Redesigning Women

Recreating, refurbishing, recycling - whatever you call it, many women these days are taking up their power tools and paintbrushes to do a different type of life saving. They aren’t doctors; they are craftswomen, and they aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty to come to the rescue of a broken or outdated piece of furniture.

Feeling at home with a can of paint in their hand (and a bit on their clothes), these four local furniture rehabbers have learned the secrets of taking items destined for the dump and not only turning them into works of art, but turning them into profit.

Sherri Chesnutt

Chesnutt Woods Studio


Sherri Chestnutt

Sherri Chesnutt considers herself a recycler. Whether she stops on the side of the road for an abandoned chair or scours an estate sale for a dusty dresser forgotten in an attic, Chesnutt always finds a way to make something out of what most people consider nothing.

“Once you start doing stuff like this, it kind of gets in your blood and you just don’t mind stopping at garbage pits,” says Chesnutt. “You start looking at things a different way. Instead of garbage, you think, ‘What can I make out of that?’”

Chesnutt worked for 20 years at an insurance company before she decided to quit and begin her own business, Chesnutt Woods Studio, making commissioned pieces for individuals and keeping a booth at Knitting Mill Antiques filled with her work.

“You go through periods in your life when you first get married and you raise your children and you’re struggling. All you can think about your whole life is if your kids have food, schooling, clothes and you have to work and work ... and later you just want to do something else, so I did,” she says. “My son was out of the house and I didn’t really need to work that kind of job, so I just decided to do something else. I’m very lucky that I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to eat next. My house is paid for, my car is paid for. I’m very lucky that I can do this.”

Whether it is firing pottery, crafting jewelry or even painting a 40-foot-long mural of an underwater scene at a local pool, Chesnutt says that art has always been an essential part of who she is.

“I’ve always done some kind of craft or artwork,” she says. “I do pottery. I’ve painted T-shirts and even leather jackets for bikers. I can paint a skull with a snake coming out of its eyes so fast...”

Although Chesnutt has dabbled in many different creative outlets, she says right now her focus is on furniture.

“It’s more fun than it is work. If someone will bring me a picture of something, I can use that idea to give them what they want. I’ve got a barn full of old table legs and chair legs and old broken lamps,” she says. “I’ll take the legs off of an old busted table and attach them to the top of another table. The project I’m working on now, I’ve got an old sewing machine base. I took the metal sides off of it and some old board that I found on the side of the road and I’ve made it into a table.”

“You start looking at things a different way. Instead of garbage, you think, 'What can I make out of that?’”

When it comes to the tools of her trade, Chesnutt has no fear and says that they shouldn’t deter other people from following in her footsteps. “The one who has the most toys wins. I’m going to win,” she says. “In my house, I’m the one that has all the tools. Power tools can be scary, but you can take some classes. I’ve taken metalworking class and art classes, but my grandfather was a carpenter so I learned a bit about putting things together from him. It wasn’t until late when I was an adult that I really started enjoying it.”

As for those who want advice on getting started? Chesnutt says not to be shy about asking. “If someone wants to make something, I’m going to tell them or show them. You can’t keep something to yourself. How can young people learn if people won’t show them how to do anything?,” she says. “In business, if you don’t have someone under you ready to take your place, you can’t go anywhere, so you have to share your knowledge and experience. Come on down, I’ll show you what you need to know,” she adds.

For more information about Chesnutt Woods Studio, visit : facebook.com/ChesnuttWoodsStudio

Madi Steiner

Merchants on Main


Madi Steiner

Although her first love is horses, Madi Steiner has taken a serious liking to flipping furniture for customers at Merchants on Main, the shop that she and her mother, Missy, own and operate on Main Street.

“I started painting by demand,” Steiner says. “There was furniture that was just sitting there and wouldn’t sell, so I would repaint it. People didn’t want to paint their own things or they were scared of messing up so I would paint it for them.”

Steiner, a 20-year-old equine science major, has painted everything from desks to chairs to full bedroom sets since she started painting furniture for Merchants on Main vendors in 2010. “I’d always been super artsy, so it just transferred to furniture,” she says. “You don’t think painting furniture is art, but it is. You need to know how to do the different styles and what colors look good together.”

Steiner says that her go to tool is Annie Sloan chalk paint, which she says is on high-demand from customers not only because of the distinct shabby chic look it gives to furniture, but also because the paint isn’t available for purchase locally.

“You don’t have to prime or sand, and it sticks to everything,” she says. “Then you can go back and distress it.

“Some furniture that has been passed down for generations, you're probably dealing with a piece that isn’t your style anymore, but your aunt would have a heart attack if you got rid of it,” she says. “A customer will come in hating a piece of furniture, and with some paint it becomes something with the memory still, but it completely transforms it. It’s almost a custom-made piece in a way.”

A new coat of paint can give a fresh face to almost any piece, says Missy, even old heirloom furniture that is in serious need of an update.

Although some antique furniture may not be in style, Missy says that older furniture is built to last much longer than newer pieces, which gives it an advantage. However, both can find their place in the same room.

“It’s kind of been the big thing now to mix the old and the new,” says Madi. “You can buy an older piece cheaper and after you paint it, it looks brand new.”

For more information on Merchants on Main, visit: www.merchantsonmain.co

Evelyn Johnston



Evelyn Johnston

After she and her husband became emptynesters this year, Evelyn Johnston decided to finally take on the furniture projects that were all over her house and turn her gift for repurposing into a business.

“I’ve been doing my own stuff for years,” says Johnston. “That’s how I got started. I’d want a certain thing for my house and couldn’t find it in stores so I would make it myself. Then people would love it and they'd say, 'I need you to do that for me,' so I started doing more and more of it. I look for pieces to redo now.”

Johnston describes herself as a “full-time mom, part-time everything else,” which was one of the biggest factors that influenced her to take the leap into turning her hobby into her job. “My thought process in actually selling my things was that with my kids moving six hours off in two different directions from me — my daughter is 5 1/2 hours away in North Carolina and my son is in college in Mississippi 6 1/2 hours away — I thought that if I could find a way to pay for my going to visit them, that would be great,” she says.

Just four months ago, Johnston made a chance stop into The Green Door Trading Co. on Georgia Avenue and asked if she could sell some of her creations there, and has since sold several items from vibrantly painted mirrors to reupholstered dining room chairs with updated chevron-print fabric.

“I focus on being green and recycling. I may have to do a little work - maybe a chair is missing a leg, so I’ll make a leg for it,” she says. “So many people think that things are useless and they aren’t good anymore. I just feel like you can make something out of things. You don’t have to throw them away.”

Many of Johnston’s efforts at repurposing vintage finds have left people saying, “Who knew?,” which helped inspire the name of her business. “People say, 'Who knew that you could make something out of that?,'” she says.


“The logo for my business is my daughter’s fourth-grade art piece of an owl, so the name is 'Hoo-' like an owl and 'New' as in turning something old into something new. Everything is personal, everything has a meaning.”

Beyond the fact that all of her pieces come with a story, one thing that you can expect from Johnston’s work is that it will always be the stand-out piece in the room. “I really like for my pieces to be the focal point in the room and people decorate around that item,” she says. “I usually add some detail that makes it a little quirky, something that makes it stand out so it’s not just this little table or whatever sitting in the corner. I just want to do something where people walk into a room and they say, ’that’s the coolest looking thing.'"

For more information on HooNew, visit: facebook.com and search for HooNew

Rebecca Dalrymple

The Black Sheep Primitives


Rebecca Dalrymple

Rebecca Dalrymple is the black sheep of her family, or so she says, which is how her furniture and primitive home décor business gained its name. “There’s a black sheep in every family ... I’m the last of four kids and there’s one in every bunch,” she says. “The business is about 12 years old and it was actually started by my sisterin- law who I took it over from. I’ve had it for about two years now and I changed the name when I got it.”

The business, which has its roots as a nationally known online shop featuring primitive shaker boxes and decorative signage, expanded into furniture when Dalrymple took over. “I was raised in the industry and I have a love for furniture. My family has a furniture business in Jasper, Phillips Furniture, so telling the quality of furniture and knowing what looks good, it’s just in my blood,” she says. “It’s a love that I have. I have an interior design background so it’s a natural fit.”

Dalrymple says she’s fortunate that her husband, Doug, is a contractor, which lends itself to the creativity and skill needed to make just about anything she can think of — barn-wood tables, corner cabinets and, most recently, benches that lift up for storage.

“My husband is a craftsman, so it turned into a great undertaking for the two of us,” she says. “It really has fit together like a hand in a glove. We're best friends. We've been married 32 years, so it’s fun to hang out together.”

Once a piece has been made, Dalrymple decides what colors and style the piece will be and paints it, distresses it if it is a shabby chic look, and stages it at either her booth at Merchants on Main or Chatt-R-Bug in Hixson.

“I like unique things. I want my consumers to have something that no one else might have,” she says. “I think that adds to the appeal of what I do.”

One thing that really sets Dalrymple and her business apart is the history that goes behind many of her pieces, especially the hand-painted shaker box sets and signage depicting regional milestones or important characters such as the first and last passenger trains to and from Chattanooga, the Bell Witch and Lodge Cast Iron.

“If I sell a 5-piece shaker set to someone in Oregon who has never heard of the Bell Witch, I want it to spark conversation in their home. I want that kind of conversation going about whatever piece I’ve done,” she says. “I want it not only to be something pretty for their home, but I want it to have history behind it.”

Although Dalrymple often works in her studio (that her husband built for her) six days a week, she says that she doesn’t get tired of what she does. “I don’t believe in retirement,” she says. “There’s nothing in scripture I’ve read about retirement, so I expect I’ll be doing it until they drag the paintbrush out of my cold dead fingers.”

For more information on The Black Sheep Primitives, visit www.theblacksheepprimitives.com