Reformation in red

Trio transforms North Lawrence 'mouse hole' into energetic art gallery, The Red Dresser

Sunday, July 27, 2003

They wanted a word that sounded sophisticated and looked pretty on paper.

So sisters Rebekah and Rachael Sheridan and their business partner, Brooke Billet, scoured a French dictionary until they stumbled across "redresser," properly pronounced (ray-dres-áy).

When Rebekah spoke the word, in her not-at-all-French accent, it came out Red Dresser.

So much for French suavity.

But then that's not what The Red Dresser, a new arts business in North Lawrence, is all about.

The art gallery/home furnishings store opened June 7 in what the owners describe as a "mouse hole" at 626 N. Second St. For the time being, it's packed into a glorified storage closet between an antique shop and a roofing business in a modest strip mall. Come early fall, the Sheridans and Billet hope to expand their eclectic business to a full 900 square feet, filling the window-front store space the roofing company will soon vacate.

In the meantime, paintings, drawings, jewelry, purses -- even a set of bells made from spent oxygen tanks -- fill every nook and cranny of the cozy store. More than 15 Lawrence artists, including the owners themselves, are represented.

"All the art comes out of the community and generally goes back into the community," Rebekah said. "The hardest thing about working in this store is I want to take everything home."

A reformation

Though the owners of The Red Dresser hadn't given much thought to the French origin of their store name, it's strangely appropriate. Redresser translates to "reform."

The Sheridans and Billet certainly did that to their limited space. The trio tore out the ceiling, applied a faux finish to the walls, nailed up molding and shelves and painted the floors.


Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo

Rebekah Sheridan, Lawrence, one of three owners of The Red Dresser, a new art gallery/home furnishings shop in North Lawrence, aligns jewelry on display in the store. Sheridan, her sister Rachael Sheridan and Brooke Billet opened the store in early June. They sell their own artwork and refurbished furnishings, as well as art by local artists, in the tiny gallery at 626 N. Second St.

The verb also aptly describes the overhaul the three 20-somethings have imposed on the concept of the traditional gallery.

"It's really nice to see art (in a gallery), but you don't always assume it's something that will work in your space," Billet said.

She and Rachael scavenge for old and discarded furniture at thrift shops, estate sales and auctions and then put their creative stamps on the pieces with new fabric or paint, sometimes both. The refurbished furnishings are for sale alongside the artwork in their store; and when The Red Dresser expands to its larger home, the owners will pair furniture with coordinating art.

"We're not aware of any other shop in Lawrence that has that mixture" of furniture and original art, Rachael said.

'Humble' shop

The Sheridans and Billet had been interested in opening their own business for years.

"We're constantly redecorating our homes and finding different pieces of furniture to redecorate," Billet said. "We finally thought, 'Hey, we could make money doing this.'"

Rebekah works as an office manager at the roofing company next door to The Red Dresser, so she got an early heads up that the property would be available. She and her business partners secured it in December and spent the winter and spring sprucing it up.

The store is only open on weekends for now. The owners -- two of whom are single mothers -- work the rest of the week so they can pay their bills and support their new business.


Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo

This handmade sterling silver necklace is among the variety of jewelry and other art items that can be found at The Red Dresser, a new art gallery and home furnishings shop at 626 N. Second St. in Lawrence.

Passers-by on weekend afternoons sometimes mistake The Red Dresser for a flea market. The women drag their furniture stock out into the concrete parking lot in front of the store and work while customers browse the art.

The Red Dresser is right across the street from Back to the Garden and next door to Lawrence artist Julian Harr's Wizard of Wood studio. Those and several other artsy shops north of the Kansas River have made the proprietors of The Red Dresser feel like part of the North Lawrence community, and, the women suspect, have helped bring a little more traffic to their humble shop.

But even if you've been there once, the owners recommend stopping by every week because the art and artists are constantly changing, and the store never looks the same from one day to the next.

After all, it has its name to live up to.