“Old doors are great to work with. You can make them into shelving – those are really popular, and you can add little architectural details,” Beth Bowie says, gesturing to a pair of doors joined to create a large visual element that fits neatly in the corner of the room.
It’s not a piece of furniture that can be found in a traditional store. In fact, while there might be a similar looking piece, this unit is one-of-a-kind just like everything else sold at Elegant Barn.
Bowie, who moved to the outskirts of Marshall a couple years ago with her husband, has spent the past 18 months preparing to open Elegant Barn.
Much like a traditional furniture store — albeit at a scaled down version — there are several staging areas at Elegant Barn to showcase a dining area, living room, office, and bedroom space. And all of the pieces have been, as her Facebook page’s about information indicates, “reclaimed, rescued, and repurposed.”
The journey to operating the business started about 25 years ago when Bowie, at the time a stay-at-home mom, would go to garage sales in search of affordable furniture. Some of the pieces needed to be refinished, so she started with that before expanding to repairing the furniture she bought.
“Then from there, it went to creating unique pieces out of architectural salvage,” Bowie said.
With no background in furniture repair or refinishing, there was a lot of trial and error. She used a variety of sources to help discover the best way to repurpose, including her husband’s knowledge.
“We’ve always lived in old houses and he would refinish the floors and things like that, so he gave me lots of advice. Just learning how to use power tools and started borrowing his,” Bowie said. Eventually, her husband would gift the business owner her own set of power tools.
At a certain point, Bowie realized she was buying and refinishing more furniture than she had space for. Instead of stopping, Bowie decided to host yard sales to sell the repurposed pieces.
“And then it just kind of got out of hand,” she said. “In Iowa I had a big pole barn and twice a year, I would do sales out of it.”
When Bowie and her husband decided to move to Wisconsin to be closer to family, their new home needed to have some type of space on the property where the repurposed furniture could be sold and stored.
The home the couple purchased on County Road BB not only had a building for a showroom where people could shop; it also had a workshop for Bowie to use while repurposing and refinishing pieces.
Bowie revamps each piece of the furniture she obtains in a variety of ways to make each one-of-a-kind. She may decide to stain, paint, reupholster or even create an entirely new piece, like the dining room tables that use a repurposed door to serve as the tabletop sitting on existing table legs.
Her favorite part of the process is the creativity she is able to put into each piece of furniture.
Bowie will buy a rusty piece of furniture and clean it up a bit and seal it to create a more industrial look.
Even Bowie’s showroom is repurposed – it has previously been the home to a pair of horses.
“You can still smell a bit of the horse smell in here,” she said. “But it was left in really nice shape.”
Other than needing to clean the floors and walls, and install a bit of new flooring, not much was needed to transform the building from a home for Sunny and Blackjack to an area where people can browse items for sale.
Despite the pandemic’s major impact on retailers, Bowie hasn’t felt the impact as deeply; in fact, she has found it to work out well. Shoppers need to make an appointment to come by and typically it’s only a couple of people who come together. Additionally, since Bowie shows all of her items for sale on the Elegant Barn Facebook page, many people arrive already knowing what they want to buy, though that doesn’t stop them from adding a few accent pieces to their purchase.
“You can see I have a few small pieces, but it’s mostly about creating the larger furniture,” she said.