NEW BEDFORD — A new shop is on a mission to preserve, upcycle and reduce waste by teaching people the value in refurbishing vintage furniture and décor.
“These are pieces that people carry with them, hopefully throughout life because they’re just beautiful quality pieces and they’re unique,” said Esabel S De Sousa, owner of Koke Isha Home in Kilburn Mill.
“People are looking at preservation, recycling and reducing waste, and thinking about shopping locally, shopping small.”
On Dec. 4, the collective shop opened on the first floor of the mill featuring items such as vintage furniture, mid-century funky glassware and consignment jewelry.
“Everybody seems to find something that they like,” Sousa said.
The shop not only sells Sousa’s refurbished items but offers other artisans an opportunity to sell in a retail shop setting instead of only relying on the internet.
Additional items include a mid-century suitcase attached to wooden legs to create a funky console table, upcycled driftwood tea light holders and a mandala design foot stool.
One item for sale, that Sousa restored, is a dresser she found in terrible condition, in the basement of a beach house. She refurbished the piece, painting it purple and hand-painting cherry blossoms on the front.
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“If there is a piece that can be restored back to its original beauty, I’ll do that,” she said. “But some of the pieces are beyond just refurbishing, so they’re given new life and kept out of the landfill.”
Sousa says people can pay similar prices for furniture at big box stores, but the quality won’t be as everlasting. “It’s all particleboard and will fall apart, whereas these are pieces that have stood the test of time,” Sousa added.
The New Bedford native hopes that her store will excite a younger generation to appreciate what can be done with vintage furniture from their grandparents or parents.
“Instead of having a yard sale and getting rid of it, it might make them think twice and say there’s value and quality here,” Sousa said.
How it all started
Born in New Bedford, after high school, Sousa joined the U.S. Air Force. “I was lucky to travel and live in different places,” she said.
Sousa always loved history, architecture and artifacts. She watched almost every episode of PBS’ “This Old House.”
“I was hooked,” she said.
In her 40s, she moved to California to attend college and study interior design. She then worked for The Home Consignment Center — the biggest furniture and décor consignment company on the West Coast.
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“I learned the industry of consigning and bringing in other people to sell their goods,” Sousa said. “Then, I wanted to take it one step further with throwing conservation into that.”
In 2018, Sousa moved back to New Bedford.
“I had been visiting the Kilburn Mill, and the antique shop downstairs. I was starting to watch the evolution of what was happening to the mill,” she said.
Sousa intended to open an area in the antique center, but then COVID-19 delayed her plans. In August 2021, Sousa signed a lease to open a shop inside the mill.
She named the store Koke Isha Home after he grandchildren, Koa (“Ko”) and Keanu (“Ke”), and angel grandchildren, Isaac (“Is”) and Halo (“Ha”).
Sousa said her daughter helps her with the business by hunting for pieces to refurbish. “She does the investment, I do the work,” Sousa said.
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“I remember one of the pieces that I had picked up one day was on the curb. She was super pregnant with her second child and here we are loading this into the back of her van,” Sousa recalled laughing.
Working with local artists
Sousa works with 10 vendors such as artisan Cecile Callahan, Love Me Knot crotchet artist, vintage jewelry artist In a snap and “For The Love of Portuguese Food” cookbook author Milena Rodriguez.
Another vendor is paintings and pottery artist Heather Cronin, an arts teacher at Dartmouth High School. She’s a cancer survivor, like Sousa, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
They’re both in remission.
Most recently, Sousa has been selling handbags that were originally crocheted runners made by her 80-year-old mother — who is nicknamed “Vava” by the family.
Sousa calls them “Vava’s Bags.”
“It is so fun to be creative and start with something that looks like trash and end up turning it into a treasure.”
Standard-Times staff writer Seth Chitwood can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter: @ChitwoodReports. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.
This article originally appeared on Standard-Times: Koke Isha Home; refurbishes furniture, decor at Kilburn Mill