In Fishtown, a young artist toils away in a cramped workshop in the back of a long, narrow garage. Dan Elman's medium is oil-based enamel and his canvas is a low, sturdy Chippendale-style server with cabriole legs and ornate ball-and-claw feet.
He's restored it by creating a rubber mold of one intact foot and injecting it with resin to make clones. Once a dull brown, the newly painted canary-yellow piece seems to glow on this dank, rainy day.
Elman, 31, is between steps five and six in the highly detailed process he has developed over more than a decade of refinishing and restoring furniture.
"My work involves adopting pieces no one else will," he says, referring to the server, which was gathering dust in a West Philly thrift shop when he came along and recognized its potential.
"Painted restoration is the perfect way to save things that are otherwise unsavable."
Elman sells his work on eBay, under the handle Kitsch-n-Kaboodle, and on Etsy, the virtual marketplace for everything handmade, including restyled vintage. But he's preparing the yellow server for a different venue: Clover Market, the outdoor art-and-antiques marketplace scheduled to debut April 11 in Ardmore.
The market's founder, Ardmore-based interior designer Janet Long, found Elman on Etsy by searching for "shabby chic" and "Philadelphia" while she was trawling online for vendors. One of Long's goals for Clover Market, scheduled to be held in Schauffele Plaza on Ardmore's main strip two afternoons a month from April to June, is to bring local artists and creative people out from their workshops and virtual marketplaces to meet one another and interact with home-design enthusiasts who will appreciate what they do.
"There are so many talented people out there who don't have storefronts," says Long. "That makes them much harder to find. The market is a great opportunity for people to feel and touch and see their work."
Long hatched the idea for Clover Market during a visit to the Brooklyn Flea, the market in New York's Fort Greene neighborhood where hundreds of vintage dealers, food carts, and vendors peddling handmade goods attract thousands of people every weekend. She first went to the Flea with Molly Worth, a Philadelphia-based designer who revives old furniture by reupholstering it with new, zippy textiles under the name Chairloom.
"I want Clover to be similar in that it's a community gathering place," Long says. "But they have such a huge mix in Brooklyn. I want this to be more of an upscale experience, like an antiques market."
Long recruited Chairloom and others she knew from her design work and set out to find more designers, dealers in architectural salvage, and artists, including those, like Elman, who are in the business of up-cycling old furniture.
Elman started restoring furniture to put himself through Drexel University, where he studied film and television. He discovered "shabby chic" a few years after graduating when a store owner in Broomall he had been consigning with suggested the look for a 1920s server.
Elman had never heard of it, so he bought a book by the style's originator, Rachel Ashwell, and began experimenting. After much trial and error, he came up with his proprietary process, which involves many layers of paint and lacquer plus strategies to artfully highlight evidence of wear and tear, such as divots and crackles. Since he mastered the look, Elman's work has been featured in many home-design magazines. Still, he's somewhat of a local secret. He has shipped pieces as far as Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, and most of his shabby-chic stuff gets sent to the West Coast or down South. Local customers are fewer.
That once was not the case, but the shops where Elman consigned in Old City, Bryn Mawr, and Broomall in the late '90s closed one by one and sent him online.
Others who'll be selling at Clover consider their lack of storefront part of their business plan. One such business is A Square Deal, started in 2006 by two friends who wanted to make art accessible. Beth Medoway and Colleen Hammond invite three to five artists per month to experiment on 20-centimeter-square pieces of masonite. What comes back varies from traditional still lifes to photo collages. The pair price the pieces low (from $40 to $400) and display them at venues such as cafes, stores, and pubs.
"People are intimidated by storefront galleries, and having a storefront requires a lot more capital," says Medoway. "We didn't want to have to bump up prices."
Vendors such as Trove Decor, based in Newtown, and Narberth-based Nannygoat Antiques hold monthly sales in lieu of having permanent storefronts. Larney's in Newtown Square once had a location and now sells its vintage china exclusively online - until this spring, when it joins the rest at Clover.
"For the artists and vendors," says Janet Long, "it's a great market to be in. I tell them to look at it as a way to get exposure for their business. Plus, coming together and sitting with other like-minded people is really fun."
Whether or not the market catches on and becomes a phenomenon like Brooklyn Flea, it's clear the vendors will continue to create and to find some way to sell their work. As Elman turns back to the ball-and-claw server, he explains that as much as he likes doing custom pieces for clients, the pieces where he's in the driver's seat are his favorite.