Photograph by Jamie Betts

It was hideous. The dark yellow paint was peeling. The drawers stuck. The top’s finish was chipping off. Plus, no one had any idea what “it” actually was. A desk? A table? To Hilary Martin, W’84, that didn’t matter — she had to snatch it up.

Martin has a knack for looking past the hideous. As the founder of Housemade By Hilary, Martin crafts one-of-a-kind home goods from pieces of Americana — taking old, forgotten items and giving them a contemporary spin. Old pennants are made into pillows. Metal coolers are transformed into fountains, and feed sacks take on new life as cushions. And that ugly yellow mystery piece? It’s now a bar cart.

“I love things that are old — old pieces, vintage fashion, the old-fashioned way of doing things,” Martin said. “I was probably born in the wrong decade.”

Martin grew up in Connecticut, where her mother taught her how to make a home by hand, sewing table linens, curtains, and clothing. Martin carried this on when she moved into her own home and eventually turned that craftiness into her business, starting with totes made from vintage sewing pattern envelopes. As she sold her goods at craft fairs up and down the East Coast, she saw what other people were selling, and it opened her eyes to what she could do with her company.

Housemade By Hilary is not your typical antiques business. Martin buys items, focusing on those from the late 1800s through the 1970s, then adds value to each piece by customizing it for a modern lifestyle. She visits flea markets, attends auctions, combs through old barns, or raids factories, schools, and churches that are being shut down to find her pieces. Martin’s husband, who helps her execute many of the projects, once said to her, “Honey, the things you buy baffle me.”

Martin buys just the things that “speak” to her. She once purchased a set of tennis rackets because she plays. When Martin looked closer, she saw that a name and a little drawing was engraved on each racket. It’s these details and craftmanship that she wants to preserve, which she did by turning the tennis rackets into a coffee table base. The table was recently featured in Country Living, where Martin was named to the magazine’s list of the country’s 100 Most Creative People.

“I want to celebrate these old things and bring them out of basements and attics,” said Martin. “I want to show how beautiful they are and get them back on the front porch or back in kitchens and living rooms.”

Martin recently launched a new aspect to her business, Housemade Flips, where she works with clients to find and rehab pieces to fit their particular tastes or needs. Housemade By Hilary will also be opening a Richmond storefront early this summer. For Martin, who lives in an old clapboard house just inside the city limits and still walks around the university’s campus with her husband, Richmond is the perfect place to showcase her work. With lofts going up in industrial buildings and the renovation of homes in the city’s older neighborhoods, Martin said the people buying these places are interested in a variety of furnishings she can offer.

“I’m excited to share all my finds and the creativity behind what we’ve done to them,” said Martin. “And I can’t wait for customers to leave with a piece of history — something old that they didn’t realize could be so stylish for their own home.”