The only way is upcycling: Creating new looks from old
Husband-and-wife team who have taken a break from the classroom to open one of Belfast’s quirkiest furniture stores
A Belfast teacher has turned her hobby for upcycling furniture into a thriving city centre business where hundreds of people have been learning how to transform their homes on a budget.
With no business experience and no stock other than some tins of Annie Sloan paint, mum-of-three Kathy Parker (42) gave up her teaching career three years ago to open her first shop Doris & Jeannie on Belfast's Belmont Road.
Now a thriving creative hub and quirky interiors store, Kathy's eclectic collection of homewares and twice weekly paint workshops have proven so popular that she has now opened a second shop in the city centre in Ann Street.
And such has been the success of her enterprise that her husband Michael (40) has taken a two-year career break as head of geography at Saintfield High School to help run the two busy shops and look after their three children - Milo (9), Heidi (8) and Josie (6).
Doris & Jeannie - named after her two stylish grandmothers - is also the official Belfast stockist of Annie Sloan chalk paint.
With a passion for art and reviving forgotten crafts like lettering, decoupage and ceramics, Kathy is in her element helping people to create their own style and furnish their homes at a fraction of the price they might pay for high street items. She's passionate and enthusiastic - organising workshops and children's parties - and has recently branched out into "wedding styling", with plans to continue to expand her business and open an Annie Sloan-inspired coffee shop in the new Ann Street branch.
It is a real community affair with friends and neighbours working in the two shops and Kathy says much of her inspiration comes from Tuesday afternoons when she takes time out to have her friends and their children over for a cuppa and a craft session round her kitchen table.
It was while taking a career break to spend time with her children that Kathy decided to take the plunge and give up her post as head of art at Bangor Academy to follow her passion for creative interiors.
"I didn't plan any of this. As a mum of three young children I just wanted a part-time job with family friendly hours," she says.
"I had discovered Annie Sloan chalk paint and had painted the kids' bedroom furniture and our kitchen, and all my friends were saying that I should consider doing it for a living.
"I had to travel to Portadown to get the Annie Sloan paint and the girl in the shop there mentioned that the company needed a stockist in Belfast, but even then I didn't really think it would be me.
"Not long after that I spotted a shop unit in Belmont which was just five minutes from home and it gave me the idea of opening it and putting something back into the local neighbourhood by using it as a place to display the artwork and crafts of other mums.
"I had hit 40 and just thought 'why not?'. I went for it and opened with very little stock other than tins of Annie Sloan paint."
Her shops are an interior lover's dream with beautiful pieces of restored vintage furniture, quirky homeware accessories and a huge range of arts and crafts created locally.
It is a joy just to potter around and be inspired by the many beautiful pieces on sale, and for Kathy the main part of the business was always about sharing her passion for creative interiors, arts and craft.
Drawing on her 16 years of teaching experience, she runs workshops twice a week showing people just how easy it is for anyone to transform tired items in their home into objects of beauty.
"From the very start the big thing for me was holding the workshops," she says.
"My ethos is that we don't paint furniture for people, we show them how to do it themselves. I wanted to show people that you can have a beautiful home on a budget without it costing a fortune.
"That's the important bit for me, sharing the knowledge and empowering people to do it themselves."
Kathy now offers a series of classes specialising in different paint styles from French Chateau and country charm to boho chic, and they have proved so popular that places are currently booked up until May.
Her talent for styling and transforming interiors has also led to commissions for design consultations in customers' homes and she has also just launched a new service styling weddings.
Doris & Jeannie is fast becoming a big brand in homewares in Belfast and is a real tribute to Kathy's grandmothers after whom it is named.
"I really struggled to get a name for the shop and we were sitting round my kitchen table trying to come up with something when my friend suggested I think of something personal," she explains.
"I mentioned my two grandmothers and we all knew immediately that was it.
"They were both very creative ladies who always had beautiful homes, even though they didn't have much money.
"Doris, my maternal grandmother, painted her own furniture and I remember she used pebble dash before it was even heard of and painted her house outside turquoise - it was just amazing.
"Jeannie was really into making clothes and rag dolls, and knitting and crocheting. I think they would both be delighted to know that the shop has been named after them."
With Doris & Jeannie continuing to grow and grow, husband Michael has now also joined the company taking a two-year career break from his teaching job.
It has allowed the couple to take the time needed for their children while running their business.
Kathy says: "It's great having Michael here now with the two shops as he can be in one while I am in the other, or I can pick up the kids while he is in the shop and vice versa.
"Teaching full-time, it was difficult to even get time off to attend the children's teacher interviews or school plays and the business has allowed us to be flexible with family life and get the time off we need for the children.
"Every Tuesday afternoon I get some friends and their kids and ours, and we sit at my kitchen table and try new crafts. We are working with clay at the moment.
"The kids love it and it gives me ideas for the shop. I'm currently looking at launching workshops for children and I really want to turn the new shop in Ann Street into a creative building."
The couple also have a popular Facebook page where people are invited to share their creative ideas. They are also currently in the process of setting up a website to widen their reach for sharing crafts and tips on transforming furniture in the home.
"It feels like there are not enough hours in the day and it is hard to believe how far we have come in such a short time. It's a joy to come into work every day," adds Kathy.
Top tips for savvy style
- Anyone can give upcycling a go. You just need an open attitude and don't be too precious as it may not go exactly to plan first time. Remember, don't buy new - upcycle. It's thrifty and you end up with bespoke, good quality furniture
- Before spending any money, shop at home. Look around your house for items that you are bored or tired of, before hitting the shops or car boot sale. With a little thought and thinking outside the box, you can transform the furniture you already have
- Declutter. Decide your style. Look around your house and see what doesn't work. If you can't reuse it, get rid of it
- Never turn any offers of furniture down from friends and family. You can repaint it
- See past the colour, veneer and stains. Transform it with chalk paint, a decorative paint by Annie Sloan which requires no sanding or priming
- Look for individuality in furniture. Detailed woodwork, scrolls, Queen Ann legs are what will make the furniture into a one-of-a-kind piece
- Repurpose. It's amazing the things you can find that can be repurposed and given a completely different use, for example, apple crates, pallets, an old piano made into a fantastic drinks cabinet
- Use Gumtree, Freecycle, Freegle, charity shops and auctions to find furniture. It is amazing what you can pick up
- Use Pinterest and Houzz. These can be inspirational and give you lots of ideas about what you can do
- Get together with your friends and hold painting parties. Share your paint and you will get a much greater variety of colour
- Push your boundaries and use new colours. We find people never regret it