This month, I am thrilled to introduce you to Nina Lacharite, a woodworker local to me, here in SW Ontario, Canada.
Nina, a wife and mother of three (9-14 years of age), began her woodworking career just last year - in June of 2015, to be exact. It all began when she and her sister were comparing DIY inspirations and they had the same pallet project on their lists. They decided that they could indeed make the project and the journey into pallet woodworking began.
That first project, from just months ago, resulted in request after request from family and friends for one creation after another. Being between jobs at the time, she started filling the requests and, today, it has not only become her full-time job and the beginning of her business "REAL Furniture", but she is so busy that she has no time to build the items on her own wish list!
Below are two creations that are hers - the much requested Muskoka or Adirondack chairs and her "first" creation, the outdoor table, which she begrudgingly showed me but that I love! (Notice the shelf underneath? Love it!)
"REAL Furniture" stands for Reclaimed, Eco-friendly, Affordable, Living. This speaks to not only the furniture that Nina creates but including the pieces as part of a lifestyle, perhaps a new lifestyle.
As I chatted with Nina, I could tell that she was very comfortable with her own lifestyle, one that not only allowed her to create but, also, included her family.
During my visit, her father was there, helping with the staining process. He, along with her grandfather, had set the beginning of her journey, as she remembers them doing hobby woodworking during her childhood. Today, her mother has helped her understand stains and the staining process and her sister, on occasion, still helps out with building.
When I asked Nina what her favourite part of woodworking was, her eyes lit up and she responded with: "the design".
Customers provide her with an idea and information about the space and the envisioning process begins - taking into consideration the customer's style and the physical space available. For example, one customer wasn't sure if she wanted doors on a bar that was being created. Nina, knowing that it was going into a space that had a country feel to it, knew that it needed to be open, no doors.
Later in our conversation, Nina's eyes also lit up when she talked about sanding. She loves the sanding process! Perhaps, she suggested, this is primarily because she is working with pallets, rough wood, and she loves to watch and feel the transformation.
One of her favourite tools, needless to say, is her old sander, one with teeth to grip the sandpaper as opposed to the modern clamp style design. (No slippage of the sandpaper - and, again, working with rough wood, this is important!)
As with any craft and/or business there are challenges and Nina shared hers with me.
1. Accessing pallets: finding sources and gathering her finds has been a challenge, but, with her new trailer hitch, she is more independent and not relying on others to transport pallet finds! Now, it is the sourcing that can be a challenge.
2. Getting the same wood. Pallets are made from all sorts of wood types and this impacts everything that she does. One of the biggest issues with this is that the woods all stain differently. If she has to mix and match pallets/woods, then the staining process will result in different colouring of the finished product, or a lot of work to get them to look right together.
I asked if, perhaps, taking apart the pallets was one of the challenges and Nina said that it isn't. Over the past year she has come to recognize which pallet types to avoid and which can be taken apart rather easily.
3. Getting information from customers: Because creation requests don't come with specific plans, Nina needs to gather a lot of information in order to move forward, not only at the start of the build but throughout the process. Waiting for customers to get back to her with details stretches out the process and, thus, her ability to move on to the next projects on her list.
When I asked if she had any advice for entrepreneurs, her dad quickly piped in with the tongue-in-cheek response: "Don't!" He smiled, they laughed, and, after a moment of reflection, Nina suggested that they really do their research regarding pricing.
As you can imagine finding the right prices, especially at the start of a business, is a challenge. Adding to that learning curve is what arises when working with family and friends - they share their stories as well as how much they paid for items. What they don't understand is the time put into different components of a project that impacts the pricing. It's not all about the size!
How much to charge? It is about finding that balance between making the business profitable and living true to the affordable lifestyle component of her business name.
And what is Nina's dream project? A dining room table for her own home.
I'm not sure if she has the design already formulated in her mind but the real challenge is finding the time to fit it into her busy schedule. For now, it remains a dream.
The following are some of the creations that have been made for her customers as well as some that are for sale at a store in Fergus, Ontario.
I want to thank Nina for taking the time from her busy schedule to share her story with me (and with you). She is an inspiration!
Be sure to check out her Facebook page to see more of her creations.