Artists work in all kinds of media, but give them a challenge — say, making one-of-a-kind furniture —and the results can range from charming to dazzling.
The Northwest Furniture Bank in Tacoma has been issuing that challenge since 2010 and has raised as much as $100,000 a year in the annual auction that follows.
This year, 36 local artists have created chairs, tables, pillows and other items, and the organization’s April 24 gala —“A Chair Affair’ — will auction those items as well as packages donated by Northwest businesses.
The event allows the Furniture Bank, founded in 2006, to involve art and artists in the larger effort to provide furniture to those who really need it.
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The bank’s mission? “We want everyone to be able to eat, sit and sleep in their own home,” said executive director Bill Lemke.
The Museum of Glass has gotten into the spirit by creating a glass chair for the auction every year, one of which sold for $4,000.
Most of the artwork is considerably less expensive, but all of it is one-of-a-kind furniture.
Four years ago, former travel agent Cynthia Totten formed an alliance with the Furniture Bank in her budding new art career.
Totten opened Revive, a locally crafted custom furniture shop, about a block from the furniture bank’s storefront at 117 Puyallup Ave.
“I’ve always loved sewing, upholstery and recycling,” she said. “When they all came together, I was able to embrace my love of design and color.”
With four other artists, Revive sells furniture made from barn wood, cement and abandoned furnishings.
“The Furniture Bank would let me know if they had a piece donated that they just couldn’t save,” Totten said. “I’d take those in and see what I could do with them.”
And each of the last four years, she’s produced chairs for the auction, including three this year.
“We put many of the chairs in the window, and we could have sold Cynthia’s a dozen times last week,” said Sheila Mischke, the Furniture Bank’s director of development. “We tell people it’s not available — until the night of the gala.”
Another contributor to the cause is Rae Friis, a Bonney Lake graphic designer. Each year, she and her mother, Jane Kelly, who lives in Woodinville, work together to create a project. This year, they came up with four unique camp chairs and a children’s tent.
“To be involved in some small way, to support and contribute to the vision of the Furniture Bank, is fulfilling to us,” Friis said. “On a personal level, when I was a single mom in college, I had family to help me fill a void. Not everyone has that.
“All moms want to make a house a home, but without a table to eat dinner at, without a couch to snuggle on, it’s hard.”
Beyond the art, the Northwest Furniture Bank is a retail store that sells reinvented home furnishings. Below its Puyallup Avenue storefront is where much more furniture is housed, awaiting low-income families or those in need of help.
“We work with more than 100 agencies in Pierce and South King county,” said Lemke, the executive director. “They vet their clients and send them to us.”
Those who are referred to the bank pay a $75 fee up front, then walk into the warehouse and pick out furnishings for the dining room, living room and bedroom.
There can be delivery fees, but often those are paid by the referring agencies.
Where does the furniture come from? Businesses such as Ikea, Sleep Country and Reclinerland donate it, as do families around Puget Sound. The bank receives as many as 5,000 used mattresses a month.
Another wing of the nonprofit, housed in a warehouse behind the store, is called Spring Back Mattress Recycling. After selecting the best 250 mattresses each month, work crews recycle bedding that otherwise would have been sent to a landfill.
Some of the bank’s 30 employees strip the mattresses into piles of foam, wood and steel.
By the numbers, the bank serves 120 families a month. Since 2007, it says it’s helped 14,000 families furnish homes.
That can be hard work, a daily effort to find and refurbish donated goods and match them to those who need them.
At next week’s auction, the emphasis will be on fun and fundraising, with guests plunking down $75 each to drink the wine, nibble on the catered food, and bid on artwork and deluxe packages.
Totten will be there, watching her three chairs get auctioned off — and listening for the sound of affirmation.
“The real joy that night is hearing someone say, ‘Oh, I love that chair soooo much!’ ” she said.