Along the sleepy banks of the Scantic River, a beautifully restored historic mill has been transformed into a hands-on maker space, one that hones both artistic and utilitarian talents. Crossed with deeply rustic exposed beams and light-colored brick, Patty and Gary Hunter not only helped this unique space realize its potential, but all those who walk through the doors. This is Board & Brush (B&B), a creative do-it-yourself studio that’s becoming a hangout for locals and a destination for out-of-towners.
Patty, a Somers native who grew up just minutes down the road from her Quality Avenue business, says she has always had an affinity for design. As a graphic designer for over thirty years, she has a natural inclination for typography, signage and layout - it’s her passion. It’s with this same creative thinking that she organized her daughter-in-law’s bridal shower, and was charged with finding an “out of the box” experience for party-goers to enjoy. Wanting an unforgettable experience, she discovered Board & Brush Monroe, which would provide a new twist on the traditional paint and sip-type activities. Swapping canvas for wood, the party held for the bride-to-be wasn’t only a crowd pleaser; it was a new career opportunity.
The DIY wood sign workshop originated as a “girl’s night out” in founder Julie Selby‘s basement. What started out as one studio in Wisconsin in 2015 has now grown to more than 150 locations across the United States. To realize success, the franchise works with top graphic designers with a DIY passion, like Patty, from all over the country. Opened just this past January, Patty says they’ve received wonderful feedback and have been amazed by their repeat business, some returning up to four times to create new projects. Always trying to improve, Patty and Gary are dedicated to the user experience, learning what customers want and adapting this Midwest company to meet the needs of their New England clientele.
In seemingly endless combinations of sizes, sayings and shapes, rustic wood signs are one of the hottest-growing design trends. Bearing inspirational quotes, motivational sayings, salutations and personalized monograms, rustic wood signs are a unique and classic addition to any home decor. Humorous, inspiring or defining, wood sign-wanters can pay a considerable amount for already made designs, go to the local hardware store - purchase several colors of paint, lots of wood, hardware, stencils, and tools and try this project at home - or head to B&B Somers for a seamless experience and incredibly fun instructor-led workshop.
Alternative to the paint night concept, each participant selects their own project - there’s over one hundred to choose from with new additions each month. Registration is completed in advance online and attendees choose a day, time, project and customization at the time of signup. Upon arrival to B&B, the elements of each project - customized vinyl stencil, precut wood pieces, tools, paint and stain - are laid out for use.
It’s a Sunday afternoon at B&B and class participants begin shuffling into the space. Newcomers open the door with an open mouthed “wow,” and a little trepidation as they take in the inspiring charisma of the design studio. Others, who have attended classes before, instinctually begin to unpack their totes of snacks and adult beverages - they know the routine. Outfitted in black aprons, Patty, Gary and their staff (comprised of local family and friends), guide class-goers to their seats, where self-selected projects are waiting. You can feel the excitement building for what’s to come.
In the center of the table are a collection of meat tenderizers, hammers, coarse-threaded screws and implements for distressing the wood. Using different methods and techniques, creators begin to transform new, bare wood into textured projects with rustic appeal. After sanding, stain and finish is applied - with a myriad of color options to choose from - each brings out the natural beauty of the wood as it dries. Next, customized vinyl stencils are returned to the table for application. With an extensive palette to choose from, creators begin blotting the negative space of the stencil with paint, selecting colors reflective of their style, or that of the recipient. Once the pieces are assembled, using a variety of power tools and procedures, the projects are complete.
“Our clientele is about 95% women, you can see the empowerment they get while working with tools - a lot of them have never done that before,” says Patty. “When they’re done, they are invested. They completed an entire project from start to finish, and a great feeling...and amazing to see.”
Both Gary and Patty say they can sometimes see the apprehension of workshop newcomers and that it’s incredibly fulfilling to see their confidence grow throughout the process. At B&B Somers, each personalized DIY project comes with guidance and instruction, propagating a can-do attitude of even the most doubtful participants. With dozens of examples hanging on the wall - each bearing the names of the staff’s friends and family - the studio is fun and encouraging, with genuine and experienced direction. Even though each person works on their own personalized project, the atmosphere is incredibly social, and each table laughs and chats while completing their “work.” The distinctive DIY workshop is an awesome way to celebrate birthdays, have a fun evening out with a group of friends, or a unique relationship-building outing for employees. The studio can also be reserved for private workshops, bachelorette parties, corporate events and more.
“To see the process is truly amazing,” says Patty. “I’ve done this in my own home, but to help others work on their own projects is truly amazing. Seeing the faces of people as they pull back the stencil to reveal their work is the best part about this. People are so proud and happy with what they’ve created.”
The finished products create wonderful seasonal decorations, permanent monograms, personalized gifts, housewarmings, and memorial pieces to comfort grieving. From names, dates, color preferences, each inspires creativity within people of all ages (sixteen and older, that is).
While Patty and Gary take immense pride in helping customers realize their potential, they are incredibly humbled to be a part of such a dynamic local business community. With deep roots - Somers-raised Patty comes from a family of 10 - the couple are true stewards of their town and enjoy collaborating and encouraging the growth of neighboring businesses. And much like family and friends who guide workshops at the studio, they are both authentic and encouraging who give others the ability to excel in a new skill. Board & Brush Somers is truly a place to become inspired - go ahead - you’ll be surprised at what you can create.
board & brush . 27 Quality Ave . Somers, ct
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