In the world of high-end antique wicker, Wayne "that Wicker Guy" Gonyea has earned a reputation that gets him picked up in limos and hired by big Los Angeles producers. ¶ The affable retired prison psychologist, who moved from New York state to Trinity Oaks in 1998 to be closer to his brother, jokes that this is his third retirement job.
The first two?
He co-authored a book about Internet sales and another about developing electronic resume distribution systems.
Then, in 2002, while visiting Vermont, he bought an antique wicker rocking chair, fixed it up and sold it. It was the kind of thing this Renaissance man, also a talented artisan, had been doing off and on over the years: buying Victorian and early 20th century wicker piece by piece and restoring each "back to the way it was."
This time around, he got more serious about it.
"I kept upscaling what I bought," says Wayne, 68, who compares the process of coaxing life back into old wicker to his years of working as a prison therapist: "In therapy, you analyze the situation, find the good and the bad stuff, dig out the bad and then rebuild."
Soon Wayne was restoring century-old wicker rockers, sofas and chaise lounges on his driveway and in his garage workshop.
His newfound career brought him more than just historic wicker.
It also brought him love.
Kathie Gonyea, a newly divorced bank executive, was living in Bradenton when she got a referral for Wayne and decided to hire him to repair an antique wicker chair.
The repair eventually — it took a few months for things to get started — led to lunch and a leisurely afternoon antiquing expedition. Browsing for old wicker, of course.
"We just kind of gelled," recalls Kathie, 56. "My hobby was basket making, so I really understand how things were put together."
Their story, which appears on Wayne's Web site, www.thatwickerguy.com, details their falling in love and their 2007 marriage and even features a photo of the smiling pair (with one of Wayne's restored Victorian wicker reading chairs, of course).
"Kathie has added a wonderful component to my business insight," Wayne says. "She's elevated the level of production."
By that he means that he now buys more expensive — sometimes rare — pieces of antique wicker in need of restoration. His garage is filled with an array of charming and functional pieces handmade by artisans more than a century ago. Wicker chaise lounges, footstools, wing chairs with attached reading baskets, bassinets, settees, children's furniture — even lamp shades.
"We look for big, substantial, comfortable pieces," he says. "The trend for antique wicker is very high right now."
Of course, sometimes they find things they can't let go of.
Their combined household blends seamlessly into Wayne's one-story house, which looks over a small lake and a stand of cypress trees in Trinity Oaks. Their collection of old wicker includes the best of the best: a tall wicker reading lamp from 1910 still intact, with its original Eiffel Tower base, lamp shade and paint job.
There's an antique wicker Haywood Wakefield tea cart, a gorgeous mirrored hall tree probably made in Paris in the early 20th century, even a century-old, child-sized salesman's sample lamp made of wicker. Kathie painted and decorated the house to showcase their collection.
The Gonyeas have such a good eye for the stuff that many clients buy antique wicker directly from the pair. Others send wicker treasures for repair.
One client, who lives on his family estate on Long Island, New York, flew Wayne up for the day, picked him up in a limo and ferried him to his home to repair a valuable piece of old wicker.
He has many clients in the Tampa Bay area and even speaks about antique wicker and restoration (an upcoming talk is scheduled with a local Junior League). He also attracts a large number of clients from all over the country, including California — where he's done work for a TV producer in Los Angeles — Texas, and Oklahoma.
The attraction to old wicker vs. new?
"The quality is good, the style is good — plus it was made by hand," Wayne says. "We really believe in the energy process that goes into a handmade item. People put energy into it when it was made, and we put love into it when restoring it."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at email@example.com.