Found objects crafted into quirky furniture

Chat with designer Summer Briggs, whose work will be featured at the Vintage Market

sue.kidd@thenewstribune.comJanuary 22, 2014 

In Summer Briggs’ hands, the innards of old lampshades might become the base for a side table. Old wood and pieces of a 1950s-era stapler become — poof! — a potting bench with handles for hanging garden tools.

She’ll adorn notebooks or canvases with pages torn from an old medical dictionary.

Her pieces sometimes carry a quirky nod to old Tacoma, such as pendants and prints fashioned from photos taken of characters from Tacoma’s old Never Never Land attraction.

Briggs sells her funky creations at her downtown Tacoma store, Millesime Designs. Her pieces are products of her imagination merged with a little mechanical know-how from her father-in-law and husband.

She opened her store four years ago in Tacoma’s Sanford and Sons antique mall before moving to a storefront on Broadway a few years ago.

Briggs and her husband, Dan, who operates the Tacoma jam company One Spot, have been working for months to create pieces to sell at the Tacoma Home and Garden Show as part of the show’s Vintage Market, featuring local designers and vintage-focused businesses. The Home and Garden Show runs Thursday through Sunday at the Tacoma Dome. (See listing below for some of the participants.)

For her booth, Briggs teamed up with Urban Gardener, the downtown Tacoma garden store.

We checked in with Briggs last week by phone about her store and her show offerings.

Question: How did you start working in design and rehabbing vintage items for home decor?

Answer: When we lived in San Francisco, I worked for an amazing interior designer. Her name was Kendall Wilkinson. She ran an interiors store. When we moved back to Seattle, there wasn’t a place for me to work.

Q: So you started your own business?


A: Yes … we went and visited Sanford and Sons and I asked Dan, “What if I started our own business?”

Q: That was before you opened your Broadway store?


A: When the space we’re in now became available, we just jumped on it. It took some work. We took it all the way down. We exposed the brick, exposed the floors, took it to the wood beams. That took us six months.

Q: Was it worth all that effort?


A: It’s something I didn’t ever plan on doing, but it’s been the right thing to be doing the last four years.

Q: What will people find when they walk into your store?


A: I think the most unique (thing) about us is that we change out everything every eight weeks — we change the color on the walls. That wall that’s behind my desk? I do a different look every time … . They’ve been a deep slate gray. They’ve been a bright teal. They’ve been black and white and orange and purple.

Q: One of the things I appreciate about your store is that it seems whatever is your whimsy of the moment is what you have for sale. How do you find inspiration to create those neat things?


A: It’s usually one piece that starts me. … One of the first things we found was an old shoehorn, it started a whole collection for us. It helps tell the color story. We start with typically one inspiration, then we start building furniture pieces with the same vibe.

Q: Is that true for everything you design?


A: Typically with every product line we launch — like the vintage post cards, the notebooks — those were the things we handcraft; they have a vintage element with modern materials. … What I love the most are things that have the more unique individualized feel to them.

Q: How have you learned to take an old item and turn it into something fresh and new?


A: When we were young, we were on a tight budget. … Instead of looking at something as it was, we started looking at things as what could they become.

Q: Give an example of that.


A: Like lampshades. I didn’t love them as lampshades, but as a table base, they’re totally the right height. … I think that’s my favorite part is the deconstructing part. Then we keep little boxes of parts and pieces. If we find a chair with a crack or something in it, then we can take it apart and look at it in a different way and start it as an entire new piece.

Q: Can you give readers an idea of what it takes to ramp up for a show like the Tacoma Home and Garden Show Vintage Market, where you’ll be selling for four straight days?


A: It’s been a full year of thinking and planning it and talking about it. We signed up last year for this year’s show. I start preparing three months in advance, but at the last minute, I’ll still be finishing things. I’ll be working on things on Monday and the show starts Thursday.

Q: It sounds like a lot of work.


A: Last year, we were still creating backup pieces (during the show) so we could bring new pieces in. … If you’re thinking of going to the show, go the first day. There was a swarm the first day. By the end of the day, we were already refilling our space. That first day, there were lines.

Q: What have you made for the first day of the sale this year that you’re excited about?


A: I think the garden bench is so exciting. That’s all reclaimed wood. It lined up for the lines I like. It’s rustic and industrial. It’s designed as a potting bench, but it could be used inside, too. You could turn it into a standing desk or have in an entryway or mudroom.

Q: Who helps you make your pieces and get ready for the show?


A: My father-in-law and husband. They’re logical thinkers. You take me with my crazy ideas and they talk me down to the realities of what you can do. I love when my father-in-law will scratch his chin — that’s when he’s figuring something out.

Q: How many items or products do your fellow Tacoma designers bring to the event to sell?


A: There’s a lot of different approaches, it really varies. … Someone else may focus on things they can whip out in a few hours. … It’s really all over the place. … But everything there has a wonderful — a vintage feel. … Last year, I spent as much time shopping as I did selling.

Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270

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