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Modern Art Furniture: Funky & Fully Functional

Updated on September 2, 2013

Discover Jeff & Vivian Porter of Kansas City Furniture Solutions

This lens is about a little company in North Kansas City that is like a diamond in the rough. Raised in the antique furniture business started by his parents, Jeff found a niche in restoration, refinishing & repair of other people's antiques and otherwise prized possessions. In the midst of this familiarity, an amazing imagination coupled with a structural engineering mindset, Porter has created three studio showrooms of Modern Art Furniture and Wall Designs.

Throughout this lens are photos by Northtowne Arts Coalition artist, Ed Loesch, or the Porter's -as noted.

Photo c. Ed Loesch

A perfectionist, Jeff loves to push the envelope. He stared at a drawing of what became Off Kilter for hours as he envisioned what it would become. Itâs one of this writerâs favorites.

Refinishing, Repair, and Restoration - How KC Furniture Solutions Came to Be

A Refinishing Example
A Refinishing Example

There is a red brick building at 1240 Swift Street in North Kansas City, Missouri. In warm weather, the "garage door " of the shop may be open, allowing a glimpse of what lies beyond.

Otherwise, you walk through a storm door in the brick and into one of three showrooms that house modern art furniture-sometimes funky and always functional. This part of the business is the creative brainchild of Jeff Porter, a man with innovative ideas, a vivid imagination and an artistically-inclined engineering mind. Structural functionality is essential in all of his furniture creations.

Jeff got his start in the business of wood, working for his folks in their store, Cheep Antiques. Initially located in downtown Kansas City off 5th Street, "One Block West of Broadway Bridge, they later moved to a shop on Burlington in NKC. ." This writer and her husband wandered into that store one day in the Spring of 1998 and found a world of beautifully refinished or restored antique furniture. When I say "world" it is the truth. Jeff's parents (& later he, too) traveled abroad and would make container buys of good quality antiques with good bones. Add to this, Jeff's growing expertise as a furniture refinisher and restorer and the Porter's had some very fine antiques for sale. My husband & I bought a 1930s German "China" Cabinet which we used to display one of our collections at the time. These people took meticulous care to make sure it was safely secured for transport in our pickup truck, protecting the glass and giving us Guardsman furniture cleaner & furniture polish so that we could care for it as lovingly as they did. We were impressed enough to purchase a 1930s German Buffet later that summer.

So, Jeff Porter began his love with nature's woods. Later, when his folks closed Cheep Antiques, Jeff decided to branch out on his own. Together with wife, Vivian, they opened Kansas City Furniture Solutions in March 2011-specializing in furniture refinishing, restoration and repair. Have a favorite chair that needs some serious lifesaving? Jeff can do it. A table, a sofa? No problem. He can restore it to its original condition or re-purpose it into something else, if you like. An example is a Haywood Wakefield chair a neighbor gave him to do with whatever he wanted. So, he is turning it into a loveseat.

Photo c. the Porters

Guardsman Furniture Polish - The right cleaners & polishers for longevity-

Care for your furniture lovingly with products that help preserve it.

The Early Days Between Two Hardworking People - Jeff & Vivian's Beginning

Spider Chair - SOLD! Photo by the Porters.
Spider Chair - SOLD! Photo by the Porters.

I asked Vivian how she & Jeff met. Jeff graduated from Oak Park High School in 1982. Vivian attended North Kansas City High and she & Jeff met on a blind date in 1984. They will celebrate 25 years of marriage this September. Theirs is a special partnership, they are lovers, friends and business associates. They both worked full time while Vivian continued her schooling to obtain her Masters of Nursing. This, she accomplished in 2001. Vivian Porter, RN MSN has spent 25 years at North Kansas City Hospital. She is a Clinical Nursing Educator, teaching cardiac nurses and helping with orientation of new nurses.

In addition to working for his parent's business, Jeff began absorbing magazines and reference books like Architectural Digest, Structural Engineering, Science and Math -all kinds of subjects to hone his skills and feed his imagination. He would wake up in the middle of the night and watch science fiction and occasionally in the daytime, catch children's shows. One of his extremely creative designs is the Spider Chair. When asked how this creation came about, Jeff explained he was just relaxing, watching The Cartoon Network Boomerang's Jonny Quest episode "The Robot Spy." Family nemesis Dr. Zin unleashes a giant robot-spider and pre-teen Jonny Quest is shooting at it. Jeff took out pencil and pad and drew his vision. Jeff & Vivian recently sold the pair of Spider Chairs to a couple who spent hours on the Internet, searching the world over, to make sure they could not find anything like them. They didn't and they won't. Every KC Furniture Solutions design is unique; it is truly one-of-a-kind.

Photo c. the Porters

In The Wind (c. Ed Loesch)
In The Wind (c. Ed Loesch)

Inspiration and Imagination

This wall art design is called In the Wind. Inspiration for this came from watching Perkins Restaurant's flag blowing in the wind. Go figure!?

Photo c. Ed Loesch

Blood, Sweat & Tears (not the Grammy winning musical band, either.)

We often say something required blood, sweat & tears and some of Jeff's projects, like Harmony (partial pic shown here) is no exception. This is what Jeff refers to as a "live and learn project." Made entirely of recycled materials except the dowels, Jeff earned himself 5 stitches cutting the veneer on it. When he got injured that day, he called Vivian saying he needed her help and nurse that she is, took one look and told him they were going to NKC Hospital for stitches.

Photo c. Ed Loesch

With A Little Help From [My] Friends (Thank you Lennon & McCartney)

KC Furniture Solutions Workshop
KC Furniture Solutions Workshop

Jeff & Vivian are quick to tell you they have really good help. While Vivian does an exceptional job of choosing the fabrics to clothe furniture, (and handles the company's bookkeeping) it is upholsterer Johnny Young, a 60-something former All American Football Player in high school -before he blew out his knee, and also suffered from asthma -that perfects the final upholstered piece. Jeff refers to Johnny as his Mentor and his friend. He has the utmost respect and admiration for this man who gives back to his community as a basketball coach, among many other altruistic acts. Also of great impact is Jeff's right hand man, Robert Clements. These men work side by side with Jeff and while Johnny sometimes speaks of retirement, Jeff can't imagine what he'd do without him. They exchange ideas and collaborate on many projects.

Photo c. Ed Loesch

KC Furniture Solutions' 6 Rs - Re-use, Recycle, Re-purpose, Restore, Refinish, Repair

Vivian's Mirror (Sunshine's Face)
Vivian's Mirror (Sunshine's Face)

I was fortunate enough to acquire a piece of Jeff's wall art named Sunshine. To me, she is an androgynous pet and I adore her. My eyes light up at the end of a long day when I come home & see her smiling face. Speaking of her face, Jeff's complete belief in making use of all materials-he is an advocate for recycling, came from a cutout of a mirror Vivian loves so much it is going home with them. These works of art were made out of Black Walnut, White Birch, Mahogany, Red Heart, Purple Heart, Red Oak and Aspen.

Photo c. Ed Loesch

Controversy (the Porter's)
Controversy (the Porter's)

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose- NOT!

Porter names all of his creations

While the core business is refinishing and restoration, the day they started Sunshine, Jeff came into the shop and said to Robert, let's have some fun today! Vivian remarks that this is Jeff's time. He helped put her through school so, once they take care of the business of bills and another financial obligations, Jeff can have fun. He can spend the next few or several days between restoration projects, creating his innovative modern art designs.

This is Controversy made of Aspen and Mahogany wood, copper tube and a Vintage Light Bulb.

Photo c. the Porters

The Viking (the Porter's)
The Viking (the Porter's)

A Different Kind of Viking.

One man's table is another man's work of art.

What got him started on this path? He remembers as a boy, receiving a bicycle for a gift which he promptly took apart piece by piece. He wrote down how he would need to put it back together. When asked by his Dad what he was doing, Jeff told him he wanted to understand how it worked. His soul is that of a tinkerer.

One can't make all the difficult curves, illogical shapes and unconventional designs without a grasp of math, science and I believe, poetry. This table is The Viking, made from 3.5" thick Baltic Birch. Jeff designed the shape of the tabletop, cut the glass, and finished the edge.

Photo c. Ed Loesch

Vertigo and other balancing acts


What kind of tools does he use? Jeff explained that when money isn't unlimited, an artist and craftsman has to learn how to work with his tools. Each tool is capable of performing many different functions -Jeff, Robert & Johnny have learned how to maneuver and manipulate the shop tools. A circular saw that cuts at a 45° angle can be operated at different angles to make different jigs. Or, like what happened in one specific case, Jeff needed a very short jigsaw blade-shorter than anything in existence so he used another piece of wood and some tape to create one. Sometimes he "backs [himself] into a corner" on projects. Much of creation is trial and error.

This 3 legged table is called Vertigo. It is made of White Birch, Mahogany, Black Walnut, and Purple Heart. It was made in three sections, planed from 3/4" to 1/2" and is comprised of 150 pieces of wood. Try hard as they did, they could not get the sections together. Their futile efforts resulted in about $300 worth of sawdust. So, they created a bath solution. Using two gallon buckets, they boiled water for 6 hours straight, pouring it over the pieces and then used hair dryers to cure and dry. The three pieces then glued together perfectly. Jeff noted "you think you know everything until you begin the next project. Then you learn 10 more things while working on it."

Photo c. Ed Loesch

Waste Not Want Not - Nearly everything can be used to make ART

Remember the $300 worth of sawdust? Nothing goes to waste at KC Furniture Solutions. Jeff used this sawdust as a border for his wall art Spring, made from Walnut, Mahogany, Birch and of course, sawdust.

Photo c. Ed Loesch

ZULU a fine example of wall art

Johnny suggested they create something with an African feel, so Zulu was born.

Photo c. Ed Loesch

Northland Lifestyle Magazine Featured KC Furniture Solutions - August 2012, with Madam Butterfly on the Cover

Madam Butterfly
Madam Butterfly

Jeff & Vivian were delighted to be featured in the August 2012 issue of Northland Lifestyle magazine.

On the cover was Madam Butterfly one of KC Furniture Solutions absolutely inspiring pieces of comfortable, functional furniture. This lounge chair reflects Vivian Porter's exquisite selection of fabric that complements the design, beautifully finished by Johnny Young's expert upholstery.

Photo c. Ed Loesch

Vivian & Jeff Porter "on" Madam Butterfly

Jeff & Vivian on Madam Butterfly
Jeff & Vivian on Madam Butterfly

Vivian & Jeff were very generous with their time the afternoon that Ed & I visited KC Furniture Solutions. It was well past their business hours before Ed shot all the pics he wanted to and I asked all the questions I could that day.

Ed & I were very excited to get to know these completely down to earth people with imaginations that soar and generous spirits that give back to the community.

Photo c. Northland Lifestyle Magazine / the Porters

Over Easy, Alice Chairs, Vertigo and Eclipse Tables with Jeff Porter

Over Easy with Alice Chairs
Over Easy with Alice Chairs

Over Easy is a gorgeous Armoire, just under 7' tall and made from White Birch and Mahogany. Alice Chairs are an inspiration from - you guessed it, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

We've discussed the Vertigo table in another module but this side table, Eclipse, is made of White Birch, Mahogany and Purple Heart. That fellow standing amidst this imaginative setting is the extremely down-to-earth artist whose creations are out-of-this-world!

Photo c. Ed Loesch

Another View of Alice Chairs

Wanted you to have a perspective on the Alice Chairs. They are not just another functional piece of furniture. They are a work of art.

Photo c. Ed Loesch

Adventures in North Kansas City and a Wonderland Near You - AMAZON ROCKS EveryLand!

I thought it might be fun to add a few books for those interested in Lewis Carrol's journey into Wonderland. A pop-up version is available for kids!

Donated 1950s Pecan Buffet
Donated 1950s Pecan Buffet

KC Furniture Solutions' Generous Donation to Northtowne Arts Coalition

NAC & KC Furniture Solutions: Summer Art Blast FUNdraiser & Auction

Here is a 1950s era re-purposed Pecan Buffet that KC Furniture Solutions donated to NAC. The Porter's suggested NAC artists have a go at the buffet and then hold an AUCTION to raise funds. Apparently, the non-profit arts organization thought it was an outstanding suggestion! The auction is being held at KC Furniture Solutions where people may tour their 3 modern art studios, listen to music, learn about 4 different art mediums, enter a drawing to win a caricature drawn by Holly Ann Schenk, and enjoy complimentary refreshments.

Three NAC artists, L.D. Herman, Holly Ann Schenk, and Barbara Akers are adding their artistic expression to create a Masterpiece. AFTER pics will be shared here.

Photo c. the Porters

Summer ART Blast, Auction & FUNdraiser - at KC Furniture Solutions in North Kansas City

It was a sweltering afternoon but with plenty of water & other refreshments, NAC, KC Furniture Solutions and friends enjoyed themselves. Artists were set up with examples of their work and demonstrated their particular mediums; these artists enjoyed a few sales and everyone who visited was amazed upon touring the 3 modern art studios of KC Furniture Solutions and viewing the fantastic creations of Jeff Porter.

The plan to hold this fundraiser was more or less impromptu so, attendance wasn't exactly what they'd hoped for. More lessons in being a start-up non-profit arts organization: know what else is going on around town on the day you schedule an event.

However, though they didn't achieve anything like the auction results of Atlanta's Auction Kings (at Studio 63) they did have a winning bid that made all participants so happy & grateful to have been involved. Thanks were extended to ALL who visited and it was unanimous: NAC artists and Jeff Porter did a phenomenal job of turning this buffet into a Masterpiece!

NAC & KC Furniture Solutions - Celebrate a Successful FUNdraiser

The Artists
The Artists

Here's a front view of the 1950s Buffet and the artists who applied their talents to the project (L to R):

Dave Phillips, Holly Ann Schenk, Barbara Akers, L.D. Herman, Vivian and Jeff Porter.

NAC artists Natosha Keefer & Griselda Williams - brave the heat in NKC


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