Photo by Eric Best

The Luhm’s seal of approval

Updated: May 31, 2017 - 11:39 am

From pianos to clocks, Luhm’s has refinished wood for three generations

At a given moment, there may be three generations of Luhms working side by side to restore wooden furniture for another generation.

In the middle is Derrick Luhm, the owner of Luhm’s Refinishing, a family business that has had roots in Northeast Minneapolis for more than 60 years. Luhm’s has been a fixture of the community, utilizing old-school handiwork to revive furniture, pianos — their specialty — and more.

“A lot of us are family here. We’re part of the community,” Luhm said. “We’ve done a lot of work for the neighbors, for Northeast.”

The Luhm family history with refinishing goes back to the Great Depression, when Luhm’s great-grandfather, then a Duluth resident, took up the trade to make extra money. His grandfather would cement it as a family business, working in the studio until age 91. Ben, Derrick’s father, bought the current location off Central & 33rd in the Waite Park neighborhood about 36 years ago, a small studio three doors down from where he grew up.

Luhm, 47, bought the business about a year-and-a-half ago. He started learning the trade as a 10-year-old boy and has been working full-time since he became an adult. Luhm’s Refinishing has always been a family affair.

“My sisters could refinish furniture, and my sisters probably haven’t stepped inside here in 25 years. When we were growing up, if we needed something done, they’d be here,” he said.

Derrick Luhm. Photo by Eric Best
Derrick Luhm. Photo by Eric Best

Just like the business, much of the woodwork coming into the studio has its own history. Luhm said the furniture coming in is usually at least 20 years old, as people don’t bring new furniture or pieces with craftsmanship not worth preserving.

“We live in a throwaway society. With a lot of the new furniture, you’re not going to get it refinished, you’re going to throw it out and buy new,” Luhm said.

The refinishing work involves stripping off the old finish by hand, repairing and retouching the wood, sanding it and putting on a new finish. To ensure quality, much of the work at Luhm’s is done by hand.  Rather than use power washers, immersion tanks and other advancements in the trade, Luhm and his crew use a lot of elbow grease and an occasional power sander when the work requires it.

The shop preserves an “old-school” approach, Luhm said, that is more environmentally friendly and gentler on projects.

“There’s always quicker ways, but you compromise the quality of the job,” he said. “We’ve never had a complaint.”

Though Luhm’s takes just about any kind of project — “there’s no project too big or too small,” Luhm said — the business is known for restoring pianos. Their Luhm’s favorite. For one, the projects are large, often requiring up to 100 hours of labor over several weeks for the five-person studio, and become platforms to show off their work. They also have sentimental value for their owners.

“If someone loses someone, the piano makes them remember them. Or they have good feelings of them sitting there as a kid at the piano,” he said. “Our reward is, of course, getting paid after the job and seeing the reactions.”

Even though running a family business can be hard, Luhm said, the physical quality of the craft and the relationships that stem from it are their own reward. They pride themselves on taking care of their customers, he added.

“You’re a person to us. That’s how we like to do business,” he said. “We don’t live in million-dollar homes.”

There are also the relationships inside the shop, where another generation of the Luhm family is getting its feet wet in the refinishing trade. Luhm’s son Mitchell has started working during the summer months. Luhm has two other boys who could also pick up the business one day, if that’s what they want to do.

“We might keep it three generations, or not. I’m not going to push them into it,” he said.

But for now, Derrick, his dad and his son can remove the wear and tear of time on woodwork for the current generation of Northeast Minneapolis residents.

Photo by Eric Best
Photo by Eric Best