NATIONAL REPORT—Extending the life of a hotel asset typically results in both cost and environmental savings. Perhaps in no other instance is that more true than with furniture. Refinishing, reupholstering or repurposing furniture keeps it out of the landfill and extends the return on the original investment. “It is a huge savings environmentally,” says Bob Stephens, owner of Northern Lights Restoration, Spencer, N.Y., adding that cost savings can range from 70 percent to 95 percent compared to the cost of replacement. On its website, The Refinishing Touch, Alpharetta, Ga., cites a project in Charleston, S.C. where the property spent $55,000 on refinishing instead of $403,000 on new furniture—an 86 percent savings.
New furniture can pack quite an environmental footprint—the sourcing of the materials, the transportation of those materials, the manufacturing of the product, and the shipping of the product. Mario Insenga, owner of The Refinishing Touch, in a column published in Green Lodging News, said that for a typical 100-room hotel, the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the manufacturing of new furniture is 125.32 tons, compared to 1.24 tons for refinishing existing furniture. This means that the process of making new furniture creates 100 times more carbon dioxide than that of refinishing it.
Keeping furniture out of the landfill is not always easy, Stephens says. “[A hotel] may first try to do a donation but agencies may not have the manpower to move the furniture out,” he says. “Liquidation companies will sometimes go in and move the furniture out and sell it on a used furniture market. A lot of it does end up getting thrown out.”
Making What is Old ‘New’ Again
Hotels typically switch out furniture every seven to 10 years. With hotels being high-use environments, furniture and other woodwork can take a beating. Companies like Northern Lights Restoration and The Refinishing Touch revive aging furniture and woodwork, making it “new” again.
Each company has its own processes and areas of expertise. In the case of Northern Lights Restoration, it specializes in not only commercial furniture refinishing but also historic preservation services. It is a Preferred Partner with Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. Many of the company’s clients fall into the historic hotel category. On a job site, Northern Lights Restoration may not only be refinishing furniture in a guestroom; it may also be refreshing stairways, doors and intricate, antique woodwork.
Northern Lights Restoration works on-site to reduce the amount of time a guestroom or other space is out of commission. In the case of guestrooms, Stephens says his company can restore 15 to 25 rooms a day. Finishes are all hand applied and are environmentally safe, odorless, and non-flammable. Finishes dry to the touch in five minutes and cure in 60 to 90 minutes. Northern Lights Restoration also provides upholstery cleaning. A guestroom done in the morning can be ready for afternoon check-in. “We usually exceed our deadline time,” says Stephens, who founded his company in 1992.
Four Decades of Refinishing Furniture
The Refinishing Touch, now celebrating 40 years in business, also works on-site. It offers a wide variety of services such as furniture refinishing, upholstery and engineering, solid surface materials, and building in power outlets and USB ports. Like Northern Lights Restoration, its finishes are odorless, non-toxic, non-flammable and environmentally safe.
“When we first started out there were traditional finishes, lacquers and other solvent-based products,” Insenga says. “We had to figure out a way to come up with safe, non-flammable products. We had to invent our way into the industry. One of our concerns was durability. Also the dry time and sheen finishes. Now, we can spray the finish on. In some cases we are refinishing in the morning and they are putting people in later that day.”
The Refinishing Touch specializes in TV armoire modification and remanufacturing for reuse with widescreen TVs, and offers custom design options with granite and fabric selections through Touch Textiles. The Refinishing Touch manufactures its own furniture hardware.
When asked what advice he would give to any hotelier considering furniture or other restoration, Stephens says, “Check references and check with other facilities. You are only as good as the following that you have. We do one project at a time with a focus on that one customer.”
Adds Insenga, “Look at the company’s resume. There’s a lot of people who would like to be in the business but they may not have the people or resources.”
Glenn Hasek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.