Brick & Mortar | Spotlight | Twice Loved – Burnett Brings the Best Vintage Furniture to the 21st Century
Catherine and Gordon Runge have a straightforward approach to picking vintage furniture. “We look for a clean line,” Catherine explains. “Clean lines, basically, and well made,” she adds, outlining features they look for.
Items they feel possess these qualities fill out the sales floor of Burnett, they have run their revamped-furniture business at 1052 Bathurst Street since October 2010.
Inside the Annex shop, customers will come across traditional and mid-century modern furniture — “We don’t do anything new, nothing easy,” says Catherine — as well as original artwork that Gordon has done out back in his studio. “There’s a little shed there that we lock him to every day,” Catherine laughs. The bulk of Burnett’s inventory is made up of wooden dressers, sideboards, coffee tables, and bedside tables that Catherine and Gordon have sourced mostly from estate sales and auctions.
Once the two manage to lug these sturdy-yet-stylish pieces back to Burnett, there is work to do. “It’s a different take on recycled furniture,” says Catherine of Burnett’s business model. “A lot of people sell recycled furniture, but they don’t do anything to it.” Catherine and Gordon do. Depending on a piece’s condition, Gordon will sand it down and Catherine will apply a fresh coat of paint. The two will also add new knobs, a subtle way of updating a piece. “It just brings it up, gives it a current look,” Catherine explains. The process of getting an item up to scratch, including time for the paint to dry, takes about a week, she adds.
Prices for a finished piece vary, but Catherine estimates the average dresser she sells goes for about $800 to $1200. A contemporary dresser of comparable quality could cost almost triple that and it wouldn’t be made of wood, either. “This stuff has been around for 50 years and it’s still perfectly good and solid,” she says.
The artwork that hangs from the shop’s white walls is more contemporary and mirrors Gordon’s diverse taste. The paintings he has made include landscapes, abstract works, and minimalist impressions of deer done in acrylic paint. “I kind of do it all,” says Gordon. The pieces also play off the subdued pastels, the crèmes, whites, browns, and blacks of the vintage furniture on display at Burnett. That’s no coincidence, as there is a pragmatic element to Gordon’s work.
An interior decorator known for his appearances on TV and in print through House & Home, Gordon’s artwork has satisfied a practical need over the years. “When I would be working with sets for television, art’s something you need, and it’s always hard to get because you have to get rights. So I would just do it, it was easier to do it,” he recalls. “And then, when we got the shop we were like, ‘I guess that’s what we’ll do on the walls, get painting.’”
As for the couple’s future business plans, well, they’re about as no-nonsense as their approach to choosing what items to stock the store with. The goal right now is “just to keep going,” says Catherine. “We’re not opening up any other stores. We’re happy here, we live close by, and we find we’re not that adventurous.”
JOSH SHERMAN is a writer who covers culture and urban affairs. His work appears in NOW Magazine, Torontoist and others.