Ashland Furniture Clinic restores family heirlooms
By Suzi Nelson
The Ashland Gazette
ASHLAND – In the last 20 years, many treasured pieces of family history have been sent to Ashland Furniture Clinic to be lovingly brought back to life.
On Jan. 2, 1992, Ashland Furniture Clinic opened at 729 Highway 6. Linda and Dan Morris, along with their daughter Terri Cummings and her husband Lyle Cummings, had turned the former restaurant into a furniture sales room and restoration shop.
“We were busy from the day we opened,” remembered Terri Cummings.
Their first customers were an Ashland couple who were waiting in the parking lot for the doors to open. They had a table with wobbly legs.
“We tightened the screws and didn’t charge them for it,” Cummings said.
Since then, customers from Ashland, Omaha, Lincoln and across the country have brought treasured pieces to the “clinic” for work.
In the beginning, Cummings said, her mother was the “social butterfly” of the business. Linda Morris ran the sales room, where they sold furniture her husband, Dan, had restored in a shop at their home at Beacon View. Lyle Cummings took care of all the pieces brought in by customers. Terri Cummings did bookwork and cleaned the shop.
The Morris’ retired about 12 years ago and moved to Arizona, leaving the business to their daughter and son-in-law. A few years after they were on their own, Terri Cummings found her niche in upholstery, adding another element to the business.
“Lyle does the wood and I do the fabric and it all comes together,” she said.
For a husband and wife to work together day in and day out can be stressful on a marriage. But not for the Cummings.
“We’ve been together 34 years and we have always worked together,” Cummings said.
The couple met in high school and then went their separate ways, reuniting in Omaha while working in the direct mail business.
They quit the direct mail business to come to Ashland when the business opened. They made the cottage connected to the store their first home. They thought they’d move out after a few years, but that didn’t happen. Having a 30-second commute was too good to give up.
The work continues seven days a week, although the store is closed on Mondays. They are open Tuesday through Friday by appointment and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In 20 years, they have seen changes in furniture trends. In the 1990s, antiques were popular in interior decorating.
“When we started out, antiques were the hot thing,” said Cummings.
But one momentous event in American history changed things for Ashland Furniture Clinic.
“When 9/11 hit our whole business atmosphere changed,” said Cummings.
Rather than buying antiques, people were treasuring the pieces that had been in their family for years.
“Things became more personal, more treasured, more sentimental,” Cummings said.
After that, 80 percent of their work focused on family heirlooms. The rest was pieces that had been purchased by customers.
“It used to be the other way around,” Cummings said.
But the Ashland Furniture Clinic treated the treasured family pieces with such care that they developed a reputation for specializing in family heirlooms.
“I think people just feel secure, especially with family heirlooms,” Cummings said. “They want to know its going to people they can trust.”
And while they will do work that includes fixing scratches and other minor repairs, the Ashland Furniture Clinic specializes in total restoration.
“All the way down to raw wood and build it all the way back up,” said Cummings.
Cummings recalls one particular piece that was perhaps the most memorable of the hundreds that have come to Ashland Furniture Clinic.
A home in Louisville had suffered a devastating fire. Only one item could be salvaged – a huge, intricately carved sideboard with mirror. It was standing in the only corner of the house that had survived. Fire hoses had blasted bits of wood from the carved ladies that graced the mirror.
“This piece was a miracle. We said, ‘We have to save this,’” Cummings recalled.
With careful attention to detail, Lyle Cummings brought the sideboard back to life. He re-carved new pieces to replace those that had been damaged. The result was stunning.
“We made it a piece again,” Terri Cummings said.
While the Cummings are now a part of the story that is told when the family talks about the sideboard, many other pieces that they work on hold their history in silence.
“Everything has a story,” she said. “Sometimes you wish the stuff could talk to you.”
Ashland Furniture Clinic also specializes in pieces no one else will work on, like wind-up phonographs and America’s first patented sewing machine, both of which sit in the sales room.
“We do the oddities,” Cummings said.
They have also restored museum-quality pieces and other valuable furniture.
“We try and deal in quality 1900s/turn of the century antiques,” Cummings said.
The pieces they restore are much different than the modern furniture that is made today, where wood is replaced by rice fibers that turn to “pudding” when it gets wet, according to Cummings.
“The furniture you buy these days is disposable,” Cummings said.
While restoring furniture of any kind is hard work, it is also very rewarding, Cummings said. But she is afraid that businesses like Ashland Furniture Clinic are also antiques.
“You don’t see people get into this field anymore,” she said. “It is a skill that will be lost in future generations.”
Ashland Furniture Clinic will keep going as long as the Cummings can also keep going. Business has been slow in the last decade. But they are looking to new technology to help drum up customers, even though they had been reluctant to until now. They recently launched their website, ashlandfurnitureclinic.com, as well as a Facebook page that will announce special offers, Cummings said.
They also want the public to know about their best-kept secret – the sales room.
“I don’t think they realize we have things for sale here,” Cummings said.
In the 1990s, sales were brisk.
“We could not keep furniture in the sales room,” Cummings said.
Over the last 10 years, however, sales have been steady, but not spectacular. Hopefully, the Internet and social networking will help bring back customers.
In the meantime, Terri and Lyle Cummings will quietly keep on doing what they do – restoring family heirlooms and giving historic antiques new life.