Picking the Goods
From vintage-style signs to one-of-a-kind furniture, this sprawling Kennebunk shop is packed full of classic finds
Antique dealer and furniture maker Cynthia Hamilton was recently scoping out a store in Freeport when she came upon something unexpected. “I found this little apothecary chest that I had built myself over 30 years ago,” she recalls. Although she’s made thousands of pieces over the years, it was quite the thrill to find one of her designs being resold right here in Maine. “I was so excited, I had to buy it. Now it’s over there,” she says, gesturing out the window at her cozy blue house, which is located just across the parking lot. “Right at home.”
We’re sitting at a table made from reclaimed pine in Hamilton’s two-story store located off a picturesque country road in Kennebunk. Next door is her workshop where she handcrafts furniture from new and reclaimed wood (her favorite material to work with is pine). For over 40 years, Hamilton has been building new furniture, restoring antique pieces, and scouring antique markets all over New England for vintage treasures. She sells these wares to treasure-hunting shoppers from around the country in her barn-red shop, Americana Workshop, which specializes in classic American- style home goods and decor. “I chose the name because it’s all-encompassing,” she explains. “It’s rustic, but it can also be a little bit beachy. It’s classic. Red, white, and blue—that’s me.”
Dressed in a denim button-down, Hamilton fits right in among her shelves of wrought-iron hooks (some shaped like birds, others like moose) and North American−made goods such as whiskey- and tobacco-scented candles and wood dining chairs crafted in Quebec. “It’s been bonkers busy,” she says. “But every two months, I make time to go up to Quebec. I’ve been going with my dad since I was eight, and I have some pickers there who find and buy things just for me. Whenever we go, we fill the truck.”
Originally from the Moosehead Lake region, Hamilton comes from a family of woodworkers (on her mother’s side) and antiques dealers (on her father’s side). “It was natural for me to go into the business,” she explains. “And after I had been in the antiques business for a few years, I realized that a lot of people were making money restoring furniture.” She did them one better: “I decided to learn to make furniture,” she says.
Hamilton is self-taught, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at her cabinets or tables, many of which are made from reclaimed wood. “This one is made from 200-year-old barn-wood planks found in Florida,” she says as she draws her hand along the rustic surface of a dining table. “Wood like this is something special.”
While Hamilton’s furniture is the standout element at Americana, there are plenty of pieces to tempt those looking for smaller finds, including two-foot-tall green glass Italian bottles used to import olive oil, mirrors framed in reclaimed windows, and intricate antique quilts, napkins, and tablecloths. Vintage-style signs hang on every wall. Unlike genuine vintage wood signs, which can go for up to $600 a pop, these replicas are priced between $125 and $225. “I like a little bit of everything,” says Hamilton. “But one thing I’ve always collected are antique teddy bears. I always have 15 or 20 of those in the store.” Baskets, she says, are always popular with both tourists and locals.
“The customers dictate what the store becomes,” says Hamilton. “When it comes to any piece, if I sell one, I always buy two more.”
Tips for buying & restoring antique furniture
- Create relationships with your local antique dealers or flea market vendors. Once a picker knows your style, they can grab pieces specifically for you—that’s how Hamilton says she lands many of her vintage finds.
- If you find a beautiful piece of old furniture that is suffering from a terrible paint job, don’t immediately discount it. Sterling 5F5, a furniture stripper, should do the trick. “It’s the best out there,” says Hamilton. When it comes to application, she says, “it is all about technique.” Paint the stripper on using smooth swipes that all go in one direction, rather than back and forth. Let it sit for 20 minutes, then use steel wool to remove the unwanted paint.
- It’s important to recognize a good piece when you see it, so Hamilton recommends looking at the joinery. “We always look for dovetail drawers,” she reveals. “It’s all about the construction. And never buy veneers: stick to solid wood for a longer life.”
- When it comes to styling your home, Hamilton suggests buying one
great piece and working around it. “People sometimes come in with a tape measure looking for something that will fit a certain spot,” she says. “I think it’s better to go with your gut. If you see something that speaks to you, redo your area around that piece. It’s not always about the measurements.”