The Peace Barn, a Downtown shop offering vintage and handmade décor and furniture, is becoming known for its handmade flower crowns – something that owner and founder, Michelle Cardillo, sees as the perfect symbol for what her shop means to her: growth, independence and learning to be a free spirit.
The shop itself is a place for Cardillo to share her love of vintage with Downtown Flint while focusing on growing her business, promoting Flint and supporting the community. “I’m always looking to connect with the community and help in any way that I can,” she says. “My goal is to give back to Flint.” Peace Barn has become a charity shop as well, which Cardillo explains, “means that we feature a local Flint charity each quarter, and proceeds from designated purchases will go to that charity.”
Born in Flint and raised in Swartz Creek, Cardillo moved back to Flint after high school and spent ten years in corporate banking. A mother of three boys, the birth of her second son and subsequent decision to stay home began what she calls a “soul-searching quest” to figure out who she was and what she wanted to do in this life. She looked to her interests and skills and followed her love for vintage furniture and home décor to open Peace Barn in March of 2016.
“I acquire all of the items myself and a lot of them I refurbish,” Cardillo explains. She takes time to carefully select pieces. “There is a specific look that I go for – I choose pieces that speak to me.” Even after she acquires an item, Cardillo still waits before she does anything to it. “I don’t do anything right away, I like to think about it and imagine where that item would go and what would work for it,” she explains. Only after a lot of thought does she take on the task of refurbishing, and each process is unique. Depending on what look she is going for, she will dry-brush on wood or barely paint on metal to distress it, “or if it’s really rusty, I don’t touch it because it’s good as-is,” she explains. She also leaves some items untouched as “project pieces” for her crafty customers who would like to add their own style to their home décor.
Furniture is Cardillo’s favorite thing to work with, because she says, “it offers me a lot of flexibility and I get excited about the options for each piece.” But, Peace Barn houses a large variety of items, many from other local artists and small businesses. Cardillo says, “because we know how hard it is to be a start-up, we want to inspire other business owners to set up shop in Downtown Flint. By featuring products made and sold by small businesses and artists in our shop, we are supporting our future business partners as well as providing unique services and products to grow our customer base Downtown.”
Cardillo’s love for vintage and her own search for her passion led her to Peace Barn, and what she also found along the way was an amazing sense of independence. She explains, “As I grew my operations in the Paterson Building, I kept growing and I did it all myself. I’ve grown in this location and in this endeavor and realized that I can move giant dressers, I can paint furniture, I can saw a piece of wood, drill holes in a wall and hang things up, and I don’t need anyone to help me.”
Sometimes, Cardillo finds it hard to let go of the carefully curated pieces that she acquires. One of her favorites was a “humongous dresser from around the 1920s. It was massive, had claw feet and about four layers of white paint that was chipping off … oh, how I loved it,” she shares. The dresser was one of the pieces that she took with her when her shop first opened on the third floor of the Paterson Building, and it went along with her as she expanded. According to
Cardillo, she moved it four times, carting it from space to space as she grew – turning it upside-down, loading it onto dollies, and up and down in the elevator. “It was no easy task, but I loved the dresser,” Cardillo recalls. When she finally moved into her current street-level location (next to the new skate shop and another vintage store), that was when the dresser finally sold. And she feels at home in the current space. “This is my dream, and now, we have a full window where I can do displays and attract foot traffic – especially on ArtWalk days or other Downtown events.”
Flint’s 2nd Friday ArtWalk is one of Cardillo’s favorite events and she gets excited about each one. “People come from all around and I want to help bring people who are into vintage to Flint,” she says. “For ArtWalk, I give away free flower crowns and people will come to seek out this location – that is exciting to see. I meet a lot of great people.”
Cardillo is working on expanding Peace Barn’s charity efforts and is excited about the new lights that have been hung in Brush Alley. “Hopefully, they will extend them even further this way for our shops down here,” she says. “A group of us is working to revitalize this block, and we’re hopeful about the Capitol Theater renovation and all the improvements leading to greater things for Downtown Flint.”
For more information on Peace Barn, visit them on Facebook facebook.com/PeaceBarn.
“I’m always looking to connect with the community and help in any way that I can.”
Photography by Eric Dutro