MARSHFIELD – Christine Clarke has spent decades honing design and maker skills across numerous disciplines, from painting and sculpting to upholstery and lost-wax casting.
Each of her varied skills can be seen throughout Thistledown Nest, her workshop and showroom on Webster Street, from finished products to those just now getting new love and care.
A Kingston native, Clarke returned to the South Shore with her daughter last year from California’s Bay Area, where she was sole proprietor of a decorative painting and design practice.
In a move that she described as very unusual for her, she rented the space she now occupies at 844 Webster St. unseen. Formerly a yoga studio, she quickly got to work transforming the purple, pink and light blue space into the perfect space for furniture restoration.
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“I had a vision and I just went to work,” Clarke said. “I did it mostly all myself. I didn’t bring a whole lot of stuff with me from California, so I just got to work.”
No traces of the previous tenant remains. The space has reverted to a rustic industrial style, with all attention focused on the intricate pieces décor Clarke breathes new life into.
Even the structural columns in the space act as part of her portfolio. Previously bright and colorful, Clarke hand painted the vertical beams with a wood grain design indistinguishable from the real thing.
Giving classic pieces new, modern life
Many people with good quality furniture have had it handed down from previous generations and don’t know what to do with the pieces, Clarke said. They can be uncomfortable and out of date, or simply don’t match the style of the current owners’ space.
“People have pieces that are beautiful but no one wants them because it is filled with horse hair, it’s not comfortable,” Clarke said. “It’s all dusty and dirty and it’s too dark and heavy for modern homes.”
Many of these pieces have sentimental value, she said, and while people don’t want to get rid of them, they don’t know how to incorporate them into their lives. That’s where Clarke comes in.
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“What I really like to do is transform vintage things, furniture with good bones,” she said. “People like things light and bright, with more colors, more brightness. The old furniture that’s hand carved and beautifully built just looks so heavy.”
Clarke is able to pull from her decades of experience to identify the best ways to refinish or repurpose clients’ pieces, from stripping down the finish and applying a new stain or paint color to full re-upholstery with modern materials, molding and replacing missing trim or design elements. She can also add decorative painting to match other elements in the room the piece will live in.
“You do have to be careful, because not every piece of furniture is worth that much elbow grease, but a lot are,” she said. “When you have something that’s made of wood that’s solid and hand carved, let’s keep it out of the landfill, because it’s better than the sawdust that you’re buying from Wayfair.”
From restoration student to master
Since receiving her BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Clarke has spent years working in the home design space, and her work can be seen across the country and even internationally.
She started out as a decorative painter, a career that led her to working in murals, bronze foundry, sculpting, mold making, restoration and decorative furniture work, as well as lost-wax casting, a method of metal casting in which a molten metal is poured into a mold that has been created by means of a wax model. She also restored and refitted antique picture frames, pieces of art and upholstery.
She said she is particularly attracted to “the old world skill of it all.”
Her time as a muralist included work at the Breakers Mansions in Newport, Rhode Island; multiple casinos in Las Vegas; P.F. Chang restaurants; and a hotel casino in Dubai.
Settling in on the South Shore
Clarke said she has been busy with client work since opening officially in October 2021, and is ideally working on a two- to three-month lead time. The style people want in their homes here differs from Californians, she said, and she’s quickly adapting to this change.
“I’m trying to figure out what the area wants to see and how I can best serve what people want,” she said. “I hope to build into a business that sustains not just me, but a couple of other artisans and provides a service that people appreciate.”
To see more examples of Clarke’s work, visit thistledownnest.com.