DIY, with a little help from your friends

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
  • DIY, or do-it-yourself, workshops are all over Metro Detroit
  • Decorative painting stores, ceramics studios, even some hardware stores offer classes, workshops
  • Pinterest inspires, but workshops help overcome fear, says Grosse Pointe Woods store owner

It's hard to believe, but there was a time when crafting was not especially cool.

Thirty years ago, I Mod-Podged strips of fabric to flower pots. My mother would fill my patchwork-like pot with a plant and I'd bestow it on my teacher as an end-of-the-school-year gift. Whether my teachers kept them or not is questionable.

Luckily, we've come along since the advent of the glue gun and Mod Podge.

Crafting has not only been redefined and broadened — it's now called do-it-yourself, or DIY — but ideas for what you can do and create, especially with furniture and home decor, are everywhere, thanks to websites such as Pinterest.

Opportunities also abound to get you started. Decorative painting stores, ceramics studios, even some hardware stores in Metro Detroit offer DIY classes and workshops to learn everything from how to paint furniture to make it look vintage to woodworking.

"It's really taking off," says Cari Cucksey, a Metro Detroit jack-of-all-trades repurposer and star of HGTV's "Cash & Cari," who offers regular workshops on how to paint and stain old furniture.

Beckie Kassner, owner of Vera's Daughter Home, a Grosse Pointe Woods furniture and decorative painting store that sells Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, believes the Midwest is at just the start of what's happening elsewhere with the DIY movement.

"It's starting to explode all over," says Kassner, who says in other parts of the country DIY-ers are doing even more advanced techniques and finishes.

But whether DIY is just getting started or not, it's hot. Introductory furniture painting workshops at Fabulous Finishes on Van Dyke in Shelby Township are so popular that every one since mid-March has been sold out.

"It's an awesome feeling to see homeowners so excited after a workshop, or after they tackle bathroom cabinets and come in for the next project, excited and showing their before and after photos on their smartphones," says owner Patty Henning, a longtime decorative painter who leads the workshops.

Necessity for the niceties

Cucksey believes one reason the DIY movement has exploded is the economy, especially after it flat-lined in 2009.

"More people are becoming more dollar conscious," she says. "I've noticed it across the board, from estate sales to our workshops. They're really looking for more bang for their buck."

For Cucksey, DIY is nothing new. She grew up with her grandmother giving her handcrafted gifts for every birthday and holiday. She describes her grandfather as one of the original "pickers."

"My life has always been DIY," says Cucksey.

Today, Cucksey offers regular workshops at her Westland warehouse, RePurpose Detroit, where she teaches clients different painting and staining techniques. She introduced her own paint and stain line last June and one big reason why is because she was constantly being asked the same questions at trade shows and events across the country.

"I wanted everyone to be able to be empowered," she says. "We teach them the basic application of paint and stain. The whole weathered and distressed look is really in right now."

Her tip: Start small

That could be one reason mineral and clay paints are so popular.

Kassner is one of the only Metro Detroit's stockists of Annie Sloan's popular Chalk Paint line, which comes in 32 colors but can be mixed to create 400 different color combinations. It requires no priming or pre-sanding and can be applied to nearly any surface.

Pinterest may inspire people to paint their own pieces, but a workshop helps them overcome their fear, says Kassner.

A workshop "teaches you all the tricks," she says. "The piece sort of talks back at you."

Kassner teaches five different painting techniques at her Chalk Paint workshops. She also teaches two waxing techniques and two sanding techniques.

So much of the finishing "is with wax," Kassner says.

At Fabulous Finishes, where Henning carries a line of chalk and mineral paint by the American Paint Company, one of the hottest workshop offerings is one on how to redo kitchen cabinets. For customers who want to update their kitchen without a major remodel, "it's just amazing the difference it makes," she says.

Henning, who also stars in a series of DIY shows on Shelby's local television station, says stencils and aged papers also are growing in popularity to add to the vintage look.

To get started painting furniture, Kassner recommends starting with a small piece. Don't start with a bookcase or chair because they have too many crevices. She recommends a small table.

"Anything small," she says. "A little dresser drawer would be darling."

Pottery possibilities

DIY isn't just limited to decorative painting. For those interested in getting started with ceramics, workshops and classes also abound.

Detroit's beloved Pewabic Pottery, for example, has an Education Studio and offers six eight-week terms with classes throughout the year. Roughly 500 students take classes each year, ranging from more experience-type classes, such as Friday Night Out, to wheel-throwing.

"We're about creating experiences with people and the material," says Chrys Bonnay-Lewis, Pewabic's director of programs, who noted there's an education Open House on Saturday to showcase their programming. "It can be an education experience, it can be a fun experience for you. It can be just about making and having family time."

For those seriously considering learning ceramics, Bonnay-Lewis recommends a four-week class called the Ceramics Sampler. For $110, students will try a hand-build project, make a tile, try the wheel, and try glazing. "It's a perfect place to start," says Bonnay-Lewis.

So if you've considered trying DIY — painting, ceramics, or woodworking; most local Home Depots even offer classes, including some just for women — try it. Don't let your fear stand in the way.

"You're just limited by your imagination," says Kassner.

(313) 223-4686

DIY Decor

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center : 1516 S. Cranbrook, Birmingham; (248) 644-0866, Offers wide range of art classes, including Painted Furniture Workshop and Ceramic & Cement Outdoor Garden Sculpture.

Fabulous Finishes : 51350 Van Dyke, Shelby Township; (888) 819-1490, Offers Painting Basics, Paint a Piece, Specialty Finishes, Painting Cabinets, Glazing Cabinets workshops.

Nada & Company Home Decor Restyled: 736 South Washington, Royal Oak; (248) 291-5283, Offers Chalk Paint 101 workshops.

RePurpose Detroit : 5930 Commerce Drive, Westland; (248) 735-0500, Offers RePurpose Sew & Tell, Bring Your Own Piece RePurpose ReColor WorkShop Ladies Night Out.

Pewabic Pottery : 10125 E. Jefferson, Detroit; (313) 822-0954, Offers six eight-week terms throughout the year. An Education Open House from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday will showcase its class offerings.

Vera's Daughter Home : 21127 Mack, Grosse Pointe Woods; (313) 743-5030. Offers Annie Sloan Chalk Paint 101, Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint 101, and other workshops.