Leah Robertson’s interest in upcycled furniture was sparked many years ago by her stepdad, a master woods worker.
“I love finding an old, cool piece for almost nothing and then turning it into something beautiful,” she said.
This is exactly the type of project one can expect to find in Robertson’s new store, Booth 121, which opened in November.
Robertson said she started painting furniture years ago as a hobby, and when she began upcycling for friends, more and more people were interested. She began doing this work full time on top of working her full-time job, but ultimately left her full-time job at Dean about five years ago to focus on her furniture painting business.
At first, Robertson worked out of her garage, before transitioning to a warehouse space in Cottage Grove. When her sister-in-law, Rebecca Aide, suggested opening a retail location, Robertson began the search. She knew she wanted to have the workshop in the same building, and she wanted to be in Monona, on Monona Drive.
“I just love this community, I have a long history with Monona,” said Robertson.
When she finally found the perfect space, Robertson teamed up with a bunch of artists who upcycle and handmake items. Many artists are local, from Monona, Madison, Cottage Grove and Stoughton, while others are from Milwaukee and the Appleton area.
These artists create a variety of items, including upcycled sweaters and scarves, bags made from upholstery, mittens, aprons, handpainted ornaments and globes, lamps, skirts and leg warmers made from old T-shirts, abstract paintings, pillows, homemade candles, jewelry, coasters, pottery, onesies, handstamped silverware, snarky embroidery, string art, projects from reclaimed wood, bath salts and crafts made from old records.
In addition, Booth 121 is home to upcycled furniture, most of which was created by Robertson.
“I still do commissioned work, so I still keep really busy with that, and then I do some fun stuff for out here so that people know that I can paint their furniture, too, and here’s what it will look like,” said Robertson, explaining that people often bring her garage sale finds or family heirlooms that need to be spruced up.
Aide works the retail side of things, while Robertson works on projects in the workshop.
“Really, I don’t have a favorite, I just love it all,” she said. “Shutters, I guess I can say ... I have an obsession with shutters.”
Robertson’s store also features a space for her friend’s photography business – Chasing Lilies Photography. Chasing Lilies mostly does wedding photography, but during the off-season, they use the space for family and baby photos.
As for the store’s unique name, Robertson explained that she and a friend used to have a booth at an antique mall on Cottage Grove Road, and when they were unable to think of a name that complemented both of them, they simply went with their booth number – Booth 121.
Robertson shared that the store has been doing well so far, and that word seems to be getting out. Because Booth 121 features the work of many different artists, the inventory is always changing.
Robertson is, however, still looking for more artists to share their projects in her store. She explained that she works with artists on a commission-based split and tries to keep consignment rates reasonable.
For Robertson, opening her own business has required hard work and long hours, but she said it’s all worth it.
“It’s what you do when your job is your passion” she said.
Booth 121 is located at 6203 Monona Drive, and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thurs.day 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is (608) 286-1230.
The business website can be found at www.booth121.com, and there is also a Facebook page.