurposing, hand-crafted furniture, and a love of ‘feathering their nest,’” said co-owner Amy Nolfo.
Nolfo, who has been in the antiques business since 1990, shares the space with husband Brad Bingley. While Nolfo travels to five states every month to collect and restock items for the barn sale, Bingley operates The Tao of Restoration, a custom furniture business that has supplied the Butter Barn with heirloom-quality pieces that include farm tables, hutches, dressers, desks, and more.
“The Butter Barn isn’t just a shopping event. It’s also a social event,” Nolfo said. “If you’re looking for mass-produced items ordered from a wholesale catalog, well, we’re not that kind of shop. And our furniture? Not mass-produced, not made from tropical woods and shipped halfway around the world. We make our farm tables right here in our Michigan workshop. We are all about being local. We are also about working with our clients to create one-of-a-kind furnishings that will last a lifetime.”
Worth the Trip
While many of the Butter Barn’s clients come from Michigan, northwest Ohio, northern Indiana, and Illinois, others travel from Canada as well. Several times a year, dedicated groups from Pennsylvania, Atlanta, and Texas make the journey for the monthly event.
The showroom floor is constantly evolving. While the custom furniture and lighting options are always on display, the stock of vintage, antique, handmade, and repurposed items is fresh each month.
Nolfo and Bingley are on hand at every event to talk to shoppers and build relationships.
“They know that Brad and I are going to be there and they can connect with us,” Nolfo said. “Today’s shopper wants that human connection. They like to talk to us about design. They love to show us pictures of their home and have us help them with ideas of what will and won’t work.”
Bingley left a career as a senior financial analyst in 2010 to pursue his passion for carpentry. Most importantly, he wanted to salvage and repurpose pieces to give them a new life.
“Folks have become accustomed to simply throwing away what is no longer useful or beautiful to them. I want to create a lasting example and teach others that life is about second chances,” Bingley said.
While many of the furniture pieces are vintage finds that Bingley restores, his farm tables are built from scratch, using new and reclaimed materials.
“Our farm tables have been an interesting journey,” he said. “I never imagined ten years ago when I produced my first two tables for a show that, a decade later, I would have now built over 1,000 tables!”
Bingley enjoys teaching the craft to their combined family, which includes five children, ages 13 to 19. Along with assisting in the workshop, the children also tag along on salvage expeditions.
“Everybody feels more confident about themselves when they have a skill, when they’ve been trained to do something. I just wanted to share in it with them.”
A Month-Long Process for a Once-a-Month Event
Each Butter Barn sale takes weeks of preparation.
“Sourcing probably takes a full third of the month. Upcycling, doing the restoration and the refinish, making it pretty again, takes another third. Setting up and actually having a show takes the other third,” Bingley explained.
In addition, Nolfo and Bingley recruit help from a team of local women known as the “Barn Babes.” These talented women help with painting, sewing, finishing, and floral arrangements while offering assistance to customers during each show.
Plan to Visit
Butter Barn events are promoted through Facebook and Instagram, where shoppers can get a sneak peek at items that will be featured each month. For more information on the monthly sale, visit the Facebook page: Butter Beans Antiques. For information on custom furniture, visit the Facebook page: The Tao of Restoration.
The Butter Barn
5541 Consear Road
Ottawa Lake, MI 49267