Oldies but Goodies
A Plymouth couple reinvents the furniture business
Rob Tomlinson serves a customer at his shop, 28th and Chairs in Plymouth (note the counter, which Tomlinson built).
Photos by Michelle and Chris Gerard
If you spend any time at all with Rob Tomlinson, you’ll learn that it’s not what’s on the inside that counts, but on the underside — at least when it comes to furniture.
Rob, who with Jen Beattie runs the home décor, furniture-making, and furniture-repurposing business 28th and Chairs on Main Street in Plymouth, spends a lot of time looking beneath tables, stools, and chairs to see how they were put together.
Take a small steel stool in the store’s back room, for example. Rob can barely walk past it without stopping to admire it. “How could I go home without this stool?” he asks, recalling the day he found it. He marvels at its simple craftsmanship, turning it upside down to reveal metal-stamped parts. “This was built when we were a country trying to figure out how to stamp steel. This is the kind of stuff that really speaks to me,” he says. The stool was created in Toledo, Ohio, and Rob is quick to tell anyone who’s interested the story behind it.
RoB Tomlinson and partner/business co-owner Jen Beattie get ready for another day at their eclectic shop.
At Rob’s nearby workshop, the stool, like many vintage pieces, may undergo a beauty treatment of sorts whereby Rob cleans the item, paints it where needed, and gets it ready for its new life at 28th and Chairs. Some of the things the couple brings home from their scouting adventures are taken apart, and various components are used to build new items — legs from one piece are added to an old ammunition box to create a nifty table with storage, for example.
Rob and Jen, who live in Plymouth Township in a sprawling “eclectic” California ranch-style home (where you’ll find everything from mid-century adornments to the farmhouse look) opened their business three years ago and moved into their current, spacious location one year ago. Rob’s workshop, where he builds wood and metal pieces from scratch or creates new life for a vintage item, is just a few blocks from the retail space in Plymouth’s Old Village.
“Jen really makes the whole experience in our retail setting,” Rob says. “She takes our mix of vintage, handmade, and repurposed items and creates a space that is not only shop-able, but downright inspiring.”
Above, Rob Tomlinson saws wood in his Plymouth workshop. Tomlinson’s handmade desk is outfitted with decorative accessories. Merchandise in the background ranges from plant pots to Michigan-themed pillows to pottery and more.
Adds Jen: “Rob pushes himself to provide incredibly unique pieces with the highest quality build.” Among some of the finer furnishings gracing the establishment on a recent visit were a rustic kitchen island that was once used for farming applications. “Its green paint was always there, so we left it and just cleaned it up (sand-blasting and power-washing are de rigueur in Rob’s workshop) and sealed it,” Rob says. “We really like chippy paint — we wax or clear-coat it so it seals in that chippy goodness.”
A dining room table, designed and made by Rob, was created from wood he purchased at a sawmill in Ann Arbor. The top complements a metal base, “which gives it a modern flair,” explains Rob, who grew up in Dearborn and Belleville. A beautiful buffet also draws the eye. “There’s quite a demand for buffet tables; I build them pretty often,” Rob says. Most of these pieces feature reclaimed wood for the tops and doors, and white pine might be used for the cabinet. A fascinating buffet made by Rob is of wood from a recently torn-down house that was built more than 150 years ago. He also made a coffee table and other items from salvaged pieces from the home. “There’s a lot of sentimental value to old structures, and having something made from its wood makes the pieces really special.”
Jen, who met Rob while working at Quicken Loans, has two children — who, incidentally, are the inspiration for the name of the couple’s business. “They were born on the 28th,” Rob explains, “one in September and one in October, and we wanted to incorporate them into the name and our business and who we are.”
The couple says business has been great since moving to the new location. Beyond furniture, shoppers will find everything from candles made by the Kalamazoo Candle Co. to Michigan-themed pillows from Sew Nifty Thrifty, Salted Rock Bath Co.’s soaps, Pop Fizz Klink Designs’ hand-drawn signs, makeup bags, vintage prints, and old and new light fixtures.
“I order a carefully curated collection of items,” Jen explains. “We support as many local makers as possible. One of the biggest goals week to week is making sure the store always feels different, so every time you come in, it’s a new experience.” Adds Rob: “We like to use vintage items, even for display (and they’re all for sale, too), like old chicken coops and olive buckets.”
A 12-foot table in the front of the store is from an old Indiana farmhouse. “It’s made like a boat is constructed,” Rob says. “My appreciation for items like this runs in a few directions, like how much time went into it. At the end of the day, a farmer made it. It’s not polished and pretty, but (it’s) well-built. Good luck taking it apart!”
These two nightstands/end tables were once lockers and were salvaged from a middle school in Plymouth. The handmade shelving is fabricated from steel and reclaimed wood. Various displays showcase vases, plant containers, and other green-thumb essentials.
More information: 28thandchairs.com.