Bygone treasures

02:03, Jul 31 2014
Justina Harrison
OLD TO NEW: The exposed sarking of Justina Harrison’s Blenheim 1905 villa makes a fitting backdrop for her restored furniture, mirrors and artwork.

A piece of furniture can be so much more than just a useful item in the home: It can hold precious sentimental value. Maike van der Heide meets one Blenheim woman who brings household items from bygone eras into modern times.

A year ago, Justina Harrison's dinnerware was thrown onto her tiled dining room floor as Marlborough was rattled by one of many in a swarm of earthquakes.

It had been her late grandmother's, passed down to Justina with all the memories it held for her.

Justina Harrison
PRESENTATION: Once a piece of furniture has been restored, Justina likes to help her clients arrange it in their homes to make it look its best.

There it was on the floor, smashed into small fragments, beyond repair.

But Justina patiently scraped up the pieces and set about rescuing what she could. After cutting and trimming the pieces to suit, she made heart-shaped mosaics. It wasn't quite the same, but her grandmother's dinnerset was, for Justina, saved.

Rescuing items, be it an old table, picture frame, sideboard or vase, is her specialty. Furniture that is past its use-by-date, both in terms of its condition and its appearance, is transformed from a dusty, dark item huddling in the corner of the room, to a centrepiece.


Justina's love of restoration began less than five years ago and after doing a few pieces for herself and friends, she turned her hobby into a small business: "Upcycle".

She opened a pop-up shop at Christmas in central Blenheim, painting the front entrance bright turquoise to attract attention, and built up a customer base as people came in and items went out.

Now, customers often seek out the self-described "creative home stylist" to restore old family pieces or other items:

"Seventy per cent [of business] is through word of mouth".

But Justina also loves to trawl second-hand shops, garage sales and the internet for pre-loved chairs, cabinets, bird cages, candleholders, cushions, old paintings - anything that can be turned from trash to treasure.

Justina works in her mother Suzie Harris' Blenheim garage and Suzie herself also makes all the cushions and helps paint, wax or sand.

"I enjoy doing it. I can see something - the potential in it; other people just walk straight past it," Justina says.

"It's actually quite amazing what you can turn stuff into. It takes a lot of hours and it's quite often not financially rewarding, unless you get something that's really quick to turn over but I'm quite fussy."

Justina has to be 100 per cent happy with a piece before she'll give it back to the owner or sell it. Her perfectionism carries right through to placing and displaying the piece in the owners' house.

She recalls recently taking a table up a flight of very narrow stairs, a millimetre to spare on each side, but being unable to give up and leave it downstairs.

When she'd finally nudged the delicate piece to the first floor, Justina carefully positioned it and added flowers to make the most of it in the room.

Bringing old family pieces which may have been languishing in the spare room or the shed "into the 21st century" is something she particularly loves doing.

"Something your grandmother gave you or passed down that doesn't fit in your house - but I'm sure grandma would rather you give it a facelift.

"Grandma would be rapt."