In a dark, old North Texas school building, Austinites Emily Low-Johnson and Jennifer Binford made their way through the leftover auction items by shining their tiny key-chain light on possible treasures. They climbed over dusty desks and old band uniforms, scavenging until bingo — vintage maps and drafting tables.
Low-Johnson and Binford had driven about 260 miles to Sherman to pick up more than 100 bent-ply school chairs they purchased from an online auction. But when they were invited to browse through all the unsold items, they found themselves in a picker’s paradise.
“Going into that old school was magical,” says Low-Johnson, who along with Binford and Jamie Fisher forms the furniture design company Hopscotch Road. Together they find, restore and give new, quirky artistic life to industrial vintage furniture. And as it’s become popular to mix eclectic pieces with traditional decor in everything from home offices to kitchens, Hopscotch Road’s functional art has caught the eye of local interior decorators who are sharing the offbeat pieces with their clients.
Not all of the trio’s furniture-hunting trips are as adventurous, but every desk, chair and table they pick does have its own unique story. “It’s furniture with a soul,” Binford says.
Her fascination with industrial vintage furniture was sparked by some “giant standing file cabinets” her father-in-law was trying to get rid of. Binford began checking out office and school furniture online and found some amazing chemistry lab tables in Dallas that she had to have. A couple of problems, though — Binford bought the tables but didn’t have a way to get them. While bemoaning the situation to a friend, a solution arose. Her friend volunteered her husband, Fisher, to pick the tables up in his truck.
Soon Fisher and Binford, whose children attended the same preschool, teamed up for more furniture projects. Fisher’s interest in woodworking, experience in flipping houses and general know-how when it comes to fixing things, made him a natural partner. Low-Johnson, a graphic designer, came on board later after Binford saw a mural she created as a guest artist at Matthews Elementary, where both of their children attend. Three years ago they launched Hopscotch Road.
Whenever they score some great finds, the transformation process usually begins in Fisher’s garage, where the furniture gets stripped and ready for refinishing. At first, Fisher says, their pieces were less artistic and more about taking the piece of office or school furniture and giving it a modern look.
“We tried to listen to what each piece of furniture was trying to say,” Binford says. “And at first it seemed to say ‘fix me up and put me someplace new’ but now more often I’d say they are asking to be reinvented for a new environment.”
Pairing the furniture with inventive surface or pop art adds an element of surprise and humor that the trio enjoys. Their pieces start at $400, and prices vary depending on the design.
“Everything is a statement piece,” Low-Johnson says. “And you have to be a little bit of a kid to appreciate it.”
They add personality with custom-cut stenciling, hand-drawn illustrations and digital rendering. And it’s not about totally transforming the furniture either but also about embracing some of the original materials and letting them shine in a new way.
At Low-Johnson’s home design studio on a recent morning, the group was working on a round tabletop with the kind of wood veneer laminate that everyone nowadays rips out of their home. Low-Johnson instead was feeling influenced by the 1970s Studio 54 vibe and sketched out a Donna Summer-inspired silhouette that will eventually highlight some of the laminate with a contemporary edge.
Among their cool creations is a rectangular tabletop inspired by a beach scene on a vintage postcard. For a set of his-and-hers desks and chairs for kids, the group turned to Binford’s extensive vintage book and paper collection for circus themed typography and images.
Though Hopscotch Road has been creating its functional art for a couple of years, Low-Johnson says it’s mostly been a learning process so far and “we’re still figuring things out and trying to find our audience” she says. But the partners are sure they want to continue pursuing this passion, growing as a company and injecting some lightheartedness and sleekness to homes and offices.
“There’s no template for what we’re doing,” Binford says. “And that must mean we’re doing some original work. That’s satisfying.”