Cookie-cutter houses and cookie-cutter design: They're just not enough. Although Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn might offer a quick fix for your house when you're in a hurry or trying to stay within a constrained budget, even owning and displaying a single, special piece will stamp your house with your own mark.
If you want to start small, why not have a few pillows made to freshen up a room? Diana Vicenti of diana vicenti, fabrication for the home and self (353-5462 or email@example.com) says, "Most people hand me the fabric and say, ‘Make me something nice.' I love it — it's really fun when that happens and gives me a chance to get more creative.
"Although custom window treatments are another way to change the look of a room, bed linens are a chance to let your personality really shine through. Along with drapery, Vicenti makes duvet covers, shams and bed skirts.
"People get overwhelmed in a fabric store," Vicenti says. "I get a feel for what they want and try to help guide them." Once she has an idea of a client's desires, she goes shopping for fabric samples to show them in order to start the process.
If you're more of a hands-on kind of person and want to learn how make your own curtains and pillows, the Visual Arts Center of Richmond (353-0094 or visarts.org) offers classes in sewing-for-the-home fundamentals and tips on how to select fabric, as well. Plus, if you want to go home with something big and dramatic that you made yourself, they offer a course dedicated to creating upholstered headboards.
There are lots of places to take a chair or sofa to be reupholstered, but if you want to take the leap and learn a little upholstery yourself, your best option is to check out the beginning and advanced classes offered by the Henrico County Adult Education Center (Mt. Vernon Complex, 527-4660; Highland Springs Center, 328-4095; or henrico.k12.va.us/adulteducation). There won't be spring classes this year, but if you're interested, make sure to check back in the fall — they fill up fast.
If you want to learn a little cabinetmaking or maybe just find out how to use some of those fancy power tools gathering dust in your garage, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (340-1400 or vmfa.state.va.us), or if you'd like to take it a step further and learn hot glass sculpture and glassblowing, the Visual Arts Center still has you covered (they offer classes in stained glass as well).
To create something truly spectacular for your home, however, you might want to talk to Wayne Cain of Cain Inc. (434-842-3984 or waynecain.com), who specializes in custom art-glass design and fabrication. His techniques ranges from stained glass to painted glass, as well as flame glass, where strips of glass are manipulated over a flame to make flowers and leaves that are then assembled to create a window. Each piece, large or small, can be a combination of many different techniques. "We have a 1915 beveling machine," says Cain, "so that we can make the kind of beveled glass that's indistinguishable from houses on Monument Avenue."
Nicholai Jerome of Spartan Studios (986-9440) forges custom pieces out of metal, often combining other materials like stone or wood. "I make bookshelves, dining tables, coffee tables, just about anything," Jerome says. Most of his work, he says, is contemporary, but he's done Colonial- and Victorian-style pieces, too. He also uses a lot of reclaimed wood. "Right now, I've been doing a lot of work with railroad pieces, old railroad ties — anything from ashtrays to dining room tables."
You can get your hands on a welder's torch yourself at J. Sargeant Reynolds (371-3000 or reynolds.edu), where you can earn a Careers Studies Certificate in welding. If you're just a dabbler in the metal/high flame experience, check out the found-object welded metal sculpture class at, you guessed it, the Visual Arts Center. "It offers up lots of opportunities, particularly to make garden objects," says Aimee Joyaux, director of education at the Visual Arts Center. "People just love that class."
Melanie Palma (757-227-1688 or melaniepalmadesigns.com) doesn't teach classes, but she does offer hard-to-find artistic finishes for your home. She specializes in Venetian plaster, a laborious process that involves applying seven very thin layers of plaster to walls. Because there's no sanding involved, there's no dust either.
Once finished, the plaster's marble-dust/flake-lime composition gives the surface a smooth, glass-like appearance. "In Venice, they had a humidity problem and a sinking problem," she says. "Marble was too heavy, and this was a way to create the same sort of finish."
Palma also creates murals, floor cloths, marouflage (murals painted on canvas and then applied to the ceiling like wallpaper) and gilding, and mixes all of her own custom colors.
Of course, if you want to learn how to do it all, there's the VCU Craft/Material Studies program (828-1477 or vcu.edu/arts/craft/dept). Fiber, wood, metal, glass — you can learn anything from silk painting to furniture design.
"VCU is an art factory," says Joyaux, noting that most of the Visual Arts Center's instructors come from the university. And that's a benefit to us all, whether you want to learn a new skill or if you just want to enjoy the fruits of a talented person's labor.