EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — If your puppy chewed on the leg of your grandmother’s coffee table, a mover scratched up your antique dresser or an overweight guest broke through the weaving of your favorite dining-room chair, Cecilia Sullivan can come to the rescue.
Home Enhancements by Cecilia, in business since 2002, restores damaged furniture to its former condition. She’ll also work on smaller items such as dishes, dolls and other decorations not intended for everyday use.
“It’s not cookie-cutter repair,” said Sullivan, 54, adding that she does not do things like stripping and reupholstery. Every bit of damage is unique and “with most of my work, I have to figure out how to do it.”
The workshop in Sullivan’s English Creek Avenue home is filled with tools such as a DeWalt radial-arm saw she bought at a yard sale nearly 40 years ago, a band saw, sanders, chisel shapers and clamps. During busy times, the furniture spills over into the rest of the house. She does most of her work in the studio, but travels to customers’ homes for some jobs.
Except for caning chairs, Sullivan said, she does give estimates before she begins to work. She charges by the hour, and sometimes finds unexpected problems as she works.
“I’m very cost-conscious for my clients,” she said. “I have a very large repeat clientele. I have people calling me from 10 years ago.”
Sullivan said she keeps before-and-after photos of all of her work, and some of the stories are amusing or touching.
One area man took his father’s favorite chair apart in an effort to repair it, but was unable to put it back together, Sullivan said. He had a photograph of himself as a child sitting on his father’s lap in that seat and wanted to keep it. His wife brought the pieces to her workshop and asked her to try to put it together. She succeeded, and the wife later said there were tears in the entire family’s eyes when the complete chair was sitting under the tree on Christmas morning.
Another time, she was called upon to repair a rush chair after the owner’s pet rabbit ate it, Sullivan said.
“It’s sea grass and it smells like fresh hay,” and the bunny went after it, she said.
Sullivan said she is largely self-taught in the art of furniture repair. She comes from a family of people who worked well with their hands and owned small businesses.
Her career began at Teaneck High School in the early 1970s, when girls were allowed into industrial-arts classes for the first time, Sullivan said.
“The (other) girls joined the shop class to meet boys,” Sullivan said. “I was serious.”
She transferred to Bergen County Vocational Technical School, and graduated in 1974 as a computer keypunch operator.
Sullivan said she came to South Jersey in 1978 and worked as a keypuncher and computer operator for several area businesses. But she had been repairing furniture since she was a teenager, and did work for friends and co-workers on the side.
Her life changed in 1991 after her youngest brother, Frank, died, Sullivan said. She had been taking care of him during his final illness, and one day he said to her, “What are you waiting for?”
Her brother gave her the courage to make a change, and she quit her computer-operator job and went full time into furniture repair. She signed up for a three-day class at Mohawk in Edison, and later took more workshops and classes on how to run a business.
Sullivan said she then responded to a newspaper advertisement for a touch-up person at the former Kensington Furniture in Northfield, and worked there 11 years. She then worked at a furniture store in the English Creek Shopping Center for two years before forming Home Enhancements in 2002.
“At this point in my life, I’ve created the life I always wanted to live,” she said.
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