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Lori Aguirre and 101 Vintage North can be found in booth #129 at the Alameda Point Antique Fair on the first Sunday of each month, and at Marin’s Outdoor Antique Market on Civic Center Drive in San Rafael on the second Sunday of each month through October.

Finding a stray table leg behind a rusty tractor in an old barn might not mean much to the average yard sale shopper, but this is the kind of thing that gets Lori Aguirre’s heart pumping.

The 52-year old Windsor resident is owner of 101 North Vintage, an antique furniture restoration businesses she runs from home. Her garage workshop is usually filled with a plethora of vintage items waiting to be re-loved and turned into pieces of art.

Not content to merely rescue, restore and resell these treasures, she also wants to know the history behind them.

“They are each part of someone’s story,” she says. “In many cases, they’ve been a part of someone’s life story for a century or more. I like to give the new owners as much of the history as possible so they can pass the story on to a whole new generation and make it a new family heirloom.”

As she and her sister grew up in Las Vegas, they often accompanied their mother to yard sales. She would always ask sellers why they were selling a particular item, where they got it and if they knew anything about the original owners.

“I guess I inherited my curiosity about these things from her,” she laughs.

For Aguirre, her husband, Rich, and their sons, Kylan, 13, and Brydan, 11, antiquing is a family affair. Not only are the boys developing a good eye for period pieces, they have learned how to research markings like “Occupied Japan” and “British India” to determine an item’s age.

A farmer in the 19th century might build eight to 14 pieces of furniture for his home, ranging from small tables to full bedroom and dining room sets, occasionally making a special piece for each member of his family.

That was the case for an extremely large two-piece buffet and hutch she found in a family barn. It had been made by a Petaluma farmer for his wife sometime in the 1800s. The dovetailing was hand notched and the piece was held together with type “B” nails, the kind predominantly used between 1810 and 1900.

“In those days, furniture was something people kept,” she says. “It was meant to last a lifetime. Unfortunately, today these treasures, many of which are over 100 years old, are often relegated to a garage or a barn in favor of fresher, newer and more modern designs.”

A pair of wooden bed rails leaning against a wall once had her rummaging through a dusty barn for the rest of the piece. Her tenacity paid off when she found two perfectly intact rattan headboards for a daybed from the early 1900s.

At an estate sale in an elegant Oakmont home, she paid a quarter for a 10-page love letter written in French from the 1920s. She tore the pages into smaller pieces and lined the drawer of a bin table she had purchased from a chef at another sale, making it a one-of-a-kind design.

Sometimes, the restoration process is as simple as cleaning and polishing. Most times, though, it involves repairing, sanding, painting and sometimes even repurposing. She has taught her sons how to help with this work, including which tools to use for repairs, and says they are on their way to becoming craftsmen.

Except for a bedroom set, all of the furniture in Aguirre’s home was once a found treasure she refurbished, including their dining room set from the 1890s. The table is made with straw and the chairs are made with horse hair and straw, which they only discovered after removing the seat coverings.

“Much of the original oil paint was from a time when all sorts of chemicals were added to it,” she explains. “I only use milk paints. They don’t contain toxins and they keep the piece looking traditional and more like an heirloom.”

When it comes to choosing colors, she lets each piece tell her what color it should be.

“I spend so much time with them, I get to know them,” she says. “I may have one color in mind, but they tell me they want to be something else. Like the 100-year old brown dresser I picked up in San Rafael that told me it wanted to be blue. It was exactly what I wanted, but I didn’t know it until I saw it.”

She keeps her prices affordable, with small tables costing as little as $25 and dressers ranging between $150 and $300. A 9-foot long dining table with three leaves and six chairs from the early 1900s is $850.

“It’s my joy to make these treasures from a bygone era affordable heirlooms for a new generation to enjoy,” she says.

Mary Jo Winter can be reached at cloverdale.towns@gmail.com.

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