Old To New
Richey restores life
to old furniture, buildings
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
by Libby Richards
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
From there, Richeys fortunes took him to the corporate world,
where he worked for Brunswick, makers of bowling alley equipment and
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 childrens 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
Richeys 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, Richeys company brought out almond as a color
choice in furniture. General Electric eventually came out with almond
as a choice in appliances.
I cant match a tie with a suit, Richey joked. But
somehow or another I had a sense of color when it came to furniture.
Still, Richeys 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 Richeys furniture to
Czechoslovakia, where they had it copied. That ended the chapter in
Richey's furniture career.
After reorganization, Richeys 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 hes
done on Saint Michaels 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 buildings
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, Ive 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
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