Windsor Heights resident Mary Lou Killebrew was curb picking when curb picking wasn’t cool. Her DIY journey began more than 30 years ago when she was a young mom and loved to decorate. She didn’t have a lot of money, but what she lacked in funds she made up for with creativity.
“I wanted things for the house that I could fix up,” she says. “My mother used to do the same thing. I remember going to the dump with my dad. I just come by it naturally.”
Today Killebrew is living her dream. She frequently refinishes furniture for friends, family and her own home. And recently she opened a shop in Ankeny to showcase her artistry.
“I just love the idea that I have recreated something that others will appreciate,” she explains. “It’s therapy, and it fuels me that I can make something for myself or something that someone else will like. The more difficult it is, the more I have to do it — I like a challenge.”
Killebrew can find stuff to repurpose almost anywhere. She frequently visits sales and auctions, but friends and family also bring her pieces before they trash them. The farmer’s table in her dining room was generously regifted to her, and a good friend recently asked her to work her charm on an old mirror. She has reincarnated an old hutch, French dresser and TV stand for her own home, among many others.
Killebrew admits to being obsessive when it comes to her projects. She doesn’t just upcycle — the goal is to create a finer piece of furniture. She sands each piece until it is smooth and goes the extra step to make it look new with quality paint and products. She uses low-maintenance Fusion mineral-based acrylic paint.
Killebrew and her husband, Mike, have two children, Kyle and Natalie, and two grandchildren. She recently brought new life to a kidney-shaped vanity straight from the side of the road and gave it to Natalie. She also painted a table and chair set for her granddaughter, who loves that it was made by her “nana.”
If a piece is broken, Killebrew and her husband fix it. Mike is also a “doer” and is more than happy to assist his wife with furniture repairs, heavy lifting and hauling. He even inspired the name of her shop.
“We were on a walk with our two dogs and we began discussing ideas,” she says. “He is always adding ‘and such’ to the end of phrases; it’s just something he does. So, he threw out the name ‘Miss Fancy Paints and Such,’ and it just stuck.”
Her son, Kyle, is also a picker by nature. He scouts items for his mother and sends her text messages with photos and descriptions of anything he thinks she will enjoy redoing. One particular find of Kyle’s, a dresser, is one the entire family will never forget.
“This dresser has been around the town since I acquired it,” Killebrew laughs. “Kyle loaded it from the thrift store to my garage. I lugged it to a show and it didn’t sell, so I moved it back to my garage and then to a storage unit. I then moved it to my friend’s garage until my daughter decided she wanted to turn it into a bathroom vanity. She changed her mind, so it came to my store.”
The infamous dresser finally has a new home in Omaha, Nebraska.
Killebrew fondly recalls the years of quality time spent with her daughter, Natalie, creating and crafting. She says she still has the button earrings that the two made. It warms her heart to now witness Natalie carrying on the same traditions with her family.
The support of her family not only drives Killebrew to be her best, but it also instilled the confidence she needed to pursue and hone her craft.
When Natalie recently bought her mother a poster, she couldn’t help but feel the words were written just for her. The quote by Elizabeth Appel read “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
“I framed and hung the poster in my home,” she says. “This is how it all came to be. I needed to do my own thing.”
Do-it-yourself mosaics and stained glass
Pat Sloan was born to be an artist. She has always been crafty, but seven years ago she decided to enhance her skills and focus on drawing, painting, mosaics and stained glass.
She began taking classes, and the hard work paid off. Now the basement in her Windsor Heights home is overflowing with mosaic birdbaths, stepping stones, furniture and stained glass windows. A special light table that allows her to see how the windows will appear in natural light holds her latest half-finished project.
She admits that she sometimes has a hard time letting go of her favorite creations because of the time and thought she puts into her art.
Mosaic is the art of creating images with pieces of colored glass, stone or other materials. Sloan’s pieces are decorative, but also functional. She starts with an idea, then finds a base suitable for the project.
As a true DIY repurposer, Sloan uses recycled items from garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores.
“I love taking worthless items and remaking them into something that I consider beautiful,” Sloan explains.
Sloan is fond of her stained glass creations and has opted to place them in the windows inside her home. Her favorites reside in the den and are adorned with various flowers. Many of her favorite outdoor pieces reside in her backyard garden.
Her designs are on display at the Ted Lare Garden Center in Cumming and the showroom at Created in Johnston.
Of course, in the beginning Sloan encountered quite the learning curve. She has learned to specifically toss out red or pink glass that has only been coated with color.
“I once used pink stained glass on a leaded window that wasn’t pink through and through. We placed it in the bathroom window and it’s been bleeding pink ever since,” she says.
For her first birdbath she used bits of a mirror in the bowl to reflect the light and mimic water. It seemed like a great idea until she realized their reflection scared the birds in the opposite direction.
Sloan’s artistic abilities are both impressive and non-traditional. Each piece is unique and custom, and so is her workshop. She designed a special space in her basement where she can retreat when she feels inspired. The walls are covered with murals to make up for the lack of windows and sunshine, and it’s just far enough away to drown out the noise that Sloan has become accustomed to and is soothed by.
“I always used to tell Mike after a long and frustrating day that I needed to go downstairs and break something,” she laughs. “It’s cathartic.”