From Old To New

Carrollton's Richey restores life
to old furniture, buildings

By Libby Richards
Staff Writer

CARROLLTON, Ky. – A woodworker for more than 50 years, Jim Richey started as an apprentice in a small company in Port Washington, N.Y., that made church furniture and wooden ribs for biplanes during World War II.

Jim Richey

Photo by Libby Richards

In his "retirement,"
Jim Richey has found enjoyment in restoring historical buildings. He restored these wooden
doors at St. Michael's
Catholic Church in Madison.

Richey's life ambition was to be the foreman in a woodworking shop. His mother, a college graduate, however, had other plans.
“You will go to college, then you can go back and be a woodworker foreman,” Richey said. So he did, majoring in economics and sociology.
After finishing school, he began his career selling woodworking machinery. After selling a large quantity of machinery to a man who owned a shop, Richey was asked to come back and show him how to run it. He not only returned, he had so much fun that he quit selling the equipment to become a foreman.
From there, Richey’s fortunes took him to the corporate world, where he worked for Brunswick, makers of bowling alley equipment and school furniture.
After moving on to several other corporations, Richey found himself in Carrollton, Ky., working for what was then the Ison Brothers Furniture Factory. Six months later, the factory closed, leaving Richey with the decision that he needed to work for himself.
He started a small company, Butler Furniture Industries, making painted wood dinette furniture and children’s furniture that was sold nationally.
Inside a year, the company had grown so fast, supplying such major chains as JC Penny, that Richey wound up buying the now defunct Ison Brothers factory.
Richey’s furniture business set the industry standard for painted furniture that still stands today. The company created Jelly Bean dinettes in such popular 1960s colors as Harvest Gold and Mediterranean Green. At the same time, Richey’s company brought out almond as a color choice in furniture. General Electric eventually came out with almond as a choice in appliances.
“I can’t match a tie with a suit,” Richey joked. “But somehow or another I had a sense of color when it came to furniture.”
Still, Richey’s heart was in woodworking, so he stayed with product development, while others handled the marketing.
What goes up sometimes goes down. The furniture market was being taking over by imports. JC Penny decided to take Richey’s furniture to Czechoslovakia, where they had it copied. That ended the chapter in Richey's furniture career.
After reorganization, Richey’s company began anew in the great waterbed boom of the 1980s, bringing the company back up to its original 150 employees. Finally, Richey retired.
After a stint in consulting, Richey decided to work on his own. He began working as a private contractor designing kitchens, a subject for which he had expertise.
Richey now spends his time doing what he loves best – restoring woodwork in churches and other historic buildings, as well as designing living spaces in carriage houses. He usually works alone, although while working on restoring the windows at the Crystal Beach bathhouse in Madison, Ind., he did receive some help painting.
To date, Richey has restored the doors on Christ Episcopal Church in Madison, and widened the mahogany doors to make them wheel chair accessible. Richey made crosses for the church out of the old wood that was unusable for the doors. The church is now selling the crosses as a fundraiser.
What he feels deserves the most attention, however, is the work he’s done on Saint Michael’s in Madison. The church was built in 1838 to 1840 by Irish immigrants who came to Madison to build the railroad.
The windows and doors in the church had been replaced 20 or 30 years ago and had warped. After finding the original doors in the church basement, Richey was commissioned to do the entire front of the building’s wood restoration. Richey took the 150-year-old doors and repaired them to make them look like new, complete with original pass door.
“In my retirement, I’ve been able to do things which I think are lasting,” Richey said. “Restoration woodwork is challenging and a lot of fun.”
His next project will be the restoration at the recently vandalized Butler-Turpin House in Carrollton. The building was damaged by fire in August.

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