Sisters Melissa and Pam Brusoski were helping clean out a friend's basement when their keen eyes fell upon old furniture with sturdy bones but a worn-out finish.
These first finds were in the basement of a North Side house, Pam said. "Melissa's best friend bought a house that was owned by a hoarder, and Melissa needed furniture for her new house, too."
Before long they had turned hand-painted, reupholstered furniture, much of it mid-century modern, into a home-based, online business called Artifact-Pittsburgh.
Together they had gone hunting in that North Side basement.
"We got some cabinets, a coffee table, but more than that, fabric" -- including colorful, vintage 1972 fabric from the Finnish design house of Marimekko. "There were packages of bedsheets that had never been opened," Pam said.
They started working on the furniture while looking for more at flea markets and on Craigslist. Collaborating through email and cell phone pictures, they reinvented it all -- mundane oak coffee tables into turquoise-and-white nightstands, old spindle chairs into funky conversation pieces and old metal kitchen cabinets into bright-colored retro pieces.
"It is cool to see them come to life again," Melissa said.
Both women paint, but Melissa has been on hiatus due to a recent addition to the family -- a baby girl. The sisters rehabbed an old chest of drawers for the baby room in her Lawrenceville home. It now sports a crisp, white body and top, lime green drawer fronts and turquoise drawer pulls. Turquoise also shows up on the wall above the chest in the form of a painted Chinese elephant stencil, a spot-on design choice.
They collaborate on all of the pieces and love to explore color, especially in upholstery.
"We turn to the fabric and talk about what will make the chair pop," said Pam, who lives in Bethel Park.
Among the chairs they have re-imagined are old bentwoods, now crisp white with graphic orange seat covers; metal garden chairs painted white with big pastel floral prints; and a customer favorite, the tree chair, in black with a white graphic tree fabric on the seat.
Of their work, Pam said there is no formula to their selection process. "We just need interesting shapes." But Melissa is surprised how many people shy away from bold color, steering to neutrals instead.
"We put together colors you wouldn't necessarily expect, like a pink chair with a pink-green wire desk," Melissa said.
On their website, www.artifact-pittsburgh.com, the "sold" page shows items that you can't help but smile at, such as the tall, skinny armoire that is painted turquoise on the outside and orange on the inside and a baby dresser featuring a happy tree and yellow elephant on the front.
One bonus to their work is that pieces made years ago tend to be smaller in scale and well-suited to older homes. Tables, chairs and desks from the 1940s and '50s almost look apartment-sized compared with what is selling in stores today.
The Artifact-Pittsburgh collection is always changing and growing. Pieces are reasonably priced (a pair of dining chairs can be had for $110) and they are open to requests. "We aren't getting rich," Pam said. "We do this because we love it."
Rosa Colucci: 412-263-1661 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Join Rosa for a PGU on Nov. 7 which she will discuss painting feature walls and using wallpaper in your home -- www.post-gazette.com/pgu. First Published October 6, 2012 4:00 AM