Design rewind 

Robinson’s Repurposed brings a fresh look to vintage furnishings.

click to enlarge Laura Robinson opened Norman-based vintage store Robinson’s Repurposed in 2012. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Laura Robinson opened Norman-based vintage store Robinson’s Repurposed in 2012.

Robinson’s Repurposed in Norman bills itself as an “eclectic marketplace.” And certainly, if you step into the shop at 114 S. Porter Ave., you’ll find a mix of refurbished furniture in various styles, numerous knickknacks, local art pieces, rare antiques and more.

Owner Laura Robinson insisted that the store was messier than she preferred as the staff performed inventory, but there is a charming sense to its organization. Electric teakettles are arranged under a display of collectible beer steins and glasses. A bundle of fencing foils stand near a table covered in old film cameras.

The larger furniture pieces, like the art deco buffet just inside the door, are mostly arranged near the front. Dig deeper and you’ll find paintings by local artists like Sam Douglas and Saumo or modern barware and wall hangings. A sharp eye will spot the wooden icebox from 1822, complete with original fixtures and a delicately painted lion on its front panel.

Robinson said she was working as an interior designer and accumulating pieces for her clients’ spaces when she decided to open the store in 2012.

“They come to me and say, ‘I’m looking for a mid-century modern Drexel desk with leather top,’” Robinson said by way of example. “It kind of just falls in your lap. So eventually I kept finding things and finding things, and it just evolved into what we are now.”

The store was originally located on Main Street in downtown Norman, but about a year ago, it moved into its bigger warehouse location on Porter Avenue.

Robinson is mother to six children and said she always had a passion for interior design. Her interest began with art, and while living in Dallas, she would go to estate sales. As a young mother with a growing family, she sought out high-grade furniture to put in her spaces.

“I didn’t want to have college furniture,” she said. “I wanted something different because I was already a mom and [creating] a home.”

She called Oklahoma City an artsy area with excellent estate sales. The store’s inventory is filled via these sales as well as through purchases from Robinson’s existing customers who might be downsizing or remodeling. The store finished 2018 with over 270,000 items in its inventory.

“What would guide me to buying something would be maybe a client that I’m designing a house for,” Robinson said, “or if I feel like you couldn’t buy it in Oklahoma. I always try to achieve that goal. Something very unusual, like this 18th-century bronze monk statue.”

She gestured to the impressive Asian statue nearby.

“Every piece that we acquire almost always has a story,” she said.

Robinson continues to offer design services for personal or business clients, all while maintaining the retail side.

“What I try to start with is the things that they have in their home,” she said. “And then [give] it a new, fresh look. And when I say ‘new, fresh look’ I do not mean going out to buy new items. It’s more allowing that client to appreciate what they have in a different setting.”

For those who do want new pieces in their space, Robinson can pull from the store inventory or seek out unique, hard-to-find pieces that will fit a client’s personality and tastes.

Robinson also is available to design spaces for events, including photo shoots, weddings, art gallery openings or private and corporate parties. Furniture from the store is available for rent during these events.

“For the past holiday season, I put up 22 Christmas trees,” she said, giving another example of where her decorating expertise is often needed.

Robinson said the design work is most fulfilling because she gets to be part of her clients’ lives. Since she is constantly busy, she would need to be booked a couple of weeks in advance for any of her interior design services. Potential clients should call the store to inquire about her availability.

click to enlarge In addition to furnishings, Robinson’s Repurposed features locally made fashion. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • In addition to furnishings, Robinson’s Repurposed features locally made fashion.

Furnishing school

With Norman being a college town, Robinson’s Repurposed also caters to an ever-changing student population. Often, Robinson is asked to design and select pieces for student apartments, providing stylish, functional décor on a budget.

“I think it helps mom and dad as well,” she said. “‘At least I know my kid has a dining table.’ I think we all think of college living as cinder blocks and wood. I think it gives some of them a peace of mind, that you can afford it.”

Overall, the store’s clientele is as diverse as the pieces inside it.

“It could be a student,” she said. “It could be a first-time homebuyer. It could be an art collector or a watch collector. It could be someone who’s separated.”

No matter the background, Robinson pointed out that her customers all agree on the idea of “global goodwill.” She doesn’t like to call it recycling, but instead described the sensibility as an appreciation for high-quality vintage pieces that have functioned for decades and now bring life to new spaces.

“When you have a vintage marble coffee table, you know someone has already accumulated that in the ’70s,” she said. “You’re just passing on that style.”

At one point, Robinson was also selling on consignment, but the inventory got too big and overwhelming for her to keep up with. Now she focuses on maintaining her own extensive inventory.

That inventory includes a large collection of local art. The store represents 35 local artists and continues to seek new pieces every month.

“We feel that we offer an opportunity for their art to be seen a lot more than your standard gallery setting,” she said.

In the past, Robinson’s Repurposed has participated in Norman Art Walk, and it continues to be involved in Norman city activities and festivals. Robinson said she also often donates furniture to organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

Robinson’s Repurposed offers refurbishment services, too. Laura Robinson’s husband, Robert Robinson, runs Robert L. Studios and is available to strip, sand, repaint or restain furniture pieces. Most of the time, they are simply cleaning up and repairing pieces so they retain their original character.

Robert Robinson also builds large-scale pieces like kitchen islands and dressers.

The store works with many other local makers to create other pieces. Additionally, the store sells OkieSky bath products, which are made in Bixby, and Oklahoma-themed shirts from Harvey Nicole & NME American Fashion Co.

Of course, the inventory is always evolving and growing, and customers can find unique treasures amid the maze of chairs, sofas, tables and bookshelves.

“I feel like we always have things on the horizon,” Robinson said. “We always have projects going on.”

Visit robinsonsrepurposed.com

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