When Kate Henley was a child, her father, Benno Trenkle, arrived at school to pick her up covered in dust. In typical kid fashion, she felt embarrassed.
“Now I’m picking up my kids covered in dust,” Henley says, laughing.
Although her dad never placed expectations on Henley or her brother to take over the family’s 30-year-old business — Benno’s Woodworking, specializing in wood floors, cabinetry, restoration, refinishing and custom furniture — she ultimately realized that’s exactly what she wanted to do. And not only is she doing that, but she has also started an “upcycled” furniture business with a friend.
After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2000, Henley spent a year studying law at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago and several years working as associate producer for “The Jerry Springer Show,” as a professional actress and as a marketer. She returned to Kalamazoo from Chicago a little more than a year ago and began working in her dad’s shop. Although she’s officially the shop manager, Henley identifies her role as “sidekick.”
“I’m a lot like an apprentice,” she says. “I’ve done sanding and stripping since I was a kid. Now I’m learning how to use the equipment — like the saws.”
With polyurethane-tinted fingers and a discolored, cracked phone that hint at her new profession, she acknowledges her big learning curve. But Henley points out that her dad faced the same situation 30 years ago. Then a student in economics at the University of Michigan, Trenkle planned on pursuing law, until attending a natural resource summer program in Northern Michigan during his junior year. While there, he connected with trees, wood and woodworkers and had an epiphany while gazing at the Northern Lights. Seeking woodworking apprenticeships, Trenkle found one of the top programs at Western Michigan University and came to Kalamazoo.
Now old school and new school meet as Henley and Trenkle work together. Henley hopes to see more architectural preservation and restoration projects for the business — such as the one Benno’s Woodworking recently finished at the First Presbyterian Church in Battle Creek. Benno’s restored all the interior millwork in the church’s sanctuary. Despite wanting to implement certain ideas, Henley recognizes her dad’s strengths and identifies him as the reason Benno’s has excelled.
“My dad has strong interpersonal skills,” Henley says. “He’s great at managing relationships. I hope to develop and improve my conflict-resolution skills as well as the ability to negotiate and lead our team based on his model.”
In addition to shadowing her dad at Benno’s as he does woodworking and refinishing for his customers, Henley is launching a business called 1809 Vintage Market with friend Natalie Powell. It features boutique-style furniture that was once destined for the dumpster. Upcycling — unlike recycling, which breaks things down — adds value and offers new life to an old item.
“It’s green, sustainable, and you feel good about it,” says Henley. “It’s taking something out of the waste stream.”
The two women describe the path to this partnership as serendipitous. Powell arrived back in Kalamazoo around the same time as Henley, after managing and marketing Steele Point Estate in the Caribbean. The pair, who had been friends since middle school, resurrected their friendship, and then Powell called Henley one day with her idea of opening a boutique of upcycled furniture. Henley paused — not because of apprehension, but shock, she says — because her dad had been collecting furniture for over 30 years.
“It couldn’t have been a more perfect fit,” Powell says.
Powell and Henley hope to secure a location for their store by fall in downtown Kalamazoo or the Edison neighborhood.
This summer 1809 Vintage Market’s smaller items — such as wall art and wine and olive racks created from wooden palettes — are available from 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Saturdays at the South Haven Farm Market, located at the Huron Street Pavilion. Around the corner, their furniture is for sale from 11 a.m.–6 p.m. daily at the Eagle Street Market, in South Haven’s Foundry Hall.
“I imagine our South Haven pop-up locations will help to give us a clear definition of the market,” Powell says. “We have an idea of what people want and what we can sell but hope these pop-ups confirm what we think. It will be a great learning experience and will help us build a client base, in turn creating word-of-mouth marketing and hopefully driving people to our website and to our store.”
Entrepreneurial spirit runs in Powell’s family, as it does in Henley’s. Powell’s mother, a dentist, owns a dental practice. Powell’s stepfather, Brian Steele, co-owns Boatyard Brewing in downtown Kalamazoo, which showcases some of 1809’s pieces.
Powell and Henley both say they look forward to having the 1809 Vintage Market located in Kalamazoo’s Edison neighborhood or downtown.
“Our family businesses are here,” Henley says. “And we are committed to pioneering in the comeback of the Edison neighborhood and have an appreciation for the support from the community that businesses receive in downtown Kalamazoo.”