Downsizing: Mabel couple selling pieces after six decades of collecting furniture

One of the Houdeks’ most unique possessions is this coat tree featuring a bear. LISSA BLAKE/NEWS LEADER

Dwayne and Diane Houdek inside their home filled with authentic antique collectibles. They say their favorite part of collecting is the story behind every piece they collect. LISSA BLAKE/NEWS LEADER

The Houdeks outside their home in Mabel where they have lived since 1959. LISSA BLAKE/NEWS LEADER

In addition to helping choose colors for Dwayne’s restoration, Diane paints her own original pieces. LISSA BLAKE/NEWS LEADER

Dwayne with his favorite piece, a Wooton Desk, circa 1870s. LISSA BLAKE/NEWS LEADER

The Houdeks have priced everything in their home they will not be taking with them. LISSA BLAKE/NEWS LEADER

This doctor’s sign advertised a physician in nearby Hesper, Iowa. LISSA BLAKE/NEWS LEADER

The couple’s Walnut Rococo bed is Diane’s favorite piece. LISSA BLAKE/NEWS LEADER

Furniture collecting lends itself to the acquisition of oriental rugs, which the Houdeks have sold to Persian dealers over the years. LISSA BLAKE/NEWS LEADER

This Federal era settee is circa 1810. LISSA BLAKE/NEWS LEADER
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What started out as a part-time hobby almost six decades ago has become a full-time passion for a Mabel couple.

Dwayne and Diane Houdek have lived in the same house on West Newburg Avenue since they were married in 1959.

“We’ve lived here more than 58 years. All our married life,” said Diane of the corner home built in 1902.

When the couple first moved into their four-bedroom home, they furnished it with what they could afford, knowing they wanted to upgrade as money and time would allow.

“We started buying a piece of Ethan Allen furniture as we could afford it,” said Diane. “Then we started going to auctions find accessories to go with it, like lamps and early-American décor.”

Dwayne said when they started going to auctions, they were both amazed at how cheap many of the pieces would sell for. 

“We bought a round oak table for $7 and another for $15,” said Dwayne.

Growing interest

Over the years, Dwayne ran Houdek Radio and TV and Diane ran Diane’s Beauty Parlor.

One of Dwayne’s customers collected antique walnut furniture, sparking Dwayne’s interest.

“We started with (furnishing) our house. We started collecting for ourselves and reading about things, and one thing led to another,” said Diane.

The couple started out by collecting Civil War-era items.

“Then furniture lent itself to orient rugs, oil paintings and Black Forest carvings,” she said.

Although the couple never intended to have a shop, their sizeable collection eventually had their own home bursting at the seams.

“We ended up buying the house across the street, where I had my beauty shop and filled the rest with antique room settings,” said Diane.

Most of the items in the collection are from the 1840s to the 1890s. Their oldest piece is a rat foot wine table from around 1776.

Dwayne said his favorite piece is his Wooton desk from the 1870s, also called the “King of Desks” or the “Wells Fargo Desk.”  John D. Rockefeller, Joseph Pulitzer and Queen Victoria owned similar desks, which have a total of 110 compartments.

“General Grant’s Wooton desk is still on display at the White House,” said Dwayne.

Diane’s favorite piece is their Walnut Rococo bed.

Word of mouth

Over the years, the Houdeks have sold thousands of pieces they have purchased and painstakingly restored.

“When we were younger, we used to take antique furniture to shows about six times a year, where we would rent a booth. It’s a lot of work,” said Dwayne.

But the work paid off, and the connections they made at the shows led to countless inquiries regarding for their extensive collection of items.

“We don’t have a computer, so everything is word-of-mouth. We’ve sold all over the world,” said Diane.

The Houdeks have sold their furniture to museums, the American Queen paddleboat and the Villa Louis, just to name a few.

“There are a few people we’ve met over the years who would come to us to help fill their whole house. We’ve even shipped pieces to Italy,” said Dwayne, who has spent the 25 years just restoring things to make them as authentic as possible.

“A lot of times we would get a Black Forest carving with a piece missing. Dwayne went out and researched how to do the woodworking to replace them,” said Diane, adding the couple often would pick up items at a fraction of their worth and Dwayne would put countless hours into hand stripping, re-sanding and regluing them.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s fixing it up for us or if he’s fixing it up for sale. He’s going to do it the right way,” said Diane.

“When I restore something, I do it the way I’d do it for myself,” he added.

“His restorations are why we enjoy our home,” said Diane, adding they have always enjoyed sharing their collection with others, including high school students, who several times toured their home prior to trips to Washington, D.C.

“They would be required to write a paper about the tour and I always got to read them. It was amazing how well they listened and how much they retained about the tour,” said Diane.

Time to downsize

Now 77 and 85, the Houdeks recently purchased a condo in Rochester where daughters Dina Zafft and Desiree Houdek both reside.

The condo is about half the size of their current home, which necessitates the couple downsizing their collection. They have already had two large auctions and are currently selling the items in their home they can’t take with them.  They are actively advertising and setting up private viewings of their collection by appointment, by calling 507-493-5696.

“We’ve decided what to keep, based on what we have room for. We’ve priced everything we can’t take with us, which is quite a bit,” said Diane.

“We decided we needed to do this while we still can.”

Dwayne added, “ We’d like to keep everything, but we can’t do it.”

The couple said word is out among collectors, and they are expecting a dealer they’ve bought from in the past to arrive this week to purchase some things.

 “He said he would bring a big truck. He probably will be buying the things back we bought from him. That’s the way it goes,” said Diane.

Lasting friendships

The Houdeks added although they take pride in the many items that grace their home, their greatest treasures are the friendships they have made with people all over the world.

“The best thing about a collection is sharing it with other people,” said Diane.