Picking, painting and passing it on: Apple Valley sisters renew old furniture

  • Article by: LIALA HELAL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 3, 2013 - 6:41 PM

Two sisters are teaming up to run an Apple Valley store that turns old furniture into refurbished treasures.

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Patti Donahue-Peltz, known as “the painter sister,” demonstrated how to refinish furniture to a class at the Next Act furniture store that she runs in Apple Valley.

Photo: Photos by Bruce Bisping • bbisping@startribune.com,

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Patti Donahue-Peltz swears by baby wipes.

She regularly makes trips to Sam’s Club to stock up. But babies are the furthest thing from the 59-year-old’s mind.

“I love them because then I can tell exactly what it’s going to look like,” she said as she wiped the moist sheets over an old chair she chalk-painted red and sanded to distress and reveal snippets of a turquoise layer of paint underneath.

The baby wipes show her what the piece will look like once it’s waxed. “I’m a visual girl. You can tell me about it forever, but if I see it, I will remember,” she said at a recent painting workshop.

Donahue-Peltz is the creative side of Apple Valley’s Next Act, a store that sells refurbished and repurposed old, vintage or antique furniture and decor. She comes full circle and teaches people how to do it themselves.

She’s known as “the painter sister.” Her younger sister, Nancy Donahue, 56, owns the shop and is known as “the picker sister.”

The two moved to Burnsville more than 40 years ago from Massachusetts, graduated from Burnsville High School and married men from Burnsville. The duo opened Next Act just nine months ago at the Time Square Shopping Center.

“People avoid working with their siblings. I find that bizarre, because I never considered working with anyone but you,” Donahue said to the painter sister on a recent morning.

“They ask us all the time, ‘Why would you work with your sister?’ Well, why not? We have a 56-year history. We giggle at the same things, we mock the same things. And we fight, because we’re sisters.”

Donahue-Peltz chimed in with a smile. “It works quite well, because you’re not afraid to say what you think. What’s she going to do, leave you?”

As the picker sister, Donahue looks for things that can be accented and pieces that have structure and versatility. All pieces are local.

She goes to garage sales, flea markets, estate sales and auctions, and she occasionally shops online auctions. Some of their business comes from people bringing their own furniture to be refinished.

The pieces are picked very selectively — no “funky junk,” Donahue-Peltz explained.

“We try to keep it out of the landfills and give it a fresh look — a next act,” Donahue-Peltz said.

Both are self-taught in the business.

When picking, Donahue keeps in mind what would go along with the pieces the store already has and what could be offered affordably to college students or seniors downsizing to a smaller home.

“It’s the fun of the hunt,” Donahue said. “It’s like putting a big puzzle together.”

The two went from separate careers to painting and picking together for more than 12 hours each day. “We pretty much live here,” Donahue said. “Since [the store opened], it’s been nonstop.”

Donahue-Peltz used to own an Apple Valley quilt shop, and Donahue worked in human resources. “My sister and I both ended careers to give this dream a shot,” Donahue-Peltz said.

Other family members have gotten involved, too. Donahue-Peltz’s husband, Jeffrey Peltz, mainly does repairs and woodworking on pieces. Donahue’s husband, Kevin Johnson, does occasional painting and is the “upholstery person.”

“I haven’t worked retail since 1975. I lived a very structured life — it was always corporate,” Donahue said, then lit up with a smile. “I like that I can wear flippers and shorts to work and nobody is going to yell at me.”

The sisters pride themselves on the fact that they allow others, some do-it-yourselfers who learned from Donahue-Peltz, to sell items in their store as consignment pieces.

“We’re helping 20 other families by them being vendors,” Donahue-Peltz said. And helping families is a priority for the sisters — Donahue started a nonprofit organization called Birthday Buddies that so far has provided more than 6,000 local families with birthday parties in a bag for those struggling.

At the store, they want to help others too. Donahue-Peltz loves to see someone take a sentimental family piece and transform it themselves, giving it their own personal touch, she said.

Sandy Pastucha of Farmington attends the shop’s advanced painting class. She and her husband also sell their own pieces at the shop, paying a 25 percent commission to the sisters.

“You get so many ideas when you come here,” Pastucha said. “You can paint it and give it a face-lift. That’s what’s fun about it.”

Sharon Brunet of Burnsville and Denise Hall of Eagan also attend the workshops at Next Act, at 7635 W. 148th St. With baby wipes, Brunet has become more comfortable distressing paint. “The worst thing that happens is you sand it and repaint it. You can’t go wrong.”

Donahue-Peltz aims to equip people with the skills to paint their own furniture in just one workshop.

“Patti is very free with her knowledge,” Pastucha said. “It’s her passion, and she shares it with us so openly.”

Donahue-Peltz says she loves to see what people accomplish on their own while keeping furniture out of landfills.

“I have never enjoyed anything like I do this,” she said. “I love it when a piece of furniture arrives and is in need of some serious help.”

For more information about the store or workshops, visit www.nextact2.com or call the shop at 952-432-5001.

  • related content

  • Nancy Donahue, Patti’s younger sister, is known as “the picker sister” and owns the shop, which opened nine months ago in the Time Square Shopping Center. Nancy looks for pieces at garage sales, flea markets and estate sales.

  • From left, Sharon Brunet of Burnsville, Sandy Pastucha of Farmington and Denise Hall of Eagan listened to Donahue-Peltz at a workshop on repainting and refurbishing furniture. “You get so many ideas when you come here,” Pastucha said about the store.

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