Turning Trash to Treasure
Two friends venture into the vintage furniture market.
Photo by Rae HuoArea owners (from left) Mark Pei and Travis Flazer
What do commercial airline pilots do on long layovers? Aloha Airlines pilot Mark Pei combs garage sales, swap meets and thrift stores during frequent layovers in California, looking for trashed furniture to turn into treasure.
“On my trips, I started seeing a lot of mid-20th-century and vintage furniture really making a comeback all over, in shops and even store displays,” Pei says. By the time he finished decorating his apartment in Makiki, he had already caught the bug. “I really got a taste for vintage design and I wanted to start collecting in Hawaii, because no one here offers anything like this.”
Working with his friend Travis Flazer, Punahou School’s assistant technical director of theater, the two created a showroom for their found-and-refurbished furniture. They called it Area. With a lifelong interest in art and a background in theater production, Flazer has no trouble handling the power tools. Coffee-stained tabletops are stripped, sanded and refinished. Tattered chair cushions are reupholstered in funky new fabrics that give a chair new life but never cover up its original charm. “Furniture from the ’50s and ’60s has style,” Pei says, “but the overall quality is really excellent.” Says Flazer: “This stuff is still here so many years later. Each piece has charm, each one has a story.”
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The Area showroom reflects the style of both collectors. Pei favors pieces with “clean, simple lines,” while Flazer “loves Danish wood furniture with a handcrafted look, that’s also functional.” An ever-changing inventory of local and Mainland garage sale finds—dining sets, credenzas, lighting and accessories—fill the space, while the original works of legendary designers stick out. There are Russel Woodward Sculptura patio chairs, brightly refinished Micheal Thonet chairs and even an Eames rocker.
“We want Area to be a place that cultivates an appreciation for these things,” Flazer says. “Nowadays people often buy furniture without thinking; they just buy sets of furniture that aren’t going to last in the long run.” Area’s vintage furniture was made well and with plenty of thought. “Plus, it’s just fun,” Flazer adds.