KNOXVILLE – An unsuspecting spot in the Old City is home to a host of French finds.

Willow Creek Gallery is filled with hidden treasures like old chests, classic clocks, tables, chairs and even two squirrels playing a friendly game of cards.

“Some people can do this, some people can’t. Some people need to have this shi shi shop with music playing in the background and incense burning in the candleholder – and I’m just not that person,” said owner Brad Johnson. “You get what you get here, but it’s authentic.”

Johnson travels to France six times a year to import furniture that dates back hundreds of years.

“As nasty as it might sound – cobwebs, pigeon poop maybe, there’s all kinds of things that can be on this stuff because they’ve been left to the side and pulling it back and bringing it back to what it was in say, 1850,” Johnson said.

He and his crew then work to refurbish the furniture. 

“All locks are keyed with authentic locks.  Waxing, we fix anything that is wrong, anything that’s loose, we re-glue. We do the full gamut to something and still sell it at wholesale prices,” Johnson said. “There’s not many people who do what we do probably because the extent of work, the refurbishing of the pieces, the travel to get it, the expense.”

Johnson was a football coach and teacher at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School and then Campbell County High School when he bought the business from his dad.  Johnson considers himself a history buff.

“I always had this keen interest in Europe,” Johnson said. “French furnitures are named after kings and each king would set his own style and name it after himself.”

That was the extent of Johnson furniture knowledge. He had to teach himself how to restore the pieces.

“I’m either an idiot or innovative,” Johnson said. “I don’t know (which one) yet.”

Johnson embraces the French culture when he travels abroad.

“I stay with the people that I buy from. It’s authentic. I want to feel it. I’ve always done this,” Johnson said. “I bring bottles of Bourbon for these guys and we drink bourbon when I’m there. We have fun!”

Johnson has a genuine love for what he does.      

“After doing this for 15 years it’s never been 100 percent, it’s never been about the money with me,” Johnson said. “Even when I was in debt up to my ears, didn’t know if I was going to make it.”

Willow Creek Gallery has been featured in national interior design magazines like Southern Living and people from all over the country shop there.

(© 2016 WBIR)