Back in 2009, while driving down Hwy 72 W near Dupree Worthey Road, I noticed a sign and some furniture pieces displayed outdoors that caused me to turn straight into the driveway of Nina’s Place Home Furnishings. Why? Because they had the unmistakable look of the substantive, artfully hand crafted, wood, metal, leather, stoneware and travertine home furnishings and décor that I had come to love so dearly while living and working with my husband at an orphanage in Juarez, Mexico.
I was most definitely on a sentimental journey, and my joy has only increased since then by getting to know “Nina,” (whose real name is Melinda Freeman,) and learning of her heart to help, her spirit of adventure, and her tea cup Chihuahuas, Kitty and Kali, whom, she says, “are part of the store.”
Melinda, (who picked up from her brother the nickname “Nina” when they were still small kids,) has done everything from helping to manage her family’s electronics brokerage business, to living for several years in Guadalajara, Mexico, to being involved with supporting international adoptions. She did what so many Athens Now customers have done: defy conventional wisdom and start a business in the middle of a recession, and the result is a place where it is not at all uncommon to have someone walk in for the first time and say, “This is just what I have been looking for!” Her love of rustic home furnishings goes back to her childhood in California, and she loves to think of it as “furniture with a soul.”
The furniture comes from Puebla, Guadalajara, and all over Mexico. “Some of the reclaimed and primitive pieces are actually made in people’s living rooms,” she told me. People, I might add, that she has come to know personally. The artisans who work with copper and travertine, (a type of stone whose composition is somewhat similar to limestone) have been at it for years, and the excellent level of craftsmanship has remained unchanged.
Melinda is a big fan of radio talk show host Dave Ramsey, who has helped many families become debt free through common sense, biblically based financial strategies, and Nina’s Place is happily “in the black.” “We do not operate in a negative cash flow,” she says, and as a result, she has an uncommon level of flexibility when it comes to selecting the pieces that fill Nina’s Place. She also is able to steer clear of the usual level of price mark up in which many furniture dealers things that make all the hard work involved in selecting and importing furniture so worth it is the joy she feels when someone finally sees the thing that they had lost hope of ever finding in a chain store or anywhere else. She also has helped give several local interior designers their start by employing them in the store, and loves it when they come back “home” with a client who is genuinely delighted in what is available.
by Ali Elizabeth Turner