On a Mission to Reuse the Past

Two second-generation fixer-uppers fill void with new old-school website

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

Rhode Island residents Mary Gervais, right, and Cindy Bogart recently launched a website to help people connect to past practices and materials. (Maaike Bernstrom)

Rhode Island residents Mary Gervais, right, and Cindy Bogart recently launched a website to help people connect to past practices and materials. (Maaike Bernstrom)

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — Cindy Bogart and Mary Gervais have launched a plan to “reuse the past.” It’s their motto, both professionally and personally. The key, they say, is to incorporate traditional methods and products into today’s lifestyle.

Their website, Artisans List, is an online directory, how-to videos, and shared space that embraces traditional basics, such as old-home restoration, craftsmanship, and farm-to-table sources. It’s designed to help visitors repurpose items and materials, from antique plumbing to reclaimed wood. It’s about building new from old. It’s about buying local.

The idea was born from an “aha moment” at the Brimfield (Mass.) Antiques Flea Markets. It all started when Bogart noticed that many of the vendors didn’t have websites. She then started to notice that artisans, restoration professionals, and farmers often had the same issue. They were too busy engaging in their crafts and professions to create a website or play on social media.

As the idea started to take shape, Bogart met with Gervais, who was then head of the Rhode Island Women’s Business Center. A connection was made, and Bogart’s creative soul and the business acumen of Gervais created an ideal partnership.

Their first office was at a fireside table at Felicia’s Coffee Shop in East Greenwich, where they set out to bring the artisan-minded community together in one online place. Their vision became a vetted online resource directory where people could connect, share, and learn. Their mission “is to help people reuse the methods, materials, and values from the past.” They now have office space in the building that houses the Newport Car Museum on West Main Road.

The business partners, both of whom are married with children, said they are building a community that you visit when, say, you inherit your grandmother’s delicate linen. They are beautiful, but there are stains. How are you going to get the stains out? You don’t want to put them back in a drawer, you want to use them as a daily reminder of your grandmother.

They offered other examples. There is a crack in your 1870s dining-room ceiling, and it’s horsehair plasterwork. You want to keep this feature and not replace it with drywall. Whom do you call?

You just moved and you want to find, say, the best local organic tomatoes. You want to support local farmers. How do find them?

This is why they founded Artisans List: to help people looking for specific services and products. They said their website is different from others such as Angie’s List, Houzz, and Thumbtack because “we don’t rate vendors; we let the customers decide.” They also said their website makes searching for items, materials, and professionals easy.

Artisans List introduces consumers to smaller businesses that are based in the United States and Canada. Tradespeople, old-home professionals, artisans, structural engineers, historical architects, linen restorers, and beekeepers are among the professionals that can be found in the online directory.

The website came out of the experiences of both Bogart and Gervais. As admirers of old houses and all things vintage, they found it was hard to find tradespeople who could repair or recreate using traditional techniques.

Through their three-year journey, from business plan development to website launch, they have encountered tradespeople, professionals, and artisans who were having difficulty connecting with consumers, even as consumers were searching for them.

After spending two years vetting vendors, including visiting the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show and holding many video conference calls, the women officially launched the website last month with 3,400 listed professionals. The co-founders plan on having 10,000 vendors listed by the end of the year. They work with trade groups and preservation associations to find suitable vendors.

“Our mutual passion for restoration and fresh farm food and our desire to keep traditions alive created Artisans List,” Bogart said.

The Portsmouth resident is a former field editor for Better Homes & Gardens. She started her career as a commercial artist and interior designer, before producing articles for Meredith Corp.’s Better Homes & Gardens and Special Interest Publications for 18 years. Her passion for cultivating traditions and updating them to fit into today’s lifestyle paved the way for her to create her original site, The Daily Basics, which became the foundation of this new project.

“We were both raised in homes where re-plastering walls, stripping paint with a blowtorch, or repairing old stone foundations was part of our childhood,” Gervais said. “Cindy tagged along with her Mom through antique stores or house hunted for the next restoration project, while I helped my Dad and Mom restore our old cobblestone house or drove the tractor working with my three older brothers on the family’s farmland.”

Gervais, a Kingston resident, is an entrepreneur and start-up consultant. Her entrepreneurial days started in 2001, when she opened a bakery/café in Maryland. After running the retail, wholesale, and catering operation for seven years, she sold the business as her husband’s work brought them to Rhode Island.

They both said salvaging and reusing items and materials doesn’t have to be expensive.

“There’s every price point on the website,” Bogart said. “You can find good deals.”