About 30 years ago during a major renovation period, representatives from the Biltmore Estate recruited Tommy Klutz to live onsite and work at the Biltmore House, restoring the impressive furnishings and architecture in the French Renaissance-styled mansion in Asheville.
Tommy, however, turned down the offer. After all Blowing Rock is home – as it has been for the Klutz family since the Civil War. Although Tommy didn’t take the job, the inquiry was a testament to his woodworking skills.
He began learning the craft in 1973, the year after he married his wife Ruth, who recalled Tommy building beautiful Windsor chairs for their home before dinner in a little woodshed.
“Like it was just born in him to build beautiful furniture, he just did,” Ruth said.
After selling his custom-built furniture in a showroom on Morris Street and working in a couple different workshops, Tommy constructed a two-story building in 1982 that houses both the downstairs Restoration House, where Tommy and their two sons Matt, 41, and Jason, 31, work, and Possum Hollow Antiques that Ruth manages upstairs.
When Tommy first started out, he would buy antique furniture to restore and sell in consignment shops in Blowing Rock. The shops, though, priced the products steeply for a higher margin, and inventory didn’t move as fast as was preferred. Now whenever an antique has been refurbished, it finds a temporary home upstairs in Possum Hollow Antiques.
“Both shops compliment each other really well,” Ruth said.
Being in business for more than 40 years, they have built a customer base that includes the daughters and sons of the Klutzes’ initial customers, and aside from those residing in the High Country, Ruth mentioned a steady clientele that resides, for example, in Raleigh, Charlotte, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida.
Tommy noted that he has out-of-town customers that have become regulars over the years. Once they arrive in Blowing Rock, they will swing by the shop and drop off a piece that needs to be restored, and before leaving town, they return to the Restoration House for the goods.
The Restoration House specializes in antique restoration, furniture repair and refinishing and custom-built woodworking from furniture to cabinets and mantels. But they don’t just work with wood; the Klutzes can repair porcelain and wicker and are also proficient with a welder for ironwork. The diverse nature of restoring antiques and creating custom pieces allays any feelings of a monotonous workplace, something that both Tommy and Matt mentioned was enjoyable and satisfying.
“You always think of other things you could do over time, but why would I do anything else?” Matt asked. “Everything is typically a little different. You are not doing the same thing all the time. You could be working on something from the 1700s one day or building a new cabinet the next.”
As for an example of the exotic: One local customer ordered two doors from a Chinese castle built during the Ming Dynasty and shipped them to the Restoration House to be refurbished. The Klutzes joined the two doors together, redid the hand-hammered band around the 1,200-pound door and installed a bearing system because it was too heavy for the door jamb of the house located in the Firethorn development.
“You never know what’s going to come in the door,” Ruth said. “It’s something different every day.”
But before all of this became a business, it started out as a therapeutic hobby.
With his dad being Sonny, owner of Sonny’s Grill, Tommy grew up working in the iconic Blowing Rock diner that opened in 1954 and closed in 2009, and after high school, he operated a different restaurant called Sonny’s as well. He worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week trying to make it work.
In the end, he practically ran himself into the ground until one day he was talking to an old doctor friend who told him to find a hobby. Play some golf, restore an old car or do some woodworking, his friend told him.
“I thought man this is a good doctor,” Tommy said.
And the rest, as they say, is history.