By Royal Brevvaxling Special to Published May 18, 2012 at 3:01 PM

CT Refinishing, 2018 S. 1st St., does wood refinishing, repair and restoration of almost any size.

CT refinishes any wood product from doors, end tables and dinettes to kitchen cabinets, hope chests, antiques and heirloom collectibles, but co-owner and master finisher Charles Turner's passion is pianos.

He also specializes in color matching.

"A dead-on match every time," says Tania Turner, CT Refinishing's co-owner and Charles' spouse.

CT Refinishing refurbishes pianos in almost any condition and of every kind: concert, baby grand and studio upright, Yamaha, Steinway and Kimball.

Most work is done in the shop, but CT Refinishing travels to do a lot of work, too, from touch-ups on antique doors at historic homes to desks at offices and factories. They've worked for the Shriners, Paul Davis Restoration and Office Furniture Resources, among others.

CT Refinishing's motto is "a premium finish at an affordable price" and Tania says they apply more finish coats on their pieces than competitors.

But customers come back for the color matching. Charles has a proven record in this kind of artisan work. Tania says they don't use a grid or a color chart.

"Color is just my thing," Charles says.

Charles is originally from Dyersburg, Tenn., where he apprenticed with master finisher Ardell Henderson at Dyersburg Piano Company, which purchases pianos in order to rebuild, refinish and resell them. Charles worked at Dyersburg for 15 years, managing its finishing department for the last four.

"The first time I saw a piano come out of the (spray) booth, when before it was ready to go in the garbage, I was hooked. It was beautiful," says Charles.

Piano work at CT Refinishing includes refurbishing everything – decal lettering, felt, re-stringing, key repair and soundboards. It often involves polishing and even replacing hardware. Recently, refurbishing a Charles Stieff baby grand involved cleaning 370 screw heads by hand and re-lacquering them.

After moving to Milwaukee, Charles partnered with Tadych Refinishing in Cudahy from 2004 until 2007, when he opened CT Refinishing.

"Word-of-mouth and referrals are how we became known," says Tania, who sands and strips many of the furniture pieces and is also CT Refinishing's office manager.

In 2007, CT Refinishing had six employees, but with the onset of the financial crisis, they began losing bigger accounts, like the Robert W. Baird contract Downtown, and had to lay off their employees. Located in the Lincoln Warehouse building at the corner of South 1st and Becher Streets, CT Refinishing first had 3,000 square feet on the other side of the building, but in 2008 took over its current, smaller space.

They now have one part-time employee and others who work as needed, including their son Blake and Tania's brother, Zach, who are both actively learning the trade.

Prospective customers can stop in or email pictures of pieces they'd like refinished for free quotes. When the pieces are brought in and examined more closely, a firm price can be negotiated.

"People think we're high-priced because of the quality of our work, as well as the quality of some of the pianos (which may often be valued at $60,000), but we're totally affordable – right in the middle," says Tania.

The couple says competitors will charge $900 to refinish a tabletop that they'll do for $400. They may often suggest cosmetic work rather than full strip-downs as well, something Tania says their competitors typically don't even offer.

Tania says because of his careful detail work on pianos that touch-ups come pretty easy to Charles.

"People need to know that there are options," says Tania, "you don't have to do a whole refinish. To stay within a budget, touch-ups are a real possibility, especially with someone who's as advanced in cosmetic work as Charles."

Tania and Charles have been together for 17 years.

Charles' father moved to Lake Geneva for work and was Tania's manager. Charles met Tania at her work while staying with his dad.

Tania, who's originally from East Troy, said there was some back and forth about where the couple was going to live after they got married. Wisconsin clearly won out over Tennessee.

Charles says he's remained a finisher so long after honing his craft because of the personal impact his work can make, helping customers with furniture in such bad shape that others might just throw it out.

"I love to bring those pieces back, recapture those memories that people have. It's great to hear people say, 'My god, I didn't think it could look that good,'" says Charles.

Royal Brevvaxling Special to
Royal Brevväxling is a writer, educator and visual artist. As a photo essayist, he also likes to tell stories with pictures. In his writing, Royal focuses on the people who make Milwaukee an inviting, interesting and inspiring place to live.

Royal has taught courses in critical pedagogy, writing, rhetoric and cultural studies at several schools in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He is currently Adjunct Associate Professor of Humanities at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

Royal lives in Walker’s Point with his family and uses the light of the Polish Moon to illuminate his way home.