Irwin's Furniture Restoration mends damaged pieces
Company repairs antiques for insurance firms
By Patricia Bathhurst
Special for the ABG
Don Irwin grew up helping both his father and an uncle restore vintage and antique furniture.
“While I was in high school, I spent my summers working with my uncle in his antique business,” Irwin said, and the job gave him a foundation in understanding the construction of antique furniture.
He found that he loved the restoration even more, and he was good at it – so much so that he developed it as both a hobby and profitable sideline during his 13 year military career.
When a back injury forced him to leave the military, Irwin first pursued a professional career in counseling after earning a master’s degree. He soon realized, however, that he’d rather restore furniture than emotionally broken spirits.
“My wife is an excellent seamstress, and she began working with me in upholstery work. It meant we could offer a full line of restoration services,” Irwin said.
Restoration He began Irwin Furniture on a 250- square-foot patio added to the couple’s small home is Maryvale, looking for clients during the day and restoring their furniture at night.
Today the firm is widely recognized as a premier restoration service in the Southwest, working with insurance companies and antique dealers throughout the region.
It helped that Irwin’s long experience in restoration, coupled with an exquisite aesthetic sense of form and design, has allowed the company to develop singular techniques to bring new life to old or near-ruined wood, joints, braces, and finishes.
His client list soon included not just antique and vintage collectors, but dealers and commercial clients such as restaurants.
It wasn’t until a need for furniture restoration struck home, though, that the company gained entrée to a new line of business that helped them grow exponentially.
“We’d been away on vacation,” Irwin said, “and came home to find the water heater had exploded and filled the entire house with at least 6 inches of water.”
“We have a lot of heirlooms and antique furniture,” Irwin said, and when the insurance adjustor came to assess damages, he initially said we’d just have to throw it out.”
The adjustor eventually agreed to hire Irwin himself to restore the furniture, with the proviso that the adjustor and his manager would personally review the work.
It took a little more than four months, but when the adjustor and several managers from the insurance company came to review the work and compare it to “before” photos “they were amazed.”
The insurance company then asked Irwin if he’d be interested in working for them, with the understanding that his business would need to expand significantly.
“We now work for every major company that provides home insurance throughout the Valley,” Irwin said.
They’ve grown to specialize in working with water and smoke-damaged furniture of all kinds, working on up to 55 projects at any one given time. There is generally nearly double that number of projects waiting in the wings.
“We’re always learning different techniques,” he said, “because a new piece with different wood or finish is always coming in. We’re never out of training mode.”
The company has special expertise in matching vintage and antique finishes and paints and even wood (parts of a piece of furniture can fall apart with extensive water damage).
“I feel I’ve built something of value. It took a long while to get here, but I really feel we are part of a group of people who help to restore people’s lives.”
Reach the writer at www.writinginaz.com
Irwin Furniture Restoration
2922 N. 35th Ave., Phoenix, AZ
Employees: 13, plus owners Don and Min Irwin and their 2 sons.
Stats: The business grew from a 250/ square-foot patio to 16,000 square-foot shop plus 12 storage units of furniture awaiting restoration. Restoration charges can run anywhere from $1500 to $30,000.
Quote: “I was built wired to be a furniture restorer and a small-business owner. I love this business,” said Don Irwin.
Fact: Min Irwin taught herself caning and how to repair wicker and other reed, rush and fiber woven furniture so that the company could provide an additional service. Now one of a handful of caning experts in the United States, she has been named a Master of the Southwest in furniture restoration.