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Oct 01, 2010 08:19AM

The Elegant Barn: Refurbished, refinished, refined decor

Leslie Klipsch
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Stephanie Makosky
Beth Bowie refinishes furniture and makes new items out of old things like doors. Ms. Bowie sells her furniture two times a year out of her home in Lowden.
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Printed and digital copies of this image are available for purchase.  Digital delivery within minutes.  Click here for details.
Stephanie Makosky
Beth Bowie refinishes furniture and makes new items out of old things like doors. Ms. Bowie sells her furniture two times a year out of her home in Lowden.
More photos from this shoot
Walking into the home of Beth Bowie is much like walking into a Pottery Barn show room, except that everything feels a bit more lived in and is a lot more storied.

Ask about the dining room table, for example, with its thick, planked wood top and substantial, detailed legs with the hand-distressed finish. Bowie will tell you that she pulled the top out of a dumpster, attached a quartet of salvaged porch posts, sanded, painted, and, in her words, "shabbied it up" to its current condition: a stylish, durable, masterfully crafted, one-of-kind table for eight.

Or admire the weathered white corner shelf in the living room and you'll learn that Bowie cut a solid, reclaimed door in half, hinged it together at an angle, added salvaged wood shelves and a detailed crown molding trim and then completed the piece with a distressed, vintage finish.

Bowie makes benches out of unwanted headboards, cupboards out of dated vanities, and pillar candle holders out of old chicken wire and mismatched glass chandelier prisms. Everywhere you look, Bowie has expertly made something out of nothing.

Driven by frugality and a desire to create, Bowie began repurposing and refinishing furniture more than 10 years ago as a stay-at-home mother of three with a passion for design and a home to furnish. Purchasing other people's cast-offs at garage sales, thrift stores, estate sales, and auctions, and occasionally finding unlikely treasures in the trash, Bowie learned that she had a knack for seeing untapped beauty and soon learned how to turn her vision into a stylish reality by learning basic carpentry skills. After filling her own home with her handsome handiwork, she began selling furniture and home accessories at garage sales of her own. Since 2006, she has held twice yearly sales on her farm outside of Lowden, Iowa, selling eclectic home furnishings out of the buildings on the family property, dubbing the business "The Elegant Barn."

"I started out with a passion for decorating," Bowie recalls. "I discovered auctions and garage sales where there was rickety old furniture that was very affordable, but needed a lot of work. I started painting it and then learned how to repair it and refinish it. Then I started finding pieces that no longer had a purpose and began to try to think of new ways to use old pieces. It's kind of a trash-to-treasure thing. I recycle stuff that's on the way to the dump. I give it new life."

On her farm, Bowie makes use of several old barns and corncribs as she prepares for the biannual sales. She has a storeroom for supplies, a heated workshop, and several weatherproof buildings that store finished projects. The Elegant Barn sales, she says, have a festive atmosphere. Through a small mailing list and word of mouth, customers flock to the farm to see her latest collection of handcrafted, one-of-a-kind goods. "In the fall there's hot apple cider, in the spring iced tea or lemonade. You get to see regular customers and friends who keep coming back and catch up. You get to know people. It's great," she beams.

Bowie says that she works hard to keep the items she sells affordable. Her next sale (Oct. 15-17) will feature items ranging from $1 to $350. "I want it to be fun," she says. "I want people to come out and be able to pick up a little something so that it's worth their drive."

She is, in part, able to keep her costs down because nearly everything she puts into each project is something that someone else was anxious to get rid of. She buys nails, old lumber, "mistint" paint — anything she might use — at auctions or garage sales, which keeps prices low.

Besides cost, another benefit is that such creativity and frugality keeps materials out of the landfill. Bowie believes that recycling has been a welcome byproduct of her work. "It was never my first reason for doing this, but it's definitely a benefit," she explains. "I'll see things like doors out on the curb or selling for a very affordable price at auctions and I think of ways to save them. The craftsmanship and quality in old doors is wonderful. It would be a shame to let them go to waste."

Over the years, Bowie says that her passion has grown into a full-time hobby that she continues to enjoy. "I love the process," she explains happily. "Taking something that someone was going to throw away and turning it into something of value ... that's very satisfying. And it's pretty! It's also satisfying to know that someone wants something that I created with my own hands."

"Plus," she adds, "I just don't like to see things go to the dump."

The next Elegant Barn sale will be Oct. 15-17. For directions and more information, contact Beth Bowie at (563) 941-5216.

DIY Design – Four Tips to Recycle, Re-use and Re-invent your own home decor

Hunt for treasures. Part of the fun of re-furbishing already used items is seeking them out in the first place. Inventory changes often, so frequent trips to Habitat ReStore, Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other thrift stores may prove fruitful. Garage sales, estates sales and auctions are also prime places to find unique items to make your own. Craigslist and eBay are great online deal-finding sources.

Look for quality and style. Search for pieces that are durable and that appeal to your taste. However, don't limit your search. Part of the fun is in the transformation. Dream up a new design and re-invent how a piece of furniture or an accessory might be used in your space. Check out "how-to" books from the library and explore websites like Design*Sponge (designspongeonline.com) and Apartment Therapy (apartmenttherapy.com), all great sources for both inspiration and practical DIY tips.

Learn basic skills. Much can be accomplished with a can of paint, a bit of fabric and a staple gun. But beyond painting and recovering chair cushions, you might want to get serious about learning a few new skills. Don't be afraid to enlist others for help. Borrow tools from friends, ask questions at the hardware store and find others to teach you new skills.

Take proper precautions. Whether you're stripping, staining, sanding, painting, or waxing, etc., always read and follow safety precautions related to your task. DIY design can be creative and fun, but should be done responsibly and with proper safety measures in place.


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