Furniture restorer brings pieces back to life

May 16, 2009

Kenny Korn knows wood, he knows all kinds of furniture, and he knows the ins and outs of restoration. That makes him, in turn, a handy man to know.

Korn, 55, is short and wiry, helpful and polite, with a ready smile and a down-home accent. He’s originally from the Mehlville area; his father was his first inspiration.

“My dad was really good with wood,” he says, “and I used to watch him. It always fascinated me to see what a piece of wood looked like when it was finished, if it was done right.”

Korn worked with wood from the time he was a teenager, but he didn’t get into it as a career until later. From the age of 20 to 35, he worked in heavy equipment repair and welding. “But I always fiddled around with wood after work, doing little boxes or maybe refinishing a chair for somebody.”

After suffering some health problems, Korn got into refinishing as a business instead of a hobby. He started out by working as a helper for Percy Pfohl, “a master. He was one of the top (refinishers) in St. Louis, and I really wanted to be like him. Every time we went out (on a job), I took notes. I still have that book.”

Later, Korn went out on his own, working with antique dealers in the Cherokee District: “I’ve seen a lot of pieces and asked a lot of questions, and the dealers have given me a lot of knowledge.”

Among the things he learned was the reputation, quality and peculiarities of different manufacturers of furniture “from the old days.” He’s worked on brands that were originally “real cheap — poor man’s, worker-man’s furniture. Now, they’re considered really nice pieces. I know how they did things,” and that makes it easier to put them right.

Today, Korn is the chief technician for Centaur Building Services in St. Louis, where he’s in charge of all facets of refinishing furniture, from giving estimates to delivering the finished pieces.

Centaur’s primary business is cleaning offices, and Korn often goes out to office buildings late at night to work on desks and chairs when no one is around. That’s given him expertise with both old and new furniture.

He says he can fix almost anything, although some cheaper modern furniture, in particular, isn’t really worth his time and the owner’s money. “When there’s a big gash in the piece, I use body putty, like on automobiles. It doesn’t take stain, so you have to cover up that body putty to match everything else. It takes skill to make sure it’s not sticking out like a sore thumb.”

Korn cites a 160-year-old china cabinet that was a candidate for being dragged to the curb when its new owner called him in; its doors were badly warped, and it was spattered with paint.

“I cleaned it up and discovered it was pieced together out of different kinds of hardwood. It had a bow in the top and gaps between the boards — but I was able to get the bow out and make it level.” Today the cabinet is a prized feature in the owner’s dining room.

That’s his favorite part of restoration: transforming battered old furniture into something beautiful. “I think in my mind how it looked when I first saw it; I think how it looked when it was made. It’s really rewarding to bring a piece back to life.”


Another interesting news is related to outdoor rugs, A watercolor artist and designer, David Milliken’s signature designs have been translated into a whimsical new rug collection offering homeowners the opportunity to integrate original art into their indoor/outdoor areas.

Created from an imaginative series of playful paintings, Milliken’s area rugs conjure carefree, humorous and abstract decorative looks that offer a stylish lift to any contemporary space, from the kitchen to the sunroom.

“Original artwork is a key fashion trend when it comes to outdoor rugs, pillows, and lighting,” notes Mike Voyles of, where the rugs are carried.

Milliken’s signature style is to take cues from his surroundings.

“My themes are as simple as the beauty of nature to the fun of tumbling clowns,” he says.

Not surprisingly, his collection is inspired by the works of great contemporary artists such as Paul Klee, Miroux and Bill Traylor.

These durable rugs are available with either 24 oz. high-grade nylon surface or non-slip industrial-grade rubber backing, making them ideal for both indoor and outdoor spaces. They can be machine washed or spot cleaned with a hose and brush. The woven back is recommended for indoors or covered patios, decks or porches and may need a carpet pad to prevent slipping. Rubber backed rugs are ready to go in all weather conditions.

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