The Business, Art and Music of Hidden Treasures

by Helen Zhang, age 14

It was a bright and beautiful afternoon when fellow staff writers, Antoneah Armour, Pallav Regmi, Victor Lien and I, went to visit Mahon Antique Restorations. Located less than five minutes from our south side newsroom, our editors told us this would be a good story. We weren’t sure why. We were anticipating a lecture about furniture, but instead we found something much more fascinating.

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When we arrived at our destination, the owners, John and Mark Mahon, greeted us. They showed us around their workshop and told us about their jobs. The two brothers started their restoration business in 1986. Since then, they have restored everything from trash found on the roadside to priceless family heirlooms.
This antique restoration shop is a really interesting place. At first glance, an untrained eye might see it as several rooms of stuff; or even junk. But, as we soon learned, it is so much more. We soon decided it was several rooms full of hidden treasures. The two brothers told us they “like to save things, to keep them alive, and to renew abused things instead of having them shoved into a landfill.”
They also introduced us to a new perspective about antique restoration—restoration is like recycling. With their restoration efforts, furniture that has been overused and worn down gains new life, instead of being discarded like old socks. The Mahons work hard to keep as much of the original furniture design as they can. They change as little as possible in order to maintain the integrity of the original piece.
Mark and John frequently surprise their customers by achieving the seemingly impossible. For example, Mark shared a story about a project to restore a music box. He was only required to restore the art on the box, but in the process of tinkering with the box, he figured out how to fix the gears of the functionless music box. The customer, who had received the music box as a gift from her grandmother, never thought she’d ever hear its music. When Mark showed her the completed box, and the music it played, she was brought to tears.
But that’s not all the Mahon’s do. Besides running their own business, the two of them also play in bands. That’s right—like in Rock & Roll bands. Did I mention Mahon Antique Restorations is located in a big warehouse-type building with a bunch of other businesses? Well, it is. And soon we were winding our way through this huge warehouse, out a back door, down a path that runs behind the building, up some stairs, and in another back door. We are reporters and we do what we need to do to get a story.
At the back of the warehouse is a music studio where John and Mark can compose and play their music. The two brothers have played in bands since the 80’s. Since then, they have gone on to make their own music and even produce it themselves. Mark draws his inspiration from punk rock and uses it to compose his scores. A variety of instruments such as the bass, guitar, keyboard, and drums are involved in the finished piece.
The music the Mahon brothers play has an Indie feel, combined with a 1980’s rock style. John even owns a Gibson SG from the 1960’s. This guitar was found in rough condition, but after (you guessed it) restoration, it is now almost as good as new.
During our tour, we were given the chance to try out the instruments. As a violin player, it felt strange to hold such a big, heavy instrument as the bass, but it was also very exciting. When the bass was hooked up to the amplifier, the sound that came out was very different from what I had expected – loud and electrifying. It was especially fun to try a new instrument so different from what I usually play.
This trip was very engaging and left our heads filled with much more knowledge than when we entered. We learned about antique restoration and also about music. On the way back to our newsroom we decided this trip was about art, and the many interesting forms art can take. Best of all, we got the chance to get to know and learn from some really fascinating people.

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Later back at our newsroom, as we were working on our stories, our editors told us this trip was also about business and the economy. At first we weren’t quite sure what they meant, especially when they referred to Mahon Antique Restoration as a “mom and pop.” After all, they’re brothers. Now we get that mom and pops are small family-owned businesses. And there are hundreds of these in south Madison. Our series is called “ Stories from the South Side .” Our area’s mom and pops will provide some really fun stories.