Tonya Trott had a problem. It became an award-winning business.
It was 2012 and Tonya and her husband had just moved to coastal NSW from country Victoria. They’d brought most of their country-style furniture with them. But it didn’t match their new home’s coastal surrounds, and that just wouldn’t do: Tonya, a qualified interior designer, is sensitive to these things.
With the aid of YouTube and her own gift for design, Tonya painted all the furniture to achieve a coastal look. It took weeks. The dining table took about 16 hours. including prep. “I absolutely loved it, and I still do,” Tonya tells me. Furniture redecoration quickly became much more than a hobby as friends commissioned pieces and word-of-mouth worked magic, and in 2016 Tonya left her part-time teaching job to do what she loved full-time.
What is DIY furniture redecoration?
Tonya’s career happens to be many people’s hobby. Pinterest and YouTube abound with tutorials and photos of gorgeous furniture pieces renewed with chalk or mineral paint. “I think I started before it got ‘trendy’, so I was able to build up my reputation early on,” says Tonya. With five years’ experience plus a passion for interior design, Tonya knows what paints and techniques a piece of furniture needs. “My daughter thinks I sound like I need locking up, but quite often I will look at a piece and just have an instinct for what that piece wants.”
Tonya’s business Chalk & Willow won the Port Stephens Business Award for Furniture and Homewares in its first year of trading. Now Tonya spends her days transforming furniture for a seven-month wait list of customers “which is really a privilege”. She also teaches workshops, and makes weekly live videos and regular recorded video tutorials for her vast Facebook following. “I still really get a thrill out of the finished piece, because it looks so different. I find it very exciting. Five or six years later, I still get really excited about it!”
Before and after: A vintage piece restored
I could hear that Tonya treasures each of her projects. I ask about a recent piece – an old washstand that she transformed with “a lovely neutral” paint – and find that Tonya is especially excited when she happens to be updating a family heirloom to suit a modern home. The washstand (see above photo) had belonged to a customer’s grandmother. “People kind of think, ‘Well I’ve got to keep it because it was my granny’s, but it really doesn’t work in my home’. Well, let’s make it work in your home!”
It’s not as easy as it looks: How to get started on DIY furniture
There’s more to transforming furniture than some paint and wallpaper. There are lots of techniques to learn, from painting a twisted leg, to getting paint smooth in hot weather, to applying a transfer. Then there’s preparation: stripping, cleaning, sanding, undercoating. That’s why Tonya shares so much with Chalk & Willow’s Facebook following. “A lot of my customers are over fifty, and well into their late seventies. And all got the bug for painting furniture, or have a creative bent and wanting to try something new.”
If you’re a beginner, Tonya recommends starting with the basics: prepping a piece, painting with chalk paint or mineral paint, applying a top coat, staining, applying a paint stripper, and the like.
Tonya is still learning. “There are still things that I haven’t tried before.” She practices new techniques. She finds out how her paints work in different temperatures. She researches and experiments with each new product. “I only sell what I love, because I need to be able to talk about it authentically.”
For Tonya Chalk & Willow is more than just a business. She says it makes her heart happy. A Christian, she’s prayed over every step of the journey from hobby to business, including the ground her workshop was built on. “I really feel that my business is blessed because it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Alex is a journalist and freelance writer who loves bringing you inspiring stories. Have an idea for a story? Let her know at firstname.lastname@example.org