Windsor Premier: Passion for refinishing antique furniture turns into a full-time job, and a successful business
March 30, 2017
As an industrial arts teacher at Windsor Middle School, Dan Stauss spent his nights in the late 1980s refinishing furniture, a passion he picked up from his brother.
"I got so busy, I thought, 'I really don't have time to teach,' " Stauss, 56, laughed. "It was kind of a passion that turned into a vocation."
In 1992, Stauss opened Memory Lane Antiques, where he offers custom refinishing, refinished antiques and home décor. While his brother went to medical school at University of Wisconsin, Stauss joined him on trips to find antique glassware to sell for extra money. Stauss vividly remembers the day he turned his eyes to refinishing furniture.
"I went to an auction with him on July 4 and said to my brother, 'You ought to buy furniture. You could make more money doing furniture,'" Stauss recalled.
From that day on, Stauss and his brother refinished antiques at night and sold the antiques at flea markets in Chicago and Milwaukee. When Stauss opened Memory Lane Antiques, the store was in a small location that once belonged to a bakery. Over the years, his business has grown to include about 13,000 square feet. Stauss credits his diverse inventory for keeping business booming.
"We have gifts and home décor for people who don't even like antiques. We have refinishing and custom-making of furniture. We also do commercial work, like we did the Pelican Lakes Sandbar restaurant," he said. "We're the only place in the state that re-silvers mirrors. We do upholstery also."
But for Stauss, the best part of his job is the antiques. Lately he's been doing a lot of retrofitting, incorporating old materials into something new. He pointed to a bar built with reclaimed corrugated metal and reclaimed teak timber as an example of his work.
"Younger people like straight lines; they don't like real fancy stuff. They love the industrial look," he explained. "That's fun because it challenges your mind."
With an online store, Stauss has customers as far as Florida and New Hampshire. People from Fort Collins, Denver, Wyoming and even Montana come to visit the shop in-person. Stauss said he's had customers help him unpack antiques he just acquired and buy them on the spot.
At Memory Lane Antiques, customers can see the process the antiques go through. With antiques coming from the Midwest, the East Coast and the South, antiques are disassembled for safe transport. After epoxying the antique back together, Stauss has it sanded by hand. The quality of workmanship means Stauss will spend from 24-60 hours on average refinishing an antique.
Finding upper-end antiques to work on is one of the greatest challenges in the business, according to Stauss. After 32 years in the business, he said it can be like navigating an "underground network."
"You start doing business with one person, you start talking, you find somebody else, so you go visit that person," he said. "You start to develop relationships throughout the country. The best tool I have isn't the table saw. It's a cell phone."