by Hampton Williams Hofer | photography by Tyler Cunningham
Inside Stein’s Furniture and Lacquer Studio, a winsome collection of home décor includes artfully refurbished antique furniture, fine art and all manner of treasures for the home. The store, in its lively Five Points location, is thriving. But getting here wasn’t smooth sailing for the Steins. Owners Sharon and John Stein have a story much like one of the pieces in their store—it begins one way, loses its thread, shifts, reforms and turns out as bright and shiny as a lacquered table at the focal point of a room.
For 38 years, the Steins ran a prosperous residential and commercial painting company. But when the recession hit in 2007, they were forced into bankruptcy. “It was like a light switch turned off, and we were out of business,” says Sharon Stein. When one of their employees brought in a photobook filled with “before and after” shots of repurposed furniture, John Stein recognized a chance to pivot into a new arena. They took their paint to furniture, using a vast array of colors and sheens to create fresh, durable finishes, repurposing furniture through lacquering. They retooled their company, and have spent the last 12 years perfecting their craft while building a loyal following.
“The bright, lacquered furniture craze shows no sign of slowing down,” says Sharon Stein. “Decorators and design-lovers can turn lackluster but quality furniture pieces into bright focal points for their designs.” One such designer, MA Allen, who has turned to Stein’s for expert lacquering of pieces such as a Palm Beach modern credenza and a pair of vintage Hans Wegner wishbone chairs, says that keeping Stein’s in mind allows her to hunt fearlessly for the perfect vintage piece to complete a room: “While vintage shopping can be limiting, knowing that I can have a casegood or the wood trim on a chair lacquered in any color—or for me, colors!—gives me greater flexibility in selection and more creative license to put my spin on it.”
The Steins have had several employees, but at present, they do all the repairs and finishes themselves. In the beginning, they did all the “picking” themselves as well, traveling and bringing in pieces to cultivate their style. Now, the Steins have several pickers around the country who know their brand and help them hunt. Their showroom is an oasis of color, blending mid-century and Southern styles with lacquered Hollywood Regency design. They favor a blending of new and vintage, and are always on the hunt for potential. “We hope to continue to help people understand the importance of vintage furniture,” John Stein says, “and how they can re-purpose one-of-a-kind pieces that have a documented history and provenance.” The Steins, whose furniture and store are soon to be featured on a second season of HGTV’s Love it or List it, have found their calling by breathing new life into pieces that otherwise would have been forgotten.
Not long ago, Sharon Stein was contacted on social media by a client in St. Johns, Florida, who wanted the Steins to lacquer her Chinoiserie pagoda dining chairs in white lacquer. “I asked her why she wouldn’t find a local company,” Sharon Stein recalls, “and she answered simply: ‘It wouldn’t be a Stein’s piece.’” Customers have reached out from as far away as Australia, hoping to collaborate. The Steins have traveled, are exhilarated by the hunt, always bringing in fascinating pieces, but their home is firmly here in Raleigh. “We love Raleigh for its diversity and location, specifically Pershing Road—the Five Points area is kind of the heart of Raleigh,” Sharon Stein says, of their building situated across the street from popular breweries Neuse River and Nickelpoint. The Steins have recovered from defeat with wild success, finding renewed potential not just in furniture, but in themselves.