Jose Barragan runs Model Antiques & Repair from a location off the beaten path on Iroquois Street, which is just the way he likes it.
When he came to Napa 23 years ago, he first set up shop on First Street in downtown, adjacent to the tourist stream.
“It’s not always great having your business so accessible to the public. I would constantly get people coming in asking me for directions to the Wine Train
or asking me to break bills,” said Barragan in Spanish. “It was a big distraction and very time-consuming dealing with tourists.”
Barragan, a native of Costa Rica, moved to Iroquois 18 years ago where he has combined his knowledge of woodworking and upholstery to give new life to worn
and damaged pieces of antique furniture.
His longtime customers have had no trouble finding him. “I don’t really advertise. I’m not even in the Yellow Pages, I don’t think,” joked Barragan. “If you do good work, then people will just keep coming back. They’ll find you, no matter where you are.”
Arriving in California during the 1970s, Barragan, desperate to provide for his family, began working in an upholstery shop in Oakland. He handled maintenance duties before beginning his apprenticeship.
“I got involved in the upholstery business in 1977. I would sweep, clean up the shop and do anything I could to help. I really wanted to learn the craft,” he said. “At the time, I was being paid $80 a week and renting a room for $40 a
After buying a home in Fairfield, Barragan began working out of his garage. Some of his customers from the Bay Area were willing to follow him due to the quality of his work, but business eventually began to slow down.
Barragan found a job at Pollin’s Interiors & Custom Upholstery on Yajome Street in Napa. During his six months at Pollin’s, he continued doing side projects from his home, until he moved into the shop on First Street.
“When I first started working in Napa, I brought a lot of my customers from out of town,” said Barragan. “Now, most of my customers are retired, elderly residents, and all of my business comes from word of mouth.”
Though Barragan has had helpers over the years, he handles most of the work personally. The lack of help means long hours with little rest.
“My wife comes in to help from time to time, and I’ve got a young man who comes in to do small jobs here and there. But most of the time, it’s just me.”
Barragan would love to pass down the knowledge he has acquired throughout his career to an apprentice, but finding someone willing to put in the time has been
“It’s a lot of work for just one person. There are days when I don’t really have time to take a break,” said Barragan, “Finding work is hard; finding good workers is harder.”
Never short on customers, Barragan has learned to prioritize his work and lines up a month’s worth of projects to make the most of his time. Providing an
accurate time frame for completion is an important part of his service, said Barragan.
There are times when a customer will ask for a speedy repair, so Barragan always makes sure to leave some breathing room in his schedule for time-sensitive projects. This request occurs most frequently during the holiday season, when customers are preparing to host parties. The price is adjusted accordingly.
“The cost depends on the project. Right now, I’m replacing the fabric on an antique chair that will end up costing the customer $950,” said Barragan. “And
she brought in her own material, so most of the cost is for labor.”
Other projects, such as a large antique couch, might cost up to $2,500 to upholster. Every project is different.
Barragan has enjoyed a steady stream of customers who are ready to pay top dollar for repairs that other businesses refused to accept. He has run into pieces of furniture that simply could not be restored.
“I’ve had people bring me items that are not worth the cost of repairing,” said Barragan. “They’ve brought me pieces that are only four or five years old; poorly made furniture that would cost more to repair than it did to buy.”
With a digital camera, Barragan documents every step of the restoration process. As a project nears completion, he enjoys watching the transformation as he browses through the images.
“It’s a beautiful thing to take something that looks completely broken down and then have it restored to the point where it looks brand new.”