May 31, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 57°F


Do-it-yourself duo: Funky couple leaves their mark on new town with old goods

Nestled inside the Race Office Supply store on The Commons, colorful chain-linked rings of construction paper swoop from one end of the new storefront display to the other. Soft indie-rock tunes fill the air, glossy red chandeliers dangle from the ceiling and mustard tweed couches huddle around a polished oval coffee table.

Durst Breneiser/The IthacanFrom left, Kristina Thelen and David West stand in their newly opened store, Funky Junk. The shop is located within Race Office Supply on The Commons and features homemade refurbished furniture from local vendors.

Kristina Thelen sat at a cashier booth where she carefully wrapped twine around a discolored lampshade. She stopped her work and looked up, her circular earrings swinging.

“I’m not sure if this deserves a bird or a mushroom,” Thelen said as she put down the nest-like lampshade.

Thelen opened Funky Junk, a mid-century inspired refurbished furniture shop, with her husband David West on Feb. 27. Avid unwanted-furniture collectors, the couple takes old pieces and turns them into something new to resell at a moderate price.

“I wanted to open something that had to do with sustainable business practices,” Thelen said. “I wanted to create a place where people can hang out, but also shop and get advice.”

Thelen and West toyed with the idea of opening a furniture store when they lived in Seattle, Wash., but their plans changed when West decided to attend Cornell University.

For Thelen, New York, let alone Ithaca, was uncharted territory.

“It wasn’t a natural fit for me to know anything about this part of the universe,” she said. “I didn’t think we were going to leave the West Coast.”

Soon after they moved, Thelen took on a job working at Mimi’s Attic, a local furniture consignment shop. The couple continued their longtime hobby of “taking something ugly and turning it into something beautiful.”

The couple’s repurposed furniture sold well at Mimi’s Attic, and that success convinced Thelen and West that their dream location could work in the community.
West searched for a space in Ithaca that could work with the funds that they had saved up. No loans, contractors or web designers were needed to get the business up and running because West did everything on his own.

“We figured out how the palette of the space would work for us,” West said. “I also learned how to create and design the website on my own time. We wanted to have our business to reflect the way we do business.”

Thelen and West relied on their own ideas, often stored and pulled from their own pages on Pinterest, a new image-centric social network.

Thelen’s Pinterest page is filled with pictures of cans of her favorite Annie Sloan chalk paint — used on many of the pieces in the store — glass container vases and paper lanterns where West’s page features candy-colored credenzas, mushroom-shaped tables and hand-stenciled furniture.

“We are trying not to do what is already here and instead do things better and different,” Thelen said. “Pinterest has really pushed us to the edge as far as inspiration goes.”

Thelen and West said their new business is family-friendly. Thelen smiled and looked behind a dresser where her three-year-old daughter Topenga played with a kitchen set. She turned her back with a smirk and said that her daughter is “the store mascot.”

As a side project, Thelen has been training to teach classes on natural birth. She has attended some of her students’ home births, including the birth of Ithaca resident Jenny Pronto’s son last May.

“I thought from the beginning that Kristina was experienced and knowledgeable,” Pronto said. “My husband and I formed a sense of trust with her.”

While Funky Junk is still in its beginning stages, Thelen and West said juggling their roles as store owners and as parents is worth the struggle.

“The other night we were out to dinner and we both said at the same time, ‘I am so tired but I am so happy that we’re doing this,’” West said. “It’s been really great to know that when we are exhausted we are doing something good for ourselves.”