This article was originally published in the Spring/Summer 2015 issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine.
While most of us are prone to toss out old things and run to the new, others are gifted with the vision to make something out of what the rest of us leave behind. Ellen Bennett, the creator of “The Restored Attic,” creates home decor and furniture pieces by repurposing found and thrifted materials.
From childhood trips to yard sales with her father, she learned that she didn’t have to pay full price for anything. As she grew up, it evolved into trying to search for furniture and other pieces to decorate her home. Gathering stacks of home decorating magazines, she is constantly inspired by new ideas. Eventually, she began to put her own style to work.
“My love is to take something that you get for five or ten dollars and make it look like something you could've bought anywhere,” she says.
Ellen surveys the neighborhood as she drives, stopping to claim the occasional table or chair left out as trash. “I will scan and look for a mound of trash and if I see interesting things poking out I always have to go back,” she says.
Sometimes pieces of wood long buried in a friend’s attic find their way to her paint-stained carport, awaiting a few cuts from a saw and some brushstrokes before they are purchased.
“I love to breathe new life into a piece,” she says of the creative process of finding something old and discarded and transforming it into a functional and beautiful item.
Some of her most popular pieces are barnboards, nailed together and finished by painting words on them. Her philosophy for choosing the quotes and verses she paints onto the wooden panels is, “If it speaks to me it should speak to somebody else.”
Every corner of the Bennett home holds a piece touched with Ellen’s handiwork, making her home warm, eclectic, and inviting. Her dining room table was reclaimed from the junkyard to become a place for holding family dinners, each member of the family of six crowded at a table of assorted chairs and a bench made from a wooden board.
Every piece has a story, and for Ellen part of the joy is when creative friends join in with ideas and contribute.
“Having younger girls help me, get it, bounce off ideas, and contribute—that has been a joy,” she says.
She finds the work of restoration has lessons to teach her, reminding her of her own struggles and shortcomings and the grace that she finds despite them.
“There have been many times as I am stripping something or sanding something when I feel like the Lord guides me through it. It sounds kind of odd or strange or something. I just feel like He has shown me that this is working out with my hands and putting into fruition what He does within me, making a new creation. I just feel like it’s a parallel in a sense. If there’s something that is maybe particularly scratched up, and I have to really take a sander to it and really work to get a stain off, or if there’s a paint that persists, that’s how He molds me. If there’s a particular area of stubbornness or pride or jealousy that I won’t let go of, sometimes He has to rub a little bit harder like I might with a piece,” Ellen says.
For this reason, each piece is an exercise in vulnerability. The artist evaluates and reevaluates what a piece should look like, and the physical labor and attention to the piece makes it feel personal.
“I get really connected to pieces. It means a lot to me. It’s sort of like I’m taking my heart and putting it out there,” Ellen says.
Each new commission and conversation encourages her to keep moving forward. With warm weather inspiring spring cleaning, Ellen will continue to search for discarded things to fill our Jackson homes with reminders of the beauty of reclaiming and restoring forgotten things.
Courtney Searcy likes to design things, take pictures, and write words that tell good stories about their community. Jackson became home after she graduated from Union University in 2014, where she studied Graphic Design and Journalism. One-half of Souvenir Design Company, she currently works as a freelance graphic designer. She thinks the best things in life are porch swings, brunch, art, music, and friends to share it all with.