Daren Steneman re-creates memories. People come to his Edina shop holding the remnants of a family heirloom—a rocking chair that no longer rocks or a painting that is yellow and weathered. There’s a twinge of sadness as they ask for Steneman’s help—a feeling that if he can’t fix the broken heirloom, its memories will be locked away in a basement or attic.
“I’ve had many people cry in the shop because we fixed something they really cared about that they didn’t think could be fixed,” Steneman says.
The owner of Da Vinci Restoration in Edina, Steneman restores furniture and antiques. “Ninety percent of what we do revolves around conserving family heirlooms,” he says.
With a gruff voice, laid-back attitude, and long goatee, he seems more like your buddy at the bar than the guy fixing Grandma’s favorite chair. But that welcoming attitude, and love for his work, builds a connection with customers. And Steneman’s backstory is one many can relate to.
He grew up in Minnesota, then went to San Francisco State; he graduated in 1999 with a degree in literature and philosophy and an eye on law school. Instead, he grabbed a job in sales. “I worked five or six years going down that career path—ties and cubicles and working for other people–[a path] I just didn’t want to go down,” Steneman says. “I now have two daughters and realized if I didn’t get out of that trajectory, I would be trapped.”
Steneman would get up at 5 a.m. before work looking for something new. He knew he wanted to be self-employed, work with his hands and still work with people. He just didn’t know what that meant. One morning, he stumbled across the National Institute of Wood Finishing in Rosemount. He immediately enrolled. And after an “excruciating” year and a half on the waiting list, Steneman found his passion working with furniture.
He opened Da Vinci Restoration in 2010, and moved into his current space in Edina on January 1, 2014. Now, people bring him anything and everything, hoping for his magic touch: tables, chairs, armoires, paintings, couches, stools and antiques of all kinds. Steneman skillfully refinishes, recrafts or rebuilds the treasures to make them whole.
Yannick Hurry has a French painting that dates back to 1871 and has been handed down through her family. Hurry, who is from France, received the painting through an inheritance and wanted to display it in her house. It reminds her of home. However, it was yellowed and dirty, so she brought it to Da Vinci Restoration.
She had seen before and after photos online, but didn’t know what to expect. She couldn’t have been happier with the final result. “It’s like something you would see in a museum,” Hurry says of the restored painting. “It is something I am proud to display.”
This is a common refrain for Da Vinci customers. Betty Duff, former owner of Design Innovations in Edina, has worked with Steneman on a variety of projects. As an interior designer, she consistently refers people to Da Vinci for furniture restoration. “Anybody can refinish a table, but it takes a real craftsman to look at a table and immediately know it’s mahogany,” Duff says.
Betsey Violente, a customer Duff referred to Da Vinci Restoration, has had Steneman work on several projects. He restored a dining room table that she and her husband have had since they were first married. Over the years her family put nicks and scratches in the table, and although not a family heirloom, it does have sentimental value to the Violentes. Steneman cleaned up the imperfections and put on a less glossy finish to make the table more usable.
“This is a passion [for Steneman],” Violente says. “It’s more than just a business, and I think that’s why he’s really good at what he does. I think he’s a perfectionist and is as invested in having a really beautiful outcome as we are.”
When you’re handed a family heirloom, a memory is expected to come with it. But that memory can often fade. Steneman doesn’t just restore furniture, he also restores memories.