Jim Healy lives in a traditional West Hartford Cape, but the interior evokes a rustic cabin, filled with hand-crafted furnishings and distinctive repurposed accessories.
By Ronni Newton
Everywhere you look in Jim Healy’s West Hartford home you will find a unique piece of furniture, a one-of-a-kind lamp, or an object repurposed from something completely different.
The overall decor inside Healy’s 1940s West Hartford Cape is rustic – with plenty of distressed wood – but while everything appears “vintage,” some things are seasoned with time and others have just been purposely made to look that way. “I scrape, scratch, and sand everything,” he said. The end product: “vintage, distressed, crusty, and rusty.”
Healy’s distinctive style and his talents for creating have earned him several magazine features. The home has been featured – twice – in Prairie Style magazine, as well as in Create & Decorate and Northeast Magazine.
Healy’s home is filled with eclectic furniture he has hand-crafted. Building things has been a part of his life since the toddler years, when he started hammering on a toy workbench. “I have been building furniture my entire life and my style has never changed. I have always been drawn to old, crusty, and rusty pieces with a history, with a soul,” Healy said.
Color is important to Healy as well. He favors colors that evoke nature, he said. “The greens of a forest floor … moss and plants … the earth tones of terra firma and the intense reds and blues of a setting sun.”
A 1977 graduate of Conard High School, Healy solidified his career goals after taking a high school drafting course. It was also while he was at Conard that Healy built his first substantial piece of furniture: a coffee table. It’s not on display in his home because he doesn’t have the right place for it, but he will never part with the table that is stored in the attic.
Healy isn’t in the business of building furniture, however, although he does plenty of that in his basement. His day job is as an architect with Quisenberry Arcari Architects in Farmington and most of what he designs – like recent projects for an aerospace academy and a biomedical academy at a middle school – is ultra-modern and state-of-the-art. That style is in stark contrast to his home.
“I love modern architecture I just wouldn’t want to live in it. When you’re an architect you design for the client and always strive for the most appropriate and cost effective solution. My commissions are typically modern, state-of-the-art designs which are a contrast to my own home. Your house should not only reflect your personality, but be a refuge,” said Healy.
Most of the pieces that fill Healy’s home, other than the upholstered sofa and the appliances, are things he has made – and not necessarily from traditional materials. He is inspired to repurpose things that most people might not ever notice.
A habitual visitor to flea markets and tag sales, years ago Healy stumbled upon a pair old Coca-Cola bottle openers. He then distressed the wood and built the storage unit that holds the dishes, glasses, and microwave in his kitchen in order to showcase the bottle openers – and some of the glass bottles that Healy has been amassing since the 1980s.
Healy built the storage unit to perfectly fit the space in his kitchen, but the piece originally served as shelving for New Frontier, a vintage home furnishings and clothing store in West Hartford Center that Healy owned with his then-wife from 1990-1995. That store’s former space is now occupied by the Beadoir.
A step in any direction in Healy’s house uncovers a new treasure. In his hallway hangs a Howard Johnson’s menu, circa 1964 when ice cream cones cost 25 cents. It needed a frame, so Healy built one, using appropriate HoJo colors, font, and graphics that he adapted from a travel brochure.
The top of the table behind his living room sofa is a piece of wood that Healy found at an estate sale in New Britain. He built the base from steel. “I wanted to create a piece that looked like it had been at Stanley Works,” Healy said. Arranged on the industrial-style table is his “parts tray” along with a collection of bottle openers, shoe horns, and oil cans.
Healy said he’s not really a collector of the odd objects. He’s picked up most for very little cost at tag sales, because he just likes the way they look.
Although he probably has hundreds of unique glass soda and other beverage bottles, Healy said he doesn’t really collect those either. But if he stumbles upon one he doesn’t already have, he will definitely snap it up. “I like the graphics, like the artwork,” he said of the bottles.
A 1929 Singer sewing machine sits atop a cabinet that Healy made from his home’s original shutters. “It works perfectly,” Healy said of the machine. He and his daughter both used it, after watching a YouTube video to figure out how to thread the bobbin.
The large green armoire Healy built to hide his TV (and some of the glass bottles) looks like an antique, but it’s one of the first pieces he built and distressed. Next to the armoire is a special sign: “West Hartford 9” followed by an arrow. Healy said he found the sign at an antique show in another town, and has never been able to figure out where it might have originally been hanging.
Healy has made virtually every lamp in his home – and those are among his most unique creations. Several have bases made of corbels. One has a base made from spindles that he found duct-taped together, and the light hanging over the dining room table was once a megaphone.
Healy thought his dining room needed a round table, so he made one – from copper pipe treated to get the just-right patina.
The dining room walls are a nod to local history, including the history of Healy’s own home which he bought from the original owner. There’s a framed brochure from the original developer and even the actual permit for the installation of the home’s oil burner and tank. An ink drawing of the home is a memento of a University of Hartford Art School tour it was part of in 1990. There’s also an oil painting of the home left by the original owner.
Upstairs are more vintage pieces, and an even more unique selection of lamps created from repurposed items. One lamp combines a Christmas tree stand with an oar that has the paddle end cut off. A thermos, a funnel, a porch spindle, a flagpole, and a fire bucket have all found new life as parts of lamps.
“I don’t know. I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Healy said of his inspiration for repurposing. He said he knows in an instant whether something can have new life in his home.
More treasures can be found in the breezeway between the kitchen and the garage. An A.C. Petersen Farms milk box was a find at an estate sale miles away from West Hartford. “It wasn’t for sale, it was just on the porch,” Healy said. The owner said it was inherited from her grandfather, but Healy really wanted it. “I talked her into getting rid of it,” he said.
The breezeway also has a table built from scaffolding an a ladder and another table built of new wood that he crafted to look like a laundry crate.
On the wall hangs a “Genesee Beer” sign hanging from a bracket. He decided it needed a background to show it off, so he built one, adding the Genesee coasters he bought on e-Bay.
In his spare time Healy is also an editor of “Junk Market Style,” a repurposing website where he shares the projects he has created. Those postings often lead to commissions to build items for others.
Healy has great respect for the original elements of his home like the shutters, and even created a display out of the original electric meter, replaced recently as part of an MDC construction project in the neighborhood.
He respects the original design, too, and the house where he has lived since 1987 and raised his two children, who are now adults, has never had an addition or renovation other than upgrades to the kitchen and bathroom. “Nothing I’ve done has taken away from the original architecture,” he said.
Although Healy likes everything to look vintage, the exception is the bathroom, which is finished with bright white tile.
“I believe people want to live in an environment that gives them a sense of tranquility. For me that’s being surrounded by pieces from the past. The furniture I build is my interpretation of a bygone era,” said Healy.
“The pace of the world has never moved faster, but at the end of the day you should return to a place of calm … unless you have kids.”
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