The Start Up Files is a series that aims to find out where good ideas come from and how they happen. Each fortnight we chronicle the journey of someone who brought their idea to life through the Renew Adelaide program. In this article, we chat to Kathy White about Retro Room, a vintage furniture specialising in mid-century modern design.
For Kathy White, the joy of vintage furniture is the story behind each piece.
“What I love is not only buying a piece and restoring it to its former beauty but also learning about who made it, what it went with, who is the designer, what it’s made of.”
Kathy has always had a passion for design, particularly from the mid-century modern era. When she was in her twenties and working as a flight attendant she attempted to pursue her passion by applying to study interior design. To this day, Kathy can still recall the red skivvy and vest combination the university interviewer was wearing as he shared his unfortunate opinions on flight attendants and their ability to study interior design. She was not offered a place on the course.
While Kathy ended up becoming a psychologist, she never lost her interest in design and she continued to collect and restore vintage furniture in her spare time. She started giving pieces to her family members and did so more and more until she had a realisation.
“One day I gave something to my niece’s cousin and I thought why am I not doing this as a business?”
Retro Room started as a market stall and later as a space in a coffee shop and then moved to selling online through social media. When her following reached over 2000 people, Kathy kept getting asked when she was going to open a store.
She was strongly considering it, but opening a physical store felt like a big risk. It was then she discovered the Renew Adelaide program offering rent free spaces for new businesses.
“With Renew Adelaide I could test it out, that was the beauty of it. I don’t think I would have been game enough to rent a whole place to test it out.”
She kept her eye on Renew Adelaide’s available spaces, waiting for the perfect space to come up until one day a large retail space on East Tce became available. As she was overseas at the time she ended up having to send her daughter to the inspection so she could attend via FaceTime. It was exactly what Kathy was looking for, a large blank canvas with plenty of natural light where she could set up furniture displays that felt like you’d walked into a living room in the 70’s.
Kathy’s application was accepted and she started working on the launch of Retro Room the moment she stepped off the plane.
It’s been three months since the launch and the store has been a big success, so much so that this week Retro Room is graduating from the Renew Adelaide program and signing onto a commercial lease.