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Curbside finds

Photos by Dan Bishop

February 2013

Cruising through Oconomowoc on a scooter, Leanne Rische scours curbs for tossed-out furniture. She returns in a van to scoop up the finds. As one of a group of women behind Green Garage, which was founded in 2008, Rische works tirelessly to curate wood furniture with unique lines and architectural interest that are just in need of a little TLC.

After light restoration or embellishing, these pieces are good as new; some even feature an intentional distressed or shabby chic look. Every piece is affordable, with chairs costing between $20 and $50 each, tables as low as $30 and dressers ranging from $45 to $250. "There are no two alike, not even close," says Mary Jo Hultman, one of the founders, about the variety they find. "It could be the same era, same piece but they’re different."

The most expensive items tend to be dining-room table sets, which range from $200 to $500. Jacobean table sets — two triangular pieces featuring three legs on each — are in highest demand. "They’re basically in their original state when we get a hold of them. We sand, prime and paint — usually white — and we distress them. We only take the paint off in certain areas," says Hultman, who started rescuing and retrofitting furniture in 2000. She retired from an occupational-therapist career to devote more time to her passion. In fact, it was all of those home visits that introduced her to curbside rummaging. "People throw away some nice things that shouldn’t be going to the landfill."

Leanne Rische

"My sister suggested I sell some of this on my dad’s front lawn," says Hultman, who soon took her advice and now hosts outdoor sales each summer at her 98-year-old father’s home in Genesee Depot along Highway 83 two blocks south of Ten Chimneys. (Check for sale dates.) "People love to shop in that festive, outdoor environment where they don’t have to go through a door and can come and go," Hultman says. "They’ll come and say they have a lake house and end up furnishing the whole thing."

Mary Jo Hultman

When the weather cools, Green Garage’s wares are sold at local shops, including The Pink Shopping Bag in Genesee Depot, Motif in Pewaukee, Restyle Studio in Waukesha and Harvest Home in Pewaukee.

Finding furniture is the biggest challenge, but it’s also the most rewarding. In addition to Rische’s scooter runs in Oconomowoc, other furnishings are scored from ads, curbside trash in other communities, flea markets, auctions and yard sales. "White, architecturally interesting pieces, if they have carvings, are extremely popular," says Hultman. "People just die for that stuff." Storage pieces, like armoires or cabinets, are also in high demand.

Green Garage’s biggest clientele has been 20- and 30-year-olds. "A lot of these kids buy houses that were overly done in oak in the 1980s or 1990s, and they’re all sick of it," Hultman says.

Businesses — including La Merenda, a tapas spot in Walker’s Point; Mama D’s Coffee in Wales; and a doggie day-care facility in Pewaukee — have proven to be solid customers too.

Get out the art vote

You can help choose the next artist in residence for The Pfister Hotel for 2013-14.

The public vote is open until noon Feb. 14 through The Pfister website and social media. It will count as one seat on the selection committee, which is comprised of members of the Milwaukee art community.

Six finalists have been selected by the committee: Pamela Anderson, Stephanie Barenz, Tonia Klein, John Kowalczyk, Sue Lawton and Eddie Villanueva.

The Pfister’s artist-in-residence program features a working art studio and gallery that is open to hotel guests and visitors. The program encourages the public to interact with the artist and witness the evolution of each piece first-hand. The current artist is Timothy Westbrook; past artists are Shelby Keefe, Katie Musolff and Reginald Baylor.

To vote, go to The Pfister’s website,; to The Pfister’s facebook page,; or via twitter by tweeting the artist’s first name and first initial of last name to @poll.



This story ran in the February 2013 issue of: