The start of 'something fantastic' - The Tulsa experiment

Article Index
The start of 'something fantastic'
The Tulsa experiment
Valuing the middleman
On the brink
All Pages

"I think he just wanted to learn more about classical design and how things were made back in the day," says Burden. "I think he was completely fascinated by these pieces. We are lucky that we do work on the finest things in the United States. We do have that reputation of working on the best furniture that needs restoring, not in the gilding or anything like that, but in the woodworking. He saw some tremendous pieces of furniture and saw how they were made. And when a piece was missing he got to carve it, shape it or whatever, or find the right veneer that was missing."

Burden's restoration shop deals primarily with high-end antiques dealers in New York, London and Paris, as well as top decorators and interior designers. There's a retail gallery above the shop, which showcases antique, 20th century and contemporary furniture.

"It's really a store to the trade," Burden says. "It's open to the public, but my clients are all the high-end designers and decorators in New York; a lot in California and quite a bit in London as well. It has our reproductions, along with the mirrors, stools, side tables and chairs we make. They're pieces that we thought were fantastic designs and were worth reproducing. Tim was involved in that."

Though Warlick was challenged by the restoration work, he had other woodworking dreams. "I quickly gained confidence that I could fix whatever was broken, even if I had broken it myself," he said with a laugh. "It was funny because when I started in the job, I wasn't sure if I even wanted to do that kind of work. I didn't bring my tools in for a long time. I ended up staying for five years, then decided it was time to leave.

"Doing restoration, you could see over time my heart wasn't really in it. The people that do that for life, they really have a passion for it. With me, I always wanted to get back to building new furniture."

With his wife Wendy and two children, Warlick left their tiny New York apartment and headed west.

The Tulsa experiment
Warlick opened his own shop in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., hoping to drum up some local business while maintaining contacts with some of the best clients, interior decorators and antiques dealers from his New York days. He had a desire to produce new furniture with his own designs and reproductions that contained some new elements.

"I thought I could keep my contacts in New York and still do business, which I did and it worked out fairly well but I could see it wasn't going to work out long term because I would have to crate and ship everything. I rolled all those things into the price, trying to make it as seamless as possible. It's a mental thing. If you're not on the East Coast, they think you're on the other side of the world."

The local business simply didn't pan out. Although there were people in Tulsa who could easily afford to buy fine furniture, Warlick believes they just didn't value it that much. He had more time on his hands than money, although he did purchase some woodworking machines at auctions, stripped them down and restored them. But a little over a year ago, the three-year Tulsa experience came to an end.

"My wife is from Connecticut, and she wanted to move back east. She gave me a grace period when she decided to move to Tulsa but that was running out. Then one day I came in and my landlord had sold the building, so I had to move anyway. We had been checking out different places and decided on Pawtucket. It's been a great move."