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Wrapping Art In Art: Make A Frame At Make A Frame In Brooklyn

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Thoren Vadala's job is dedicated to a thing we often look at but rarely see. 

"There's this whole weird secret thing that 90 percent of people never really even think about," he said.

The secret thing? A picture frame.

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What's typically an afterthought is the focus at Make a Frame, a custom framing business started in 1978.

The original location is housed in a landmarked Cobble Hill building, built in the mid-1800s. Paint on the soaring tin ceiling is chipping. Vadala says it's part of the old shop's charm.

Customers bring artifacts from their lives for framing—anything from movie posters to vintage scarves to large wooden statues.

"It's always something they care about," Vadala said.

Vadala and his team help the customer decide on a size and style.

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Customer Joey Kronsberg brought in a vibrant crayon work by a two-and-a-half-year-old artist, his daughter Maya. He and Vadala settled on a plain off-white basswood frame.

Artwork by Maya Kronsberg
Artwork by Maya Kronsberg (credit: CBS2)

But custom frames can get extravagant—and so can their prices.

While a simple frame might set you back $250, you can expect to pay $600 and up for a more detailed, handmade option.

Too expensive for a picture frame? Vadala doesn't think so.

"A couch costs $3,000 to begin with, and it lasts less than a decade. Spending 800 bucks on something you never have to replace seems like a pretty good deal to me," he said.

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Color matching is an important part of Vadala's work.

"Art reflects whatever you put next to it," he said.

Frames of different tones can intensify different shades within a work of art.

"I spend a lot of time looking at the frames at museums when I go see art," he said. "Everybody thinks they want a white frame like the MoMA has."

But Vadala says you won't find a stark white frame at the MoMA.

"If you were to go to the MoMA with a bright white paint swatch and put it up against stuff, you'd never match it."

Instead, the museum's frames are various shades of cream and off-white, so as not to over-contrast the art they highlight. Vadala says that the colors contained in a work suggest the range of shades for its frame.

"You try not to go past the brightest bright, and you try not to go past the darkest dark with your frame," he said.

Customers sometimes laugh when, upon request for a plain black frame, Vadala offers a selection of black frames with nearly imperceptible variations in tone and finish.

But Vadala is in the business of converting skeptics.

"By the end of it, they get it," he said.

Make a Frame Atlantic
180 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 875-6150

Make a Frame Bedford
1175 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11216
(718) 857-0760

What's something few people know about but everybody should? Whatever it is, Elle McLogan is tracking it down on The Dig. Join her hunt for treasures hidden across our area. Follow Elle on Twitter and Instagram.

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