Since 2012, custom furniture designer Tracy Lee has been remaking and reimaging furniture, using her passion for nature and keen eye to restore pieces of furniture with her one-of-a-kind nature-inspired designs. She doesn’t just paint furniture; she gives pieces new life, using her artistry to turn a discarded dresser into a custom piece of art for one of her fans around the country.
She says it’s her two sweet little dogs, Puppi and Sissy (as well has her bevy of chickens) that keep her inspired. But she’s also clearly inspired by our mountains, where she’s lived her whole life, moved by the thought of that little seedling that survived and thrived to rise to the sky with a trunk straight and true. Of those rainy summers and long droughts. And seeing the beauty within a piece of furniture, created and carved of that very wood, but that has been discarded or neglected, is what inspires her the most.
“I’m just a Southern girl who LOVES to turn the broken into beautiful,” says Tracy Lee. “The lost into found. The forgotten into sentimental.”
When most people are hunting at flea markets or antique stores for furniture, they look for the pieces that have been loved but well-maintained. The showcase china cabinet. The gleaming, elegant sideboard. But not Tracy. You’ll find her in the back room, dusting off the pieces that have been cast aside, not afraid to get a little dirt in her blond hair. Damage like chipped veneer or broken drawers, the signs of wear and use that turn most people away, draw Tracy in even closer, a glint starting to form in her sparkling green eyes. Yes, a piece with good bones can be restored and refinished, but more importantly to Tracy, a well-loved piece always has a story to tell.
To tell that story, Tracy first makes the necessary repairs, cleaning, sanding and stripping the surface herself. Once it has been stripped bare, the furniture begins to speak to Tracy, and it begins its transformation. At this point, the furniture is less, well, furniture, and more canvas. Tracy fills the room with music that reflects the piece and her mood. She creates while listening to a variety of artists from Lindsey Sterling to The Broods to Little Big Town. She begins drawing freehand, allowing the grain to guide her and the music to pace her movements. Then she uses stains and paint to build up her design, continuing to follow the grain of the wood to create a beautiful and eye-catching piece out of what was recently so overlooked. Whether it’s an oversized magnolia in muted tones or a vibrant owl peeking around a corner, the constant is Tracy’s inimitable Southern style.
It’s a style that Tracy now realizes she’s been creating and refining since she was a little girl, back when she was inspired by the ads you’d find in the back of a magazine: “Draw me!” the ads urged, accompanied by a drawing of a turtle or bear or donkey. Although she knew she’d always been an artist, drawing onto scraps of paper and later wood burning designs, she had forgotten about how she was inspired to recreate those animals. Her memory was recently jolted when she found a young artist’s forgotten drawings of the same animals tucked deep in the drawer of a dresser she was cleaning to refinish.
After walking into Doc Brown’s BBQ (1320 Smokey Park Highway, Candler), she felt that same “Draw me!” urge and quickly created a pig portrait for the restaurant, using a kitchen cabinet door as the canvas. She’s since created a virtual barnyard of animals—horses, cows, goats, donkeys, roosters—some of which you may have seen at The Tin Roof Antique Market (1789 Brevard Road, Arden), and all of which she’s named. Naming her pieces when she’s finished is Tracy’s way of marking their rebirth. Just one more aspect of the personality and personal touch she gives each one before they go on to a new home to be loved and appreciated once again.
These days, you’ll mainly find Tracy at her new space on 90 Hill Street in Candler, where she doesn’t just sell existing pieces, she also accepts commissioned work. It is with confidence that she approaches each day. “I believe in growth and changes so I think about these things in life as I work.”
Online exposure on Facebook and Instagram has led the self-proclaimed “Southern Junkin’ Princess” to create custom pieces for fans around the United States. Tracy attributes the growing online part of her business to one thing: she follows her heart and people can tell.
“It’s just little ol’ me!” says Tracy with a laugh. “Just be authentic. Be true to yourself.”
And an endless supply of talent doesn’t hurt, either.
Erin Campbell writes snapshots celebrating the talents of residents from these mountains, from her home in Candler. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org