Home and Lifestyle

Farmhouse Chic

Laura Distin launched The Ironstone Nest with the hope of inspiring customers via the items and environments she creates, and encouraging others to find their own creative voice through the classes she teaches. Though she's been crafting and refurbishing on her own for years, the shop's June 22 opening is taking her work to the next level. I caught up with Distin to learn more about her work space, her style, and opportunities to learn.

Why did you choose the name Ironstone Nest?  The Ironstone Nest was named due to my love of classic, antique, white ironstone china. It never goes out of style.

What do you see as some of the benefits of re-purposing versus buying new?  Well, the "green" factor is certainly obvious. Re-use, re-purpose, recycle. Even an old scrap piece of wood that you're about to throw away could be turned into a beautiful sign to grace the walls of your home. The other benefit is that it becomes uniquely yours. It is a "one of a kind" item and no one else has it. Your neighbor down the street can have the same chair you bought from IKEA, but how about that dresser you found at Goodwill, or the hand-me-down from your grandmother, that you painted or refinished to go with your home's decor? You can't put a price tag on a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture because it has too much character!

What are some misconceptions people have about refinishing pieces?  A lot of folks think it will be too difficult, so they do nothing. It certainly requires a fair amount of work, but a dresser, for example, can be redone in a couple of hours of a sunny afternoon out on your driveway. And if something appears to go wrong, there's always a remedy for it. Always.

Tell me more about the workshops you offer. What are they like?  Workshops at The Nest are meant to teach the basics of working with Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint and the basic of furniture refinishing in general, while taking the intimidation factor out of furniture refinishing. All paint and supplies, and even light refreshments, are provided for you during the workshops. You even receive a painting apron for free! All you have to do is show up and be ready to have some fun!

Do customers have to come up with their own projects?  No. During the Milk Paint Play Date, which is our Level 1 workshop, you will learn how to properly mix the paint, apply the paint and then you will create a sign that says 'Love,' 'Family' or 'Welcome'—whichever you choose. In fact, when you sign up for a workshop, you can choose what you'd like your sign to say before you even arrive. 

The only restriction is in the Paint & Take workshop, which is our Level 2 workshop, where it is requested that you bring an item you'd like to work on and we ask that it be something relatively light and compact that you can carry, i.e., a chair, a small side table, a mirror or a picture frame.

How much time does a person need to devote to refinishing a piece? It depends on the size of the piece, what the current finish is that exists on the piece of furniture, if it needs to be stripped first, if you want to layer colors, if you will be distressing it, if you will be doing any accent or hand painting, and then, of course, how you plan to use the piece—which will then help to determine the finish coat you'd like to put on it: wax, hemp oil, polyurethane, et cetera.

What is your favorite transformation?  Every one of them has challenged me in some way and has pushed my creative boundaries. But if I had to pick one, I would say our Playroom Wardrobe [see images], or most recently it would be the china cabinet I just finished that displays all of the Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint at The Ironstone Nest. I painted it in Grain Sack, used hemp oil to seal it and then three days later returned to paint it again in Shutter Gray. That technique made it multi-dimensional and "chippy" in all of the best ways. It's definitely a must-see for someone wondering about the versatility of the milk paint.

Your transformations are often dramatic—in a great way. What advice do you have for people that have trouble seeing the "big picture" when working?  My advice would be don't worry about it. Oftentimes, I think I know what I'm going to do with a piece, only to stand in front of it with paint in hand and completely change my mind. But once I've made a final decision, I commit to it and then see where it carries me. The creative journey isn't about the end result, it's about the road you took to get there. Just trust your instincts and you can't go wrong.

Let's say I want to add color to my space, but I'm worried I won't like it. What advice do you have for a color-phobe?  Go for it. The worst thing that could happen is that you'd have to repaint it.

Antique family pieces are awesome—and so special—but they don't fit with every home's style. How can someone make them work in a home without losing a piece's integrity?  Paint them to match your decor. You can be as creative (stencils, free hand painting, different colored knobs) and bold (bright colors, fabric lined drawers) as you like, or as subtle as you like, but paint is the best way to transform a piece and make a piece that would otherwise stick out like a sore thumb suddenly blend into your current decor.

Your website shows pictures of some of your lovely flea-market flips. Will you let us in on your favorite Madison-area shopping spots?  My husband likes to joke that my favorite shopping day is "move out" day in August on the UW campus. But he's actually not far from the truth. I'm always happy to give many unloved and unwanted pieces a good home during that week. I also find a lot of items on Craigslist, garage sales and estate sales in the area. If there is one place that I often "shop" for vintage treasures, it's Columbus Antique Mall.

Learn more about The Ironstone Nest at www.theironstonenest.com.

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