Have you ever looked at a piece of furniture and wondered how the craftsman become so skilled as to create something so unique? Have you ever looked at a business or person and wondered how they became so successful? I can not pretend to have all the answers but there are a few basic things that are required if you are going to build a lasting and successful business.
First you have to decide that you want to be the best, that your name or your company name means something. When I finish a product, when I send out a purchase I sign my name to it...literally. If I am putting my name on it then I want it to be the best product, the best service and a memorable experience for my clients.
Communicate with your clients. Sounds like a no brainer but I can tell you from experience that most companies are not diligent about following up on initial inquiries and therefore lose the opportunity for business at the get go. Acknowledge a purchase, notify clients through the process, verify and track shipping, follow up after they have received their purchase to be sure they are satisfied.
The next one is most important and most companies fail at this one: Make and keep deadlines. I have experienced failure of this one basic tenant of business so many times over the past two years that I have lost count. Your clients make plans based on the product or service they are purchasing from you. The commitment you make to provide a product or service by a certain time is vitally important to the future of your business. As entrepreneurs building a business can be a balancing act between home, kids, maybe a part time job and a myriad of other commitments. If you are to build a strong business that will grow and prosper, your word is invaluable. If your client finds you unreliable, unable to make deadlines and full of excuses, they will not return. Even worse, they will tell their friends or, the very worst, they will give your company a bad review.
I have always had one motto: Exceed their expectations. When someone purchases a product or service they anticipate to get what they paid for and they leave satisfied. If you add special touches, maintain excellent communication, come in ahead of deadlines, then they leave with a wow! That customer? They will be back and they will tell all their friends.
The secrets to a solid business are really no secret just good solid business practices done everyday.
With all the different kinds of projects I do, I realize there might be some confusion over the terminology that we use in this business. There are many who are close to me that don't really know what I do or how I decide the fate of a piece I am working on. Then there are some clients that aren't sure how to explain what it is they are looking for so I am going to try and explain it.
Let's start with the terms "restore, refinish, re-purpose" and add rebuild, reuse and replace. I want to start with one of my favorite finds, this oak fern table. I found this table at an auction and it literally was in pieces and it was covered in dust and dirt from being stored in a barn. There was mud on the legs from laying on the floor of the barn! As you can see the top was cracked and there were some splits that were beginning in one of the legs. However, I knew that under all that grime and brokenness was a beautiful oak table so I brought it home. First I removed all the dirt, then I began to repair the broken top by removing the old frame and then joining the two pieces together with dowels and glue. Next I sanded the entire piece to remove the old pits, dirt and even out the wood grain. Once that was done (and that is a long process) I re-stained the wood. There is a purpose for stain it is not just for aesthetics, the stain puts oil back into the piece. In the case of really old wood like this piece, it will drink the stain right in. Once the stain is dry you begin to put a finish on the piece. There are many types of finishes and all of them have a purpose. On antiques I always use tung oil. Tung oil is also a long process of application, rubbing, drying and then another application. The wood will soak up the first few applications because it needs the moisture, then the protection will begin to build and you have a beautiful sheen. In the process I come to know the original craftsman, the detail, the thought and the skill that was put into the piece. The end result is a fully restored and refinished piece. It is an honor to bring these old pieces back to life and preserve the craftsmanship that went into these kinds of pieces. It is also meticulous and detailed work. I have done many pieces like this, some of my own finds and some commissioned work as in the case of the parlor set.
Then there are pieces that are very damaged or missing pieces and you have to rebuild them and sometimes re-purpose them. I have done two sewing machine cabinets and two phonograph cabinets. In every case these cabinets were already separated from their mechanical parts. I have had the opportunity to purchase some very beautiful radio and phonograph cabinets, the problem with them was that they still had the components intact and I cannot separate them...I am just weird like that. Also these aforementioned cabinets were in bad shape, in pieces and the original purpose was no longer an option. This is an opportunity for re-purposing. These cabinets were hardwoods, beautiful and unique so they had no business hitting the trash heap. The veneer on the tops of some of these pieces were so brittle that I could pull it off with my fingers. The result? Some pretty unique and beautiful pieces.
Then there are those pieces that we call wipe and go's. These are pieces that were sold from estates and they were gorgeous as they were. All they needed was a little restoration. The pieces were old and neglected and just needed a little cleaning and oil to look spectacular again. This was true of these two amazing antique pieces.
This brings me to a very important piece of information, wood must be cared for if it is going to last. In order for furniture to maintain its luster, avoid cracks and splits and to protect it from everyday use, it must be oiled and polished. Everyone seems to love the convenience of a swiffer but that swiffer only removes dust it does nothing for the condition of the wood. A light polishing should be done weekly in drier climates and monthly in more humid climates. Every few months your prized pieces need a good dose of polish. Spray on polishes actually contain other chemicals that leave a sticky film on your furniture, my recommendation is a lemon oil or orange oil polish.
Finally we have the art pieces. These pieces were usually broken or missing parts or they weren't useful in their current condition. They had good wood left to them so I re-built them and created something artistic. The office credenza had a melamine top that was marred and chipped (no one likes melamine anyway) and the legs were broken. The side table was one of those buy it in a box and put it together pieces which had become wobbly and used. The desk had a leather top in the center that was covered in words and letters that had been carved into the top and one of the legs was missing. So I rebuilt them and had a little fun in the process.
Every piece that I do has a different story, a different purpose and a different outcome. Unlike my competitors I am not a chalk paint fanatic or a fan of shabby chic although they have their place. Every piece I do is an adventure. Thank you for coming on this adventure with me and for giving me the opportunity to create. Hopefully we learn something about furniture and wood in the process and create something beautiful out of something meant to be thrown away.
I am sure that all of you are on the patio having a beverage on this beautiful day and you are trying hard to put the work week out of your mind. However, I want to plant a seed in your head for Monday morning.
I have spent the past month and a half dealing with other service businesses or trying to find a business to perform a service for me. My roof was in desperate need of replacement following some pretty big early spring storms. We interviewed a few companies that were quick to return our calls and give us estimates on the roof repair and from that selected a very reputable company. That was the end of the open communication. The company did not let us know the day the project would begin, the workers just showed up one day and began working. When the project was completed no company representative came to inspect the work and give us a final bill. When the roof failed inspection we had to contact them. When we were waiting for the repairs to be completed no one called to let us know of the time line or the fixes they proposed. We had to contact them and it took several phone calls to make a connection. They failed to communicate.
My sister in-law and I have been working to settle the estate of my in-laws. We have been taking all the heirloom items and distributing them and clearing out all the trash. We were left with a house FULL of stuff that we needed to sell, get the house empty and then sell the house. First we tried some of my auction house friends and they were at least professional enough to say that they were very busy and wouldn't be able to get to us for a couple of months. We decided to try Estate Sales companies and I began to research them. I made a couple of calls and finally got a company to return my call and meet with us. They promised to let us know if they would be able to schedule us in within one day. Three days and three unreturned phone calls later I moved on. The next company returned my call and has agreed to meet us...we will see where this goes.
All this to drive home a point. We may have our businesses on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google but we are forgetting to communicate with our clients. The basics of any business is building a clientele. We do that by providing a good or service that our client is willing to pay for and if they are satisfied with their purchase they will return again to our door. The only way to do this is to establish and maintain communication even after the sale is complete. There is never an acceptable reason for not returning a call in a timely manner. It takes longer to take a picture and upload it on Facebook than it does to call a client. When I worked in the corporate world I was successful because I was quick and efficient in providing information and services to my clients. Twenty-four hours, every call returned and every email answered within 24 hours.
When someone asks me about three of the estate sale companies I called and one that I met with, I can honestly say that I don't have a recommendation because they never returned my calls. That alone will not build business but ruin it. No matter how hard you work.
This is also true for our personal lives. We tweet, post, snap and google but when was the last time you called someone and talked to them...a real conversation? How many times do we say, "I have been meaning to call them but I just don't have time."? Those tweets, posts and pics do not tell you what is going on in their lives, it does not connect you, it does not replace the human need to share and connect. So pick up the phone, drive to their house, meet for coffee, but communicate.
I love color. Soft color, vibrant color, blended colors and colors with depth. I stated before that a white wall is a blank canvas to me, not an end choice but the beginning of a creative endeavor.
I love color and diversity. I don't use color in traditional combinations and most times I get stuck on a certain color palette for a season and then something will spark my interest and it will all change. I am influenced by culture, architecture, historical periods and everything in between.
Now imagine that all of that disappeared. Imagine traveling anywhere in the world and everything looked the same. Imagine a world with no diversity, no individual character, no surprises and everything the same color.
I love all colors whether red, yellow, brown, black, white or any other color. I love the vibrant large circle skirts of Mexico, the bold charismatic dancing and the loud celebrations. I love the hand printed fabrics of India, the soft wraps of the fabrics with long flowing skirts. I love the intricacy of the carvings, prints and design in Japanese wood, clothing and gifts and the absolutely simple lines of their homes. I love the intense design that goes into the architecture of Russia and the simple flow of Scandinavian design. All these designs, color pallets and means of expression are distinctive characteristics of the culture these artist come from. We can't lose that.
It seems to me that one of the reasons we are so depressed as a people, so angry, so frustrated and so anxious is that someone, somewhere has decided we should all be the same. "They" have decided how we should look, act, live and structure our lives and we don't like it. We have lost ourselves, our sense of culture and our sense of belonging.
I am Nordic and Scottish, we are a loud, pushy, clannish bunch but you will never find one more loyal or hard working. We are proud of who we are and where we come from and we don't want to loose our traditions, our culture or our heritage. I think everyone feels the same.
Even beyond that....we want to be individual, meaning that we want to choose our color pallet, we want to choose our work, our family, our community and how we live in those choices. We have so many restrictions and expectations placed on us but even more so on our children. We lay out an agenda and pathway that we expect everyone to follow because we have been told that is the only path to success, living well and being a "good" citizen. We tell everyone NOT to listen to the inner song, ignore the inner color and beauty and just follow the crowd.....and we slowly fade until there is nothing left of us.
There is a song, a creative expression, a love of color, a dance, a joyful existence in each of us but it has been whitewashed and silenced. Until we embrace color and diversity and choice and creativity and FUN, we will continue to be angry, anxious, frustrated and depressed.
I cannot imagine a world without tribal drums, Mariachi bands, bagpipes, big swirling skirts, vibrant color, huge headdresses, and diverse culture. Can you? We as individuals from diverse cultures make up this world. We cannot let globalization destroy our individual cultures, our heritage and our ancestral history....no matter what country or region we are from.
I check in everyday with Collective Evolution and they posted a thought provoking, award winning video that gives vision to this. Thank you for what you do CE and if you get a chance follow their site and support their work.
So you are sitting in your favorite spot scrolling through Pinterest, checking out what your friends are creating or what some mom just created out of toilet paper rolls and you think to yourself, "Why didn't I think of that?".
You look around your house and you have done a good job decorating and things look "nice". But something inside is stirring, rolling around.
Many people ask me how or why I started doing what I do. The answer is simple. I couldn't do what I WAS doing one more day.
I tried all kinds of things to provide an income other than punching a clock. Now by punching a clock I mean working for a paycheck. I made good money, don't get me wrong and the work wasn't bad but I had done it for a long time and it no longer fed my soul. So I went on a search and tried all kinds of things but deep inside of me I have always needed to create something, to balance colors and light, to work with textures and fabric. I like creating environments and finding beauty in natural materials. When I got there, when I got to the thing that brought joy to my soul? I wasn't working anymore. As a matter of fact I don't really focus on the "business" portion of what I do, meaning I don't get up in the morning wondering if I will sell something......
I wake up in the morning thinking about what I want to create.
Now that's a good day.
Last summer began an adventure that I had no idea was coming. It is always curious the timing of events in your life. I was getting into a good rhythm in the shop, had strong momentum going with sales and I was looking forward to a good strong year.
I spent 8 months caring for terminally ill and aging in-laws. A few critical events made it impossible for them to care for themselves any longer and they needed help, right away. In the process of finding care, nursing, doctors and getting through the Medicaid process I found a treasure. I was very fortunate to be able to spend the last months with an interesting character, although he would have told you that I was the interesting one! I heard stories, looked at photographs, learned about the treasures stored in the home and shared a glass of wine.
I also heard the pain and fear of someone who is dying and not quite ready to leave this world. I also learned what dementia looks like and how heartbreaking this disease is for the family and for the person who is slowly losing touch with reality. It is sad to watch a person lose their independence and their ability to care for themselves.
These events taught me a very important lesson. A lesson that we hear often but you will never pay attention to until you watch someone's breath leave them.
We may not have tomorrow and if we do, we may not be able to function in it.
Do not let this day pass without RUNNING headlong towards your dreams. Look fear right in the eyes and move anyway....go forward anyway. Don't waste precious time doing what you think others approve of, do exactly what you are meant to do. BELIEVE that you will not be successful, truly successful until you are doing what you love. LOVE and LOVE again. Reach out a hand to someone in need. DANCE and SING with everything you have in your soul. CREATE something lasting, something unique, something mind blowing....you have it in you!
You may not get another chance!
I purchased this original piece many years ago. It was one of those "buy it in a box" pieces that was actually wood. Over the years it got a little wobbly and the natural finish no longer suited my decor. Although it had a shelf it was so close to the top of the table that it had limited use. I decided it needed a makeover.
I took it all apart with a vision in mind. I rearranged the pieces and added a few embellishments including original art to the top. The finished product is beautiful.
Yesterday I received a treasure from a very good friend. It was a picture of all the letters I had written and this person had kept every one of them. My response was that I had kept all the letters I had received as well and the truth is I keep all letters. The reason? Because handwritten letters are a piece of the soul and they should never be discarded.
One of the lost arts of this age is letter writing. The ability to tell a story, to describe events so that the reader is pulled into the story is the beauty of a letter. My grandmother and I used to write letters to each other and I looked forward to receiving them. She was a wonderful storyteller both in writing and in conversation but in her generation that was an important and well developed skill. They didn't always have telephones and family may be spread over a few states. They wrote letters full of the stories of the day and the events that impacted their lives. I have spent many hours going through old letters and finding bits of history, events and a story of life.
Today we have tweets, texts and emoticons. None of these things convey a story or tell of history, they only give a "sound bite" of the current moment.
There is something very inspiring about picking up a pen and paper and writing. It causes the creative side of the brain to activate and color and imagination to thrive. Sadly it is a lost art which is going the way of cursive writing. I wonder if this is not the reason we are so depressed, lonely and lost. We have lost the art of communication, of connecting and of creating a timeless legacy for others to read.
If we are to continue to partner with the universe in creating, in beauty, in communication and in human connection perhaps we should return to pen and paper and share a piece of ourselves with someone else.
Thank You, Chilli, for treasuring my soul.
One of the things that I take pride in is making sure that my family and my home are well cared for. Now that doesn't mean spending lots of money or having all the trinkets and gadgets, it means making sure they are healthy and well able to function in this world. Our mission statement states that we use natural, organic recycled and repurposed products to create things for you, our client. In fact we use them in our home too. If you walk into our home you will find all kinds of creative things that have been repurposed into functional art. In our cabinets you will find natural, organic products and lots of healthy food.
There are many things that I think this industrial and technology age has taken from us. The ability and even the knowledge about growing healthy food and herbs. The ability to cook, from scratch, good healthy meals. The ability to keep your house clean, your kids clean and everything healthy without a cabinet full of chemicals. A simple, healthy life.
You may think that you just don't have time for all that. It is a matter of knowledge and priority. My morning coffee time is spent wandering through the sunroom caring for my herbs, seedlings and orchids. My monthly shopping day is also the day I prepare the washing powder, dish soap, dishwasher soap and household cleaning mixtures. It fills the house with the scent of peppermint, lemon oil and lavender. I buy my supplies for soap making once a quarter and make soaps for 2 or three days so that I always have a supply on hand for sale and for use. I make extracts when I harvest herbs and I dry the rest for cooking. I putter all the time (as my husband puts it) with my hands in oils and smells and earth. I never need therapy and my time out for myself is out in nature.
All of these things give me the energy to work and work hard. My time in the workshop is focused and productive and I bring the creativity of nature with me into my work. Start small, one step at a time. Get a few patio plants that yield vegetables. Start eliminating chemicals from your house and your diet. Start spending more time outside or reading or dreaming. Your body and your family will thank you. And by the way? So will the earth.
You can find out how simple home cleaning products are by following this link.
DIY Naturally is a great resource.
I have always admired antique phonograph cabinets but I never had the courage to separate the cabinet from the workings inside, fortunately this one was empty. The veneer on top was splintered, peeling and missing in spots. The back was missing, the bottom shelf inside was covered in oil and the whole piece had been neglected.
I removed the veneer from the top and found beautiful poplar wood underneath. I began restoring the rest of the wood and reviving the stain. I put a birdseye maple veneer on the bottom shelf, made a new back piece, put a new finish making sure to cover the top (only) in urethane for protection. I have always wanted to repurpose one of these pieces into a wine cabinet so here we are! I love the rich golden brown color of the wood.