Brushing On Style

by Amy Chovan

You’ve got a bedroom set from the 1980s, and it’s obvious. You’ve been thinking about getting rid of it for the last decade, but haven’t done so because: one, you’re emotionally attached to it; two, it’s well-made; or three, your budget just doesn’t allow for buying a whole new set right now. So what do you do?

You could call local artist Carrie Pearce of Wallcandy & Co., whose painting has been popping up on the dressers, dining sets and kitchen cabinets of central Illinois with increasing regularity. When Pearce sees a dated chest of drawers from the ‘80s or a set of table and chairs from the ‘60s, she doesn’t see worn-out furniture to be tossed aside or toted to the nearest secondhand store—she sees potential. Any piece of furniture can go from dated to dazzling in a matter of days, or even hours.

An oil painter at heart, most of Pearce’s business comes from painting canvases, but the continued circulation of praise for the furniture pieces she’s painted has widened her scope of work. It all started when Pearce updated some pieces of furniture for her mother and other close relatives when she was younger. It didn’t become a part of her business, though, until 2003, when upon moving, one of Pearce’s clients found that her dining set was a bit outdated and didn’t match the décor of her new house. Because the table and chairs were the right size and still in very good condition, replacing them with new furniture was not the ideal solution. Pearce suggested that a new paint color and a few embellishments here and there would make a drastic difference, and the dining set could indeed fit in with the new décor. In the end, her work made the table and chairs look as if they were made for that room!

Since then, word of Pearce’s work has spread throughout town, and she has been asked to paint everything from end tables to rocking chairs to kitchen cabinets. “Usually painting is for disguising—to solve a problem of some sort,” explained Pearce. “Often, it’s a solution to tie things together.” This was the case for one of her clients, who installed cabinets around a new refrigerator she had purchased. The fridge, which was rather large, was placed near two furniture pieces Pearce’s client loved. She decided to have cabinets installed around the fridge to ground it, and asked Pearce to paint them to match the existing furniture. She was able to mimic the floral pattern found on the neighboring pieces, tying the kitchen together.

Life Lessons
Originally from Dunlap, Pearce moved to Savannah, Georgia to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design, and came back to the Peoria area in 1999. She worked for Norwalk Furniture for a time, where she learned a lot about furniture and interior design—knowledge she would need in the future, although she didn’t realize it then. In hindsight, Pearce said, “If it weren’t for that job, I probably wouldn’t know what I need to know to do what I do now.”

But working at the furniture store was not fulfilling Pearce’s artistic dreams, nor was she earning much. So, she waited until she had about a month’s worth of work to venture out on her own, noting that she only had to do a certain number of pieces each month to get by as an artist. She had several commissions and murals lined up and figured if she taught weekly art classes, she could make enough money to cover the cost of studio space. This, she knew, was a necessity: At one point, she had two clients’ dining sets in her house, in addition to her own! One thing led to another, Pearce said, and she soon left her job at the furniture store.

Learning the basics and trends of interior design was definitely useful for Pearce, who noted that it’s popular to have a burst of color in a room these days—something that’s easily accomplished with creativity and a little paint. One of her clients wanted a cityscape painted on a chest of drawers from the 1960s. Another wanted a television cabinet to be painted candy apple green. Yet another came to Pearce with a table and chairs for her young daughter and asked if she could make them fit for a young princess’ playroom—bright pink with colorful designs.

While some people know exactly what they want and have specific designs or colors in mind, others are looking for something more creative and don’t have all of the details figured out. It’s when her clients tell her to “do whatever” that Pearce is most at ease with her projects. In these cases, she’s allowed more creative freedom and draws inspiration from the clients themselves and the conversations she has with them, as well as from other décor in their spaces. Even in these circumstances, Pearce said she doesn’t do much planning. While some artists think about their designs for days or weeks, making detailed sketches, Pearce does the opposite—she wings it. “It’s when you quit thinking about it that the idea comes,” she said.

Basking in Variety
Only a small part of her business involves painting furniture, but that doesn’t keep people from raving about it. Pearce said she’ll paint anything she’s asked to paint. “There are infinite possibilities,” she said, as painting lends itself to all sorts of shapes, materials and sizes.

Each project Pearce tackles requires different supplies to get the desired effect. Some involve paint, some stains, some glazes, and some a combination of the three. The glazes Pearce makes herself, which gives her even more control over the colors and appearance of the finished product. This has come in handy when painting premade items like lamps. Pearce said that while remodeling, some of her clients want to install new light fixtures that match the existing ones, but are unable to buy them at the store. So, many buy the closest item to what they already own and ask Pearce to make it look as similar to what they have as possible.

“Every day is really different for me,” Pearce said. One day she’s rolling paint on a wall in the early steps of applying a faux finish, and the next she’s leaning over sawhorses in the studio detailing cabinet doors. The day after that, she might be concentrating on a canvas in front of her, or painting a mural on a wall somewhere around town. That variety is a big part of what Pearce loves about her work.

With such diverse offerings, Carrie Pearce has been able to grow Wallcandy & Co. one brush stroke at a time. So if that bedroom set from the ‘80s is still making you cringe, you might consider giving Pearce a call. Surely she can help transform that outdated piece into something you will enjoy for years to come. a&s