Making It: Laura Thieme, 40, and Kristy Olsyn, 36

Kristy Olsyn (left) and Laura Thieme: The aesthetic is beat-up.
Kristy Olsyn (left) and Laura Thieme: The aesthetic is beat-up. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 26, 2013

Some future historian studying the typically atypical career trajectories of late GenX creatives in Philly might do well to take a look at Laura Thieme and Kristy Olsyn. The two met while working in online marketing at CDNOW - remember CDNOW? The online music retailer founded in 1994 by twin brothers from Ambler ballooned feverishly until it went splat in 2000. Thieme and Olsyn both found jobs at Rodale, a magazine and book publisher, and the daily three-hour commute from and to the Emmaus headquarters gave them plenty of time to dream up alternatives to corporate life.

In 2011 Thieme was laid off. She looked around halfheartedly for another job. "There aren't a lot of consumer brands in the area," she says. "And I wanted to do something I felt really good about." That was the impetus to sift through those half-baked plans and bring one to fruition. By then Olsyn had left marketing for acupuncture school and had time for a side gig.

Late that year, Territory Hardgoods launched with a website, an Etsy shop, and a warehouse in Port Richmond. A year later, they opened on Fabric Row in the former Kincus Fabrics space with a friend, Chelsea Pearce, who makes jewelry and resells vintage clothes under the name Moon & Arrow. The effect is that of a dreamy, old-timey mercantile shop with an artisanal lifestyle bent. Floor-to-ceiling shelves that once held bolts of fabric now hold vintage small goods, new small goods with a vintage feel, and Pearce's modern bohemian jewelry. There is plenty of floor space for Territory's larger pieces: a Steelcase tanker desk, a Mission-style writing desk, plenty of solid wood and reupholstered chairs, and a vintage barber's sink.

In Thieme and Olsyn's workshop, separated from the store by a piece of burlap, a Stickley desk and a few vintage Morris chairs are mid-revivification. Olsyn learned woodworking from her parents, who worshipped at the church of good craftsmanship. "Rescuing something well-made was a really important thing," she says. "If we saw a piece that was outside or neglected, I understood from an early age that that was a sin." Her parents showed her how to refinish her first piece of furniture when she was 5.

Thieme has taught herself how to reupholster, mostly by taking things apart. "It's amazing what you find," she says. Horsehair. Hand stitching. Their husbands, half-silent partners, pitch in, too. All four rewire old lamps and tighten and clean up furniture, and Olsyn's husband makes furniture from reclaimed materials on his family's Louisiana farm. Their overall aesthetic is beat-up. "No high gloss or lacquer," says Thieme. And they try to do the least amount possible to a piece - the goal is to bring it back to a well-loved state. "We want things to feel livable," says Thieme, "not precious."


Laura Thieme and Kristy Olsyn explain their plans to restore a vintage Morris chair at www.philly.com/makingit .


Caroline Tiger is a design writer in Philadelphia. Follow her on Twitter at @carolinetiger.

Earliest collaboration:

A blog, launched in 2001, called "Bewitched By" for fashionistas on a budget. "It was a pre-blog blog," says Thieme, by which she means pre-Wordpress. Or pre-anything like Wordpress that makes blogging easy. It was innovative for its time.

Why "Territory Hardgoods":

"There was a lot of debate over the name," says Thieme. "We went through every iteration of 'general store,' 'mercantile.' We wanted something with an old-timey feel." Adds Olsyn, "We have an affinity for the Southwest and for the time of westward expansion. And 'territory' resonated, because your home is your territory."

Scouting sources:

Seventy percent of the hard goods are from estate sales, flea markets, and auctions within a 2- to 21/2-hour radius of Philadelphia. The rest hails from points between Louisiana and New Hampshire. Thieme and Olsyn have family scattered along that route.

What restoring vintage furniture has in common with acupuncture:

"In my mind, they coordinate," says Olsyn. "The idea of trying to preserve something in someone - a body, a piece of furniture - of trying to keep the integrity of whatever it is."

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