This Leslieville shop (a.k.a. Good Used Furniture Finds) takes a no-frills, pragmatic approach to the often haughty mid-century modern/vintage Scandinavian-furniture market, emphasizing reasonable price points and rapid turnover.
How it got started: Rather than pursuing a lifelong passion, GUFF owner John Jakeman more or less stumbled into the vintage-furniture business 13 years ago. “I started out as a picker,” he says. “And how did I get into picking? I’m not really even sure to this day—it was almost by accident. I had moved to Parkdale and just sort of found myself buying some stuff at auctions and selling to some of the local stores on Queen Street. Once I started that, I was hooked.”
This new career began with an entirely cold start—Jakeman had absolutely no background in vintage furniture, not even as a collector. “None at all,” he says, “which proves that you can learn this business as you go. I think it was just a story of economics—I can go and buy this here and sell this over here and make a profit. It was really simple like that. The stores that I started dealing with, they dealt in mid-century modern and a lot of Scandinavian furniture, so I leaned towards that.”
But Jakeman eventually grew to appreciate the furniture he was buying and selling. “For me, a lot of it is about the deal-making,” he says, “but as you go along, you start to learn an appreciation for the furniture, for the design, for the designers and who they were—you start to do research and you start to find the history behind all these items. Starting out with no real appreciation, I have a definite appreciation now and I’ve learned to enjoy good design and I’ve learned to enjoy good art.”
Early adopter: Jakeman was dealing in mid-century modern well before the current, Mad Men-abetted craze. “It was right at the beginning,” says Jakeman, “where people who were in-the-know and collected that sort of stuff were looking for it, but the general population had no idea. I think that’s where I found my niche, because I could still go to country auctions and find that stuff at amazing prices.”
Despite its desirability now, mid-century modern design took a while to catch on again. “Once it’s out there,” he says, “in so many magazines and on TV, it starts to make sense. Whereas, before, people would think, ‘Oh, that’s my grandmother’s old furniture.’ But when they see it put in the proper context or right setting, you can see the beauty in it. Not everyone is decking out their whole place in mid-century, although there are people and collectors who do that. People are grabbing pieces from all eras and, as long as they’re quality pieces, it works together.”
The price is right: Jakeman emphasizes GUFF’s affordability. “We feel really good and confident about our price point,” he says. “We feel we’re giving really good value. We work hard to source everything ourselves and that comes from my background as a picker, I think. The basic philosophy here is to get the stuff at the right price and turn it over as quickly as possible. You can get a table by a fairly iconic Canadian designer, Jan Kuypers, that’s really well built for the same price as you would buy a new table at Ikea, and it will always have the same value, if not more.”
Regulars at GUFF are well aware of the store’s rapid turnover. “The customers are very loyal,” says Jakeman, “and know that if they see something on the blog that they generally have to act pretty quickly. I find that there are a lot of customers that will come here almost once a week, because they know that we’re going to change up the store and that there’s going to be new products. There’s other ways of doing business, where you might want to hold onto product longer and price it higher, but you end up having a lot of the same stuff sitting in the store for a while.”
Custom jobs: With many in the city now living in smaller spaces, GUFF’s venture into customized furniture has started to take off. “Smaller custom pieces are very popular right now,” says Jakeman. “I have a couple of guys working for who are graduates of OCAD—they both graduated from industrial design—and they really know what they’re doing as far as building furniture. I think a lot of people are nervous that custom furniture is going to be really expensive and we’re going to try to turn that around—we can do it at a price that will surprise people.”
1142 Queen St. E., 416-913-8025, gufffurniture.wordpress.com.