Voodoo Molly Vintage is a small team based in Auckland, NZ. It is run by husband and wife team Lyall and Antonia Marino.
The chicken or the egg?
Voodoo Molly was established by Antonia Marino from humble beginnings. She started teaching herself furniture up-cycling in the early 90's when their daughter was just a baby.
Back then she learnt by stripping furniture down and putting it back together. She's still unsure which came first -- the upholstery or the furniture painting -- but the upholstery was the hardest to master.
Practice makes perfect
Antonia spent hours scouring through library books to learn traditional techniques -- there was no YouTube or local classes available back then!
Deconstructing and reverse engineering weren't just fancy words, they were how Antonia managed to keep her sanity. With every chair she stripped Ant matched the individual techniques with chapters in books, marking the pages with scraps of the fabric.
Her first project was a wingback chair. Silly silly girl.
Never say never
Visiting local upholsterers gave Antonia a taste of the male-dominated industry as it was back then. Their refusal to sell her basic upholstery supplies or offer snippets of advice just fueled her stubborn, determined nature. Antonia became an expert in recognising which of the materials were recyclable and how to substitute others. Thinking she was clever, at the time Antonia rewashed horse hair in pillowcases and recovered old buttons with fabric. It wasn't until years later she discovered that many techniques she learnt through trial and error were actually commonplace.
Despite working full time in both the finance and the insurance industry, Antonia found plenty of time to paint furniture and perfect her upholstery techniques, and within a few years she became rather good.
Mix and match
Another revelation came about 3 years later. With every armchair she completed Antonia noticed patterns and similarities between the layers, materials and techniques. A rosetta stone emerged showing a golden recipe of construction.
Ureka! Antonia discovered what she'd later coin "Mix and Match techniques".
In most cases, common construction techniques made up 80% of each chair, with 20% being specific to the style. Two chairs that appeared completely different to Antonia suddenly started looking the same when the elements were separated. Upholstery was like a baker's basic cake formula where like-for-like ingredients where substituted to create a completely different treat. This was a game changer for Antonia and allowed her to step it up to a more professional level.
Breaking the mould
Deciding to turn her furniture hobby into a business was bittersweet. In 2005 Antonia quit the corporate rat race to become a full time artist creating oil paintings and metal sculptures. She loved producing art and made a successful living out it, but her furniture up-cycling was yelling louder.
Antonia knew that to be successful in business you need to do one thing and do it well. So she wound down her art business in favour of custom bespoke furniture for private clients. She provided reupholstery services but the majority of her business involved furniture spray painting which was her main love.
Shaking it down
At first people weren't convinced about painting furniture and New Zealanders couldn't shake their love affair with varnished wood and flat packs. It wasn't that bare wood was bad -- but there was just too much of it. People started to inherit family estate pieces with sentimental value but they didn't fit in with modern interiors. The furniture painting buzz started to gain momentum, and with word-of-mouth referrals it wasn't long before Ant was being kept busy on a full-time basis.
Voodoo Molly was officially born.
Naughty but nice
The name Voodoo Molly was selected in a very interesting way.
Antonia folded a piece of paper in half. On the left she wrote nouns representing old, bad, naughty, sin, creepy, dirty. On the right she wrote female names that gave the impression of nice, innocent, light, virginity, pretty.
Using a pencil Antonia connected words on the left with words on the right gradually narrowing down to just one name. Voodoo Molly. A name that was funky and memorable. A name implying the transformation from evil to innocent, bad to good. Exactly like the makeovers she had started to perform on her bespoke furniture pieces.
The tagline 'Create Voodoo Magic' would be used years later. However Antonia maintains the magic came alive on that day.
Breaking the camel's back
A few years ago Antonia made a decision that would change the face of Voodoo Molly forever. Immediately after surgery to her spine and both hands she decided to stop creating and start teaching. She spent hours during her recovery designing prototypes and curriculums; and when she was strong enough she perfected her teaching technique and streamlined her lesson plan.
Her “Beginners Upholstery Workshop” was born and it has since become the most beloved quick-fire upholstery training in Auckland, with students also travelling from around NZ and as far as Australia to attend.
Starting in 2016 Ant has started to train other "Voodoo Molly Tutors" around NZ to teach the Beginners Upholstery Workshop. This enables more students to experience the wonderful world of upholstery!
Although upholstery took up a lot of her time, Antonia's true passion was furniture painting. So how could she incorporate this into her lesson plans? Antonia was (and still is) a loyal Resene customer but their product wouldn't lend itself to quick, one-day makeovers needed for classes. The alternative was Chalk Paint but this product didn't match Antonia's high standards of long lasting durability and professional smooth finish.
The challenge was on.
Trying to solve this dilemma would take Voodoo Molly in a very unexpected direction.
All the best bits
Unwilling to compromise professional painting standards to fit a 6 hour workshop, there was only one viable option. True to form of turning barriers into challenges, Antonia decided to create something uniquely Voodoo Molly. A paint that was fast drying and self-priming like a chalk paint, but acrylic-based and durable like a waterborne enamel.
Antonia loaded the workbench with all the various paints she had -- water-based acrylics, primer undercoats, chalk paint, sandable coatings, enamel spray paints, milk paint and artist acrylics. She created a long list of the "best bits" of each paint, the benefits she wanted her own paint to have. After all, if you're custom-designing a product from scratch aim as high as you can!
Armed with this pipe dream list, Antonia and her husband Lyall knocked on the lab door of a local Auckland paint chemist and presented this list to them.
"This might take a while" they said.
And they weren't wrong. The next 1 1/2 years would see Antonia and Lyall on a crazy paint-making journey, which included Lyall leaving his employment and taking on a full-time role with Voodoo Molly.
Branding the baby
Whilst the chemists were trying to tick every box on the list, the brand design process started.
Antonia worked closely with her graphic designer/daughter Stevie to create a new brand identity which saw Voodoo Molly morph into Voodoo Molly Vintage.
Gone was the 1950s-inspired “American Diner Sign" design with its pastel colours and animated feel. In came a new look with inspiration taken from Victorian advertising and old company seals. The pinstripe and stars were retained from the original branding, but a whole new colour palette and design image was adopted; a transformation befitting their optimistic plans.
They just needed the paint.
Filling the shelves
In May 2014 the first tin of Voodoo Molly Vintage Paint was labelled and placed upon the shelf. The launch was a success and paint was getting slapped around here, there and everywhere.
Early on, several New Zealand and Australian businesses recognised the innovation and potential of Vintage Paint and hopped on board the crazy train. Stockist numbers were growing monthly and more and more customers were falling in love with the Voodoo Magic experience.
Within a few months Voodoo Molly Vintage started working on another Vintage Paint formula called Easy Brush -- a beginners' DIY version that has since transformed furniture painting. They continue to work with the chemists to create new products to add to the Vintage Paint range.
It takes an army
Antonia recognised early on that battles aren't won by a single soldier. It takes an entire army.
First she enlisted the family cavalry, with three generations working at Voodoo Molly Vintage. Lyall works as operations manager; their daughter Stevie continues to work and develop the Voodoo Molly brand; and Antonia's father Tony is in charge of construction, building the projects for student classes.
Lyall and Antonia are also joined by a wonderful team of 'Molly" Tutors are Gabrielle, Anne, Lisa, Leigh and Rebecca.
Home is where the heart is
Voodoo Molly Vintage HQ is a fantastic industrial-style workshop in Papakura, Auckland.
It has been designed to provide an inspirational space for training workshops and has a successful up-cycling store selling Vintage Paint, painting accessories, upholstery supplies and tools.
Antonia once received sage advice from a well-known New Zealander, which completely changed her view on entrepreneurism. Having a support team in your corner is vital, and thats why Antonia shares her goal-setting skills with women in small business.
Voodoo Molly Vintage also work closely with Te Aro Potama Transitional Unit. The unit provides support to young special needs adults who have recently graduated from college, teaching them life skills such as independent living, employment preparation, community participation etc. Voodoo Molly provide work experience opportunities to help develop their employment, social and responsibility skills.
And thats not all folks
The philosophy of Voodoo Molly Vintage is innovation, creativity and sharing.
They have a bucket list of goals that is dynamic and fluid. The list keeps reducing and increasing as their goals are achieved and imagined.
Greatness doesn't come from waiting for something to happen or copying the competition. It comes from carving your way into the jungle.
And that's exactly what Voodoo Molly are doing.
Why I Share, by Antonia Marino
Last week a lovely fella was driving past Voodoo Molly HQ and wanted to know what we did, so stopped in. I gave him the lowdown and I got this reply, “But why do you teach upholstery and furniture painting? Why are you willing to give up all your knowledge and trade secrets to total strangers?"
I simply said: “Like you I make a living from doing my job and part of my job is holding workshops."
Boy was he really unhappy with this answer, honestly he was almost grumpy with me! "Surely you are giving up potential work for yourself? You are teaching people to overtake you in the market!”
I pulled up my soap box (which was fitting since I’m only 4’11” and he was a million feet tall!) and told him exactly why I do it.
First I said, "I don’t teach, I share.
I’m not an expert in any particular field but I am an expert of what is in my brain right now. It is this that I offer.
I’ve learnt my crafts from scratch, by myself, through hard work and stubbornness over many years. I started my first business at 16 sewing leather patchwork clothing on my mother's sewing machine. The day after my 18th birthday I moved out and bought a sewing machine suited for leather-work. By 20 was teaching myself upholstery.
I learnt everything by taking things apart and putting them back together again. There were no classes or YouTube back then! If I had someone to teach me, think of how great I could be!
Which brings me to now.
I share my knowledge because if someone is willing to learn, I’m willing to help. If I can share all my triumphs and failures over the years it will inspire them to give it a go themselves without fear of falling down once in a while. Because you will, it's what you do with that experience that matters.
If someone wants to learn badly enough they will find the answers with or without anyone else's help. Like I did. So why not become their light, their champion and help them to fast-track to their own greatness. "Why not be part of their journey instead of flattening their tyres."
I finished off with "I don’t know everything. But I share everything I know. That doesn’t mean I’m overtaken in the market. It means the market is a more dynamic place."
He left feeling somewhat frustrated with me, but I felt my point was made.
I hope he pops back in again soon to sign up for my beginners upholstery workshop...