Annie and Greg Witkamp, or the Wits as they like to call themselves, are a very industrious couple. They have been hard at work over the past couple of years renovating their small 1952 house in preparation for a move to the Pacific Northwest. Not only that, but they frequently refurbish salvaged furniture and go on to use it in their own house or sell it online. They are huge fans of the challenge of finding pieces, determining new designs, and updating them to restore them to their former glory.
I had the opportunity to chat a while with Annie and Greg about their individual passions, their blogs, their vision for the future, and more!
Why did you decide to start blogging? What is the intent of your blogs?
Annie: I started the Dabble, a food blog, about 5 years ago after we moved to Minnesota. I had trouble finding a job in my field (psychology with focus on therapy), and having zero monies to return to school to get my Master’s degree, I wanted something to occupy my time. Something that could be for me while also reaching out to others - food and my love of it seemed like a good fit. Back then I was a mediocre (at best) home cook and wanted to improve all while having a journal documenting the journey.
After a few months, I found myself really enjoying writing and taking photos. Not knowing anything I was doing, I made a lot of it up and just kept researching and trying to learn tips from other bloggers I admire. Being in creative control is awesome though; I’m all about being my own boss. There was good feedback and attention from people I never dreamed would find me interesting and worth reading, so I kept doing it.
This led me to follow other passions, and that’s where the furniture refurbishing side of life came in, followed by the home improvement portion. Sharing our work, sharing the thought behind each piece and design, and giving advice through our blog is enriching. I thought it a good complement to our Etsy shop and Craigslist listings. We didn’t just want to be two people putting the vintage and antique furniture we design on the market without including the process and story behind each item. There’s always a story. Each piece is important and special - we put our all into every one we do.
Greg: I have to add that I am not a blogger. Tech assistant is a more accurate description. Sometimes Annie might consult me on a topic and, of course, we’re working side by side on the furniture pieces and home improvement projects, but the photos, prep, editing, and content from both blogs are done by her. I just tend to get credit.
What fuels your passion for woodworking? What makes it enjoyable for you?
Greg: My passion for woodworking stems from a lifelong curiosity of how things are made, having something of quality and using those things on a daily basis. Wood is a material that is nice to touch when finished well, it's relatively easy to work with (depending on the species), relatively cheap (depending on the species), and durable enough to be used to make tools, furniture, flooring, and housing. There is such a wide variety of wood in the world, each with its own set of mechanical, physical, and visual properties. I find that intriguing for a material that grows from the ground.
I also see it as I’m an animal that needs to use its mind and body to solve problems. Resolving issues is something I enjoy - I do it at my engineering day job and through woodworking. Whether you need something to sit on, a shelter, a toy or gift for a loved one, a cooking utensil, storage, and much more, wood provides and sustains that for us.
I also have a background in construction - my dad had a construction company for over 30 years and it was a huge part of my life, very much a family thing. I assisted in nearly every part of building a home. My dad had a workshop with woodworking equipment to go along with the business, and I started dabbling in woodworking in that shop. My degree is in wood product manufacturing technology, so at school I helped with research, equipment, and programs, then I would design more with my hands in my dad’s workshop every chance I could. Annie was by my side the entire time. I would ask for her design and aesthetic opinions.
What sort of DIY projects are your favorites to work on?
Annie: I always have ideas for products and I can never find them. If I imagine something and think it the best way to supplement a project, I’ll try – “try” being the key - to make it a reality. I just keep trying to satisfy that part of me. That and we’re financially stretched so it’s a necessity to DIY some things. Necessity is the mother of invention. For real.
For example, our house is small and lacks storage space, so I came up with the idea to make a large, recessed bookcase in our dining room wall that opens to the new attic entry. With a push, the latch pops the door open and reveals the stairs we built that lead to the attic. It fulfills a need and looks good too.
When I don’t find the right hardware for a piece, I’ve been known to make my own. Eventually we want to use the lathe that belonged to my grandpa to design our own line of hardware. Free or nearly free items like paint swatches and paint stir sticks are good for creating artwork, a little somethin’ somethin’ for a room that is cheap and unique. Making an industrial kitchen island from steel pipes and a butcher block top we got for $2 at a garage sale is in my near future. I plan to use a technique that makes the wood top look rustic using coffee grounds, vinegar, and steel wool. I’ve made decor with things I find in nature, like my ginkgo leaf wreath for Thanksgiving.
Taking vintage picture frames and making chalkboards, pin boards, or jewelry holders was one of my first DIY tasks, along with making banners and bunting. I took decorative sheet metal and made vent covers with wood frames. I hem my own pants (I’m vertically challenged) because I got tired of spending the money. We trim our own hair to save money. We’re weirdos like that.
I noticed you have two Etsy shops, one for Annie’s DIY creations and one for the furniture you refinish. Also listed on the sales of the furniture Etsy are several vintage items. What sparked your interest in reselling these things as well?
Annie: When we were in college, I would come across vintage items such as books, old toys, and decor from flea markets, antique shops, and garage sales. I would go on to sell most of those items on eBay - just things that I enjoy and didn’t keep, which is always a difficult decision to make. I tried to familiarize myself with different selling sites - eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Craigslist, and so on.
Today, our journeys to gather furniture pieces often take us across these items’ paths - garage and estate sales, flea markets, antique shops, and even boxes of free items on the side of the road. Craigslist is a huge part of our lives today, probably equal to garage sales. We find most of the pieces we salvage from these two sources.
We really appreciate the craftsmanship of those items. Their unique qualities get me every time. I believe they help a home feel more collected instead of everything new and shiny. To me, they are things that make you smile when you cross their path.
How much progress have you made on renovating your house? What areas are still left to work on?
We just finished renovating our upstairs bathroom: beautiful marble hexagon tile on the floor, subway tile in the shower, pedestal sink, floating shelves, and our favorite new feature - room for a stackable washer and dryer set so we don’t have to use the set in the basement. That leaves the kitchen, dining room, and parts of the basement left to work on. The yard, landscape, patio, bedrooms, living room, and basement bathroom are all finished.
It’s rewarding to think about what the place used to look like. We bought it in “needs updated everywhere with repairs” condition. Glancing through pictures from two-and-a-half years ago always cheers us up when we think the progress is too slow. It’s come a long way for little money.
Sure, we’ll finish the house, put it on the market and only get to enjoy it finished for a brief period of time, but we know we’ll be doing it all over again in our next place after our move to Seattle.
Do you work on home renovation projects for other people as well, or just furniture refinishing?
Greg’s parents used to have rental houses we helped maintain. There were always projects on friends’ houses before we moved, but we haven’t had the opportunity to renovate for or with other people in the last 6 years. We like to think our future will hold more of that.
What is the current status of your goal to finish renovation and relocate?
Greg’s day job has its own projects and deadlines which have been known to overlap with time we meant to be doing home improvement projects, but it is that job bringing us towards Seattle. That said, now the goal is to have the house finished in June. Thank goodness his company is flexible with our schedule. Once we hit a certain potential profit range with the improvements, we’ll put the house on the market.
Excited doesn’t begin to express how we feel about this move though. We’ve worked very, very hard to make it happen. It’s been a dream of ours to live in the Pacific Northwest since we fell in love with the area after college.
What do you envision for your lives in five years?
In 5 years, we’d love to be in our old, large house we’ve made improvements to while designing our own line of hardware, housewares, and furniture in our workshop. We’ll be collecting more pieces for ourselves than we are now from new sources in Washington. We plan to have a lot less student loan debt.
We want to have a small, knowledgeable, talented team to help us rehab houses and care for the rental unit we would like to have for more income.
Annie will still be blogging and sharing whatever it is we’re working on. Greg would like to be a consultant, instead of working full-time in the area he does currently, so we can dedicate more time to our own ventures. We’d like to have a child by then and have the ability to save for traveling - something we haven’t been able to afford, but adore.
Whatever it is we do, we’ll be together (if allowed by the powers that be). Our passion for life and creating are equal - we have a lot we want to accomplish in our lifetimes.
I would like to thank Annie and Greg for taking the time to answer my questions. You can keep up with their latest projects by visiting their blog at thewitsblog.com