With vision, passion and a team of experts at her disposal, Jennifer Farmer-Knowles' company, Mi Vida Vintage, transforms one of a kind pieces that have seen better days into works of functional art, ready to be taken home and cherished. Mi Vida Vintage also specializes in custom built furnishings, with Jennifer collaborating with her customers to create designs that are truly made to order. Her charm, drive and no nonsense attitude have helped turn Mi Vida Vintage into the decorative force it is today. Somewhere there is a piece of furniture...it may be an old couch covered in boxes in a garage...a '70s bed frame a couple is contemplating tossing...or it may simply be a figment of your imagination... and any way, one thing is true, after Jennifer works her magic, odds are you're going to want to take it home.
Precious Beast recently had the opportunity to sit with Jennifer for SOMEONE YOU OUGHTA KNOW... WITH MI VIDA VINTAGE…
PB: Tell us about Mi Vida Vintage - what inspired you to start it and how has it evolved?
JK: Well, I got laid off from my job in the music industry and I really didn't want to go back to another low paying job. I had always wanted to work for myself and was constantly starting little things on the side with friends. I always thought I would be doing something in music, but when my husband and I moved into our own place after getting married, the first thing we needed was furniture.
I had heard of "refurbished" stuff and went on craigslist to find a painted dresser for our bedroom. I found out that a girl was selling stuff locally out of her garage and thought, Hey - I can do that!! What started as a hobby and a way to make some quick money has turned into full-blown obsession and something that I have been able to make a living at doing and actually enjoy.
PB: You clearly have an extensive knowledge of and passion for vintage decor. When did this fascination begin and how did you study it?
JK: I think I've always been a fan of vintage but not necessarily furniture and décor…thrift stores, classic rock. I always felt like I was an old soul but I honestly never really had any interest in design or furniture until I started doing this. My knowledge comes from hours and hours of Googling, youTube videos, books and just asking a ton of questions to anyone who will talk to me.
PB: What do you look for when hunting for vintage pieces and where do you find them?
JK: Basically stuff that looks cool and has good bones. I didn't really care about the quality in the beginning because I didn't really know what I was doing and as DIY tells you, anything can be fixed! With vintage, there are some things that make an item really, really hard to be refinished and I've learned to look for those things and not buy pieces that could make our job 10x harder. I've had to pass on some cool stuff before because it would just be too much of a hassle to make any money.
Where do I find pieces? Really, anywhere that sells furniture…I'm out and about doing most of the buying myself frequenting thrift shops, swap meets, etc. I do also have several vendors that send me items when they get them in which makes things a lot easier for me.
PB: Any regrets over a piece that slipped through your fingers or one (or a project) you picked up that you later regretted?
JK: Regret might be the wrong word but I was extremely upset when I found this amazing Brutalist Dresser in San Diego and a Broyhill set for a really great deal. The night before I was going to drive out to get it the dude with the Brutalist emailed me and said, "sorry, just sold it to someone else!" I was so pissed! I cried a little and then I sort of got over it and was going to get the Broyhill set but then that person never got back to me either - double whammy!! I still have yet to score a Brutalist OR Broyhill and I'm still upset about that so if anyone sees one please let me have it.
There have been a few times when I've taken on clients (against my better judgment) knowing that they were going to be difficult. I work really closely with everyone to make sure visions are met so when someone is difficult it really, really stresses me out and upsets me. I have learned that you can't please everyone but damn it, I really try to and I take it very personally since essentially the business is me. I try my best to offer competitive pricing, be extremely responsive, do quality work and stay within our projected lead times but sometimes there are just things out of our control that in turn affect everything. I’m constantly looking to streamline the process to make the experience smoother.
PB: You've been responsible for some amazing transformations. Where do you find the inspiration for these custom pieces and what details do you pay particular attention to?
JK: I'm not sure if I can take all the credit. A lot of the times our customers design their own pieces. I would like to think that I play a big part in with the way I present our work, but I let the people tell me what they want. If someone asks me for a specific style of piece that I've never heard of and then they don't place an order with us, I'll do the piece anyways to have something new and fresh! Other sources of inspiration are drawn from things that I think just think are cool. Sometimes something will just pop into my head and then I'll spend hours searching on the internet to see if anything like it exists.
In terms of details, I'm pretty OCD that is why I could never do the labor myself. Nothing would EVER get done. I hate uneven paint, drips, badly painted hardware, ugly fabric, etc. I want everything to be as perfect as possible.
PB: What has been the most exciting moment so far with Mi Vida Vintage? The most frustrating?
JK: I was really excited when someone placed the first order for a custom built piece. That was awesome since that is the direction I'd like to move in and have a few stock pieces available for people to customize.
There are a lot of frustrating moments but a big one for me is seeing competition surpass or seeing someone do an idea that you clearly had first. That's pretty frustrating on a creative level but I have faith that my path will lead me in the right direction and that it's all part of the growth process. I need to not let it hold me back and stop me from getting to where I need and want to go.
PB: How did your personal journey lead you to this moment right now?
JK: I think having parents that are entrepreneurs definitely played a big role. From a young age, I always wanted to work for myself since that is what I was exposed to. I've always been very independent and stubborn and I don't think I make very good employee because I don't like being told what to do. I think knowing that and accepting it helped me make the leap to just do it and not take another job that I would be miserable in. Although I'm grateful for all the experience and positions I've had prior to doing this, life is just too damn short to work lame jobs and I want to live my dream/ not someone else’s. ………Besides that, you should know that I play bass and my husband and I record music. Hopefully we'll be playing some shows soon!
PB: What do we have to look forward to from Mi Vida Vintage?
JK: A new website with new pieces, more high quality "as is" vintage pieces and some one of a kind custom designs! Some more upholstery will be in the mix. That's really the direction I want to go in and what I want to focus most on the most. Also, possibly some collaborations with other cool local designers.
PB: Any advice for your fellow vintage junkies and aspiring business owners?
JK: Don't buy cheap stuff. In the beginning I would literally buy anything and then get back to my shop and realize roaches had been pooping in it and it was missing a leg. Take a little time to inspect the quality of the items you buy and educate yourself in any way you can so you're at the top of your game. Find angles to differentiate yourself. I'm a very curious person and am not afraid to ask questions. If I don't know what something is or understand a question, I straight up say it or just ask. Most knowledge is a click away these days.
On the biz side, I think the best things happen by accident and are not necessarily created with intention from the beginning. I feel like a lot of successful people/businesses did not set out to do what they're doing, it just happens that way. They get bored and frustrated easily and are constantly trying new things until something starts to work. You have to find that thing and run with it. You won't know what you're doing in the beginning but it's ok to fake it till you make it! As long as you believe in what you're doing, so will everyone else.
PB: Where can people find out more?
JK: I'm currently revamping my website so you can visit us there at www.mividavintage.com or find us on Facebook//Instagram//Etsy or if you're in LA come by and say hi!! I definitely wouldn't be upset if you brought me cupcakes.....just sayin.