A Vintage View

Lee’s Summit woman keeps the spirit of the past alive in her home and business.

Words: Corbin Crable 
Photos: Silas Cook

As a teacher, Michelle Myers knows there are a variety of ways to look at the world.

Where some folks see a wooden door, weathered by rain and snow, she sees a decorative conversation piece for her dining room. Where some see rusted, old windmill blades, she envisions a focal point for her living room.

The timeless adage of “Everything old is new again” is a world view that Myers has held her entire life, and it can be found on every shelf, every wall, every nook and cranny of her home in Lee’s Summit, MO, where Michelle and her husband, Chuck, have lived since 1995.

“People should not throw anything away,” Michelle says, strolling through her living room and eyeing her favorite decorative pieces intently on an overcast morning in January.

Her love of vintage knickknacks, trinkets and antiques has endured for just as long, too. What started out as just a hobby of collecting blossomed into a passion and a way of life in adulthood.

“It really did start out as a hobby. Eventually, I had so much stuff, and I thought I would just start moving a bit of product every once in a while,” she recalls.

For years, Michelle has balanced her full-time job as a special education teacher in the Lee’s Summit school district with overseeing space at antique stores (and stores themselves) throughout the Kansas City metro area. First was a small 5”x3” booth at the Greenwood Mercantile in Greenwood, MO. Afterward, Michelle moved into As Time Goes By, also located in Greenwood.

Following her start in Greenwood, Michelle’s wares made their way to the West Bottoms area – first, with a location called Hickory Dickory and now with the store Good Ju Ju, a metro-area mainstay to fellow collectors.

According to Good Ju Ju’s website, the shop offers finished antique and vintage furniture, architectural items, holiday decor, primitives, dining room tables, chairs, buffets, china cabinets, sporting goods, jewelry, mid-century modern stuff … retro, fun and funky items and about anything you can imagine.”

Michelle’s brand recognition has taken years of shopping, collecting, hard work, and networking with like-minded merchants. Among her friends and peers, Michelle is known for her being selective about the items she sells and the ones that enter her home.

“It seems like our circle of friends have the same business philosophy that we do,” she says. “For instance, I don’t spray paint furniture. I hand paint everything. And I will only sell solid wood products. I would rather repurpose the original item and have people love it all over again.

“I’m picky, and I pay a lot of attention to detail,” she continues. “When Chuck and I set out (to open the store), we decided not to cut corners. We wouldn’t sell anything we wouldn’t put in our own home. And we’ve stuck to that.”

Yes, Michelle’s favorite pieces will never see the light of day in Good Ju Ju – instead, they stay in her home, on display for family, friends and visitors alike.

Some of the pieces that are sure to be conversation-starters when visitors cross her home’s threshold include a dark-brown wood cabinet in the entryway, constructed with square nails; a work bench painted John Deere green, atop which sits a collection of old metal nozzles for fire hoses; the metal frame of an old laundry cart, which now holds throw pillows in the master bedroom; a turn-of-the-century pie safe made of tin and painted white; a pair of industrial lamps made of pipe fittings, which flank the sofa in the living room; and above that, an old blue Proctor & Gamble sign, riddled with bullet holes (“On the farm, you’d shoot at things like that, just for fun,” Michelle notes).

And that’s not even a fraction of the home’s carefully selected decorations.

“I collect old fans, buckets – you can never have too many buckets,” Michelle laughs. “They’re great for everything. I drag all of my plants inside during the winter, and I put them all in old buckets. I also have a lot of blue jars … oh, and clocks!”

Oh, and there are the frames, too, according to Chuck.

“You could buy a whole mess of frames cheaply years ago, and now you have to buy them individually,” Chuck notes.

One of her most treasured pieces, however, remains the wooden table in her dining room, featured in an earlier issue of VintageKC.    

“It’s still one of my favorite pieces,” Michelle beams. “It’s never going to be sold.”

In addition to her full-time job and managing her store locations, Michelle somehow finds the time to help produce decorative spaces for individuals and organizations using her keen eye for design. Central to those projects, of course, is matching complementary color families.

A mantle behind her living room features a variety of blue- and white-colored pieces. Both are dominant colors throughout her home.

“I like those soft blues and teals,” Michelle says. “They blend so pretty. Anything in the blue and green family blends together so well.”

Michelle admits she even learned a thing or two about pairing colors from her adult daughter, Amber.

“She told me, ‘Mom, you can put reds along with blues and teals, too, and I was like, ‘Really?’” Michelle laughs.

The living room mantle, meanwhile, features splashes of bright color in the form of old watering buckets for children, sitting next to a seemingly innocuous blue glass bottle. At first glance, the piece can be easy to pass over, but Michelle says she and Chuck learned the small bottle held a secret.

“We found out it was worth several hundred dollars,” Michelle says. “It was in a box along with other blue glass bottles. We bought the whole box for only $5.”

Though programs such as “Antiques Roadshow” highlight collectors who receive a delightful surprise when told an item they bring in for appraisal is actually worth money, Chuck says such news is usually the exception to the rule.

“If you go to auctions, auctioneers are pretty good at making sure there isn’t anything really valuable hidden away,” he says.

Michelle nods and admits that theirs was a case of pure luck. “It doesn’t happen nearly as often as you would think.”

That’s not to say, of course, that it never happens, Michelle adds. “I’m finding with this generation of kids, 30s and 40s, they may have something they don’t realize is worth something. And at garage sales, some people just don’t realize what they’ve got,” she says.

Both Michelle and Chuck are heartened to find that the monetary worth of an item is of little concern to younger generations of collectors, who embrace the aesthetics, functionality and stories behind the treasures at Good Juju.

“Antiques went out of style, and now people are appreciating them, because they’re real and functional,” Michelle says.

Both Chuck and Michelle say that when they built their house more than 20 years ago, it was with their expansive collection of vintage  items at the forefront of their minds. In fact, the house is designed around them, according to Chuck.

“When the house was built, we knew we wanted cubbies,” he says, pointing to one next to the guest room on the second floor. A metal pedal cart sits there, a grinning, cherubic-faced doll sitting at the wheel. “We asked for them, and shelves, too, because Michelle likes to decorate so much.”

Some of the house’s décor changes depending on the season, or just what items have caught Michelle’s eye lately. As a place whose look changes and evolves constantly, Michelle says there are still big projects lined up for the future, including reorganizing her home’s basement, which she describes as “a mess with all the shelves of antiques!”

“We want to make the front porch bigger,” she says. “We’ve talked about that, and have debated painting our (kitchen) cabinets white 

and to make other things whiter. I’m always working on something.”

And speaking of the future, Michelle doesn’t have to worry about her legacy of collecting being lost anytime soon – it’s something she has passed down to her two-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte, whom she calls “an old soul.”

On this day, Charlotte has shown up at Grandma’s house (“Where the word we always say is ‘yes’.”) for a brief visit and to have her picture taken. Charlotte, too, has her own decorative space in a corner of the kitchen – a wooden, child-sized table with matching chairs. Atop the table sits a canister full of brightly colored pencils, and on a shelf across from the table sits an abacus with brightly colored beads.

“I told them you like to decorate,” Michelle coos to the shy, blonde-haired youngster, who heads for her little table when she arrives. “Do you want to check out your table and see if it’s OK? Mawmaw decorated it for you.”

Michelle laughs heartily as she discusses some of Charlotte’s favorite collectibles throughout the house.

“Charlotte plays with the old toy trucks, with the old clocks … and I have an elf collection,” she says. “We have tons of elves, and I put them out at Christmas time. She came over one day and she said, ‘Mawmaw, more elves!’ She got my old trucks out and put elves in the trucks and started driving them around. And I thought, ‘Man, these kids don’t need much!’”

Charlotte, it seems, shares her grandmother’s worldview of appreciating the artistic potential of items that are discarded or otherwise taken for granted by others.

After Michelle retires from teaching this year, she will be able to turn her focus completely to Good Ju Ju and ensuring such items go to a good home. And eventually, Michelle says, she knows those collectibles will be in good hands – the hands of someone who loves them just as much as she does.

“You give kids this old stuff, and they love it like it’s new stuff,” Michelle smiles. “And everything here will be Charlotte’s one day.” 

Corbin Crable, an adjunct associate professor of journalism at Johnson County Community College, doesn’t have Michelle’s same knack for home decoration, but he knows what he likes.