Rollingwood artists bring rich southern history to furniture design
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 |
Photo by Dane Anderson
Willem Sypestyn and Chotsie Gregson, two transplanted artists steeped in New Orleans culture, work together in their Reworks studio in south Austin to create dramatically unique furniture out of antiques and old architectural salvage pieces they find around the world.
There is something dark and erotic about New Orleans, a drug that gets into your bloodstream and brings to life something within yourself you didn’t know existed.
It is a place of hot languid days set to the rich sounds of jazz and the hypnotic whirr of ceiling fans, a place of hidden courtyard gardens glimpsed through ancient wrought-iron gates and crawfish and jambalaya served within sight of an old slave market. Nights transform the city to the pulse of the Mississippi River. Even the never-ending music cannot completely cover the whispers of voodoo, spells and ghostly tales. It’s a place where past meets present and good and evil collide in the imagination.
Chotsie Gregson is a third-generation artist from an old New Orleans coffee family steeped in that deep culture. Before she moved to Rollingwood in 2005, she spent 14 years as the retail director for renowned Mignon Faget, an upscale jewelry designer known for cultish New Orleans and southern Louisiana flavor.
Gregson was on a weekend visit in Austin when hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Even though her own house was left largely untouched, she decided to leave it, her successful career, her family and the only city she had ever known to make her stay in Austin permanent.
“There was something in me that said – ‘Just keep moving forward. Don’t just keep rebuilding,’ ” Gregson said. “If you’re going to make a move like that, you have to take some risk. You have to be able to find the fine line between fear of the unknown and the fear from knowing you are doing something really stupid.”
Gregson’s courage and risk paid off. She moved here eight years ago with her childhood friend and partner Willem Sypestyn.
“Austin has a hopefulness that’s addicting,” Gregson said. “I love the lightness here and the level of education. It is a nice, positive culture.”
Three years ago, the couple began Reworks, a hot business creating artistic furniture out of one-of-a-kind antique pieces and reclaimed wood. They have now added limited lines of new furniture pieces that look old. The artists-turned-furniture-makers are quickly gaining customers and fans among leading interior designers, architects and homeowners attracted to the aura of the pieces.
“Reworks’ ability to take historical architectural elements and craft them into modern pieces is special in this industry, and the transcendent beauty of their pieces allows us to place their work in an array of homes and styles,” said Brooke Anderson, owner of Westbank-based Bay Hill Design. “[They] bridge the gap between furnishings and art.”
Gregson and Sypestyn bring a lot of the sultriness of old New Orleans soul to each table, chair and lamp they create.
“We cannot extract that patinaed decay from our system,” Gregson said. “We add more lightness and positive energy to it.”
The company successfully blends the mystique of New Orleans, the drama of the old South and the modern urban flavor of Austin into everything they design.
Sypestyn is also an artist. He earned the first pottery degree from Trinity University in San Antonio and worked successfully as a potter in Austin for years. Eventually, he returned to New Orleans and opened a contracting and construction business renovating old homes, including many in the Garden District. He became known for the art detail he featured in his high-end construction. He now puts that creative genius to work on the furniture pieces he and Gregson bring to life. The couple scouts estate sales, architectural salvage yards and antique auctions around the world, looking for those magical one-of-a-kind pieces that spark inspiration.
“A beautiful piece of furniture doesn’t need to be expensive; it’s all in the interpretation,” he said.
Reworks home décor pieces can now be found at Bay Hill Design in the West Lake Court shopping center at 3663 Bee Cave Road. From March-April 7, Gregson and Sypestyn will also bring their work to Blue Hills at the Roundtop Antique Show at 1701 State Highway 237 in Carmine, Texas.
As Gregson and Sypestyn prepare for their Roundtop show, they are putting in long hours seven days a week and wiring light fixtures at night.
“The creative part of all this is so exciting,” Gregson said. “We are making sure that everything we work on gets a little happy ju-ju put into it.”
Sypestyn and Gregson work outside theirstudio to pull together segments of a table they designed around granite pieces and old terracotta tiles they found in a recent estate sale.
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