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Stylish Patina Makes an Art of Living

The right paint is everything. Photo: Stylish Patina
Kelly Millspaugh Thompson of Stylish Patina. Photo: Stylish Patina

Kelly Millspaugh Thompson was born to be creative. Growing up in Falls Church City, Kelly experienced the magical transformation of her childhood home from gutted fixer upper to heritage family estate. In the process, she learned to prize old forgotten furniture for its potential beauty and innate authenticity. As an adult, she’s taken the family tradition and turned it into a sparkling enterprise, offering the Falls Church community and beyond the opportunity to join her in the pursuit of creative restoration with  Stylish Patina. Whether as real estate agent, design consultant, DIY coach, craftswoman, curator, or most importantly, mother of four children under five, Kelly brings a joy to the art of living that is uniquely her own. 

It all comes together in Stylish Patina Home + Gift, the lifestyle boutique Kelly has centered in her hometown. The name references the brand’s innovative style, which incorporates sustainability by repurposing old furniture to fit the modern household. Inspired by a “stylish” spin on the name she fondly gave to her grandfather’s old truck, she told us: “Patina doesn’t have to be old and grubby, it can be stylish and cool and hip. It was for me melding old and new. That really is what my business is all about — modern function, vintage soul. It gives you the character of the old, but then you freshen it and make it your own.” 

Intentional pops of color bring furniture to life. Photo: Kelly Millspaugh Thompson

Stylish Patina is grounded in the idea that home should be comfortable and design should be an elevating experience. Clients come from far and wide for advice on how to create their own stylish patina, or to hand pick custom pieces transformed by Kelly’s knowing touch. Her brand reflects her lifestyle, one that is unique, fresh, and constantly innovative. The latest transformation? “Right now we’re painting this really amazing old china hutch with a writer’s pull out. It was given to this young man by his grandmother. We’re painting it bright yellow. It’s so cool because it’s vintage and it has meaning for him, but now he’s making it his own.” Her enthusiasm is evident:“ He had this adorable little note in there from her that says, ‘This is for John, to write his story.’ When we get stuff like that or we see people do that to their homes, it just warms my heart. That’s what it’s all about for us.” 

Before Kelly got to the heart of what it’s all about, she blazed a successful path in the corporate world, through operations and marketing. She earned an M.B.A from the Smith School of Business where she met her husband, “We got married in six months, kind of a whirlwind.” When the company Kelly was working for was bought out, she started a consulting business from her home and found she had more time on her hands to do the things she loved to do. “Going through that process, having flexibility working from home, I started buying and painting furniture and dreaming of this idea of owning a business, and then I found this paint line that was becoming very popular and my business brain just said, ‘Hey, no one’s selling this where we are. This could be an opportunity.’” 

Holidays with Kelly Millspaugh Thompson’s four children. Photo: Kelly Millspaugh Thompson

Turns out she was right and soon Kelly’s greatest work became balancing the growth of Stylish Patina with the growth of her four children. An ever evolving adventure, Kelly embraces the challenge with the help of her devoted team and a heavy reliance on grace. “I love to work, it’s in my blood. I’m very driven in business, but those kids, they just put a whole new perspective on life, they really do. Some days I just have to let stuff go and realize I’m just not getting that done today, and it’s okay. I think the key is having folks that can help, to carry the weight along the way. And just giving yourself some grace. It is what it is. I’m going to do what I can today, and keep on moving.” 

Starting a business is no easy task and having patience with yourself, while remaining open to opportunities for growth is crucial to getting off the ground. “If there’s something that you’re really passionate about, follow your gut and reach out to folks in a similar industry who can give some insight because that really will help with the learning curve,” she advised. “Don’t try to recreate everything yourself. There’s no harm in taking best practices from multiple businesses and making it your own. I think that’s what makes people successful.”

Paint is artfully applied at Stylish Patina. Photo: Kelly Millspaugh Thompson

She’s speaking from experience: “The core of my business is built on the concept of taking what you have that you love, but maybe isn’t working perfectly today, and making it into something that will now adapt and fit into your current situation. It’s less hustle and bustle and more being grateful for what we have. Taking care of our homes and our environment and our families, it’s all one big thing to me.” Harnessing this spirit of sustainability through repurposing has never been more relevant. “Honestly, because of this pandemic and where we are in life, the inspiration is coming from living an authentic life and figuring out what is important to you, and how we make those things fit into your daily life.”

Fitting into the lives of beloved clientele is exactly what Stylish Patina does best. Not only is Kelly and her crew creating art out of forgotten memories, they’re developing new avenues for sustainability by repurposing furniture. “The trick is don’t overlook something that seems boring and mundane to you. We love it when people send us before and after pictures, it just makes us smile to think that something they were going to throw away has been given new life, and they can live in their home and tell the story: ‘when I was a kid I sat at this dining table too.’” From Wise Owl One-Hour Enamel’s “sleek, mid-century modern style,” to the easy to use Jolie Matte paint which requires no priming or sanding to the low-luster mineral sheen of General Finishes Milk Paint all products Stylish Patina sells in store or uses on their stunning redesigns are non-toxic and water based.

Brightly colored chairs get a new lease on life. Photo: Stylish Patina

Beyond the importance of choosing the right paint, Kelly gave us a few pointers on how to know if something’s meant to be your next DIY project: “If it’s not falling apart, it’s always worth pulling over and just taking a quick look. We always pull the drawers out, see if the drawers are what we call dovetailed. If you look on the sides, they’re tied together through wood versus being stapled or nailed in. That’s a great sign that it’s a nice quality piece of furniture. Also by picking it up a little bit, if it has some weight to it, that usually means it’s solid wood so it’s definitely worth grabbing. Never be deterred by things like water stains, those types of things. It’s not a big deal. They can all be fixed. Often with dressers or desks, changing hardware makes a huge difference, with some paint it will make a whole new piece out of something.”

Inside Stylish Patina. Photo: Stylish Patina

If you’re feeling inspired, you’re not the only one. “What I love about my business as it has evolved over the years is that it’s become a holistic approach to how you live your life. For my clients, I can find them a home and help them create the home that they want, whether that be through furniture, through DIY projects, through design. I have the ability to fit into people’s lives, no matter where they are in that process.” With paint as the stylish patina and grace as the glue that keeps it all together, Kelly has made an art of living. And with more folks working from home during the pandemic, she’s got her hands full helping others do the same. “Although it’s challenging, I think it’s a really great time for people to reevaluate. It’s a blessing to reevaluate what’s important to us.” 

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