DIY never looked so good
Photographed by Pam Rouleau
Most of us have a friend who effortlessly manages to make her house look like a magazine spread, and she does it in her spare time. We burn with envy when we sit on her do-it-yourself upholstered chairs and stare at her intricately stenciled walls—which she probably did with the kids’ poster paint. We shake our heads in frustration when she tells us those lamps came from the tag sale down the street—the same lamps that we thought were junk. Enough is enough. Time to sit these women down and pry their creative secrets from their talented fingertips. Here are three Fairfield women who embody the DIY spirit and are not afraid to share it.
Betsey Young, mother of six, has to be the most self-deprecating do-it-yourselfer ever to hold a paintbrush. “I don’t know if decorating is a passion,” she says. “At this point, it’s survival!” Young gives new meaning to the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention.” When she wanted a place to display her decorative dishes out of the kids’ reach, she grabbed a hammer and saw and built a high chair rail in the dining room. Privacy for her son’s bathroom window? Cheerful dishtowels disguised as curtain panels hung on a spring rod over the lower half. When she got tired of the old backsplash in her kitchen, Young got out her tile saw—she was nine-months pregnant—and made a new one herself. What gives her the energy? “As sad as it sounds, it’s my solace. It’s for me. I can say to the kids, ‘Don’t pick up the hammer; it’s not yours. This is my toy.’ I used to have much higher standards,” she says with a grin.
The Youngs’ playroom is a study in creative containment. It’s one of the first rooms people see when they walk in the house, so she wanted it at least to look neat. She took doors off one set of shelves that now hold red storage baskets from Ikea. For a long, tall bookshelf, she took out all the shelves but one—for dress-up shoes—installed a rod for the girls’ dress-up clothes, and a door with fake hinges to make it look like it has always been there. Using a cheerful green, Young painted over the ugly, textured ’70s wallpaper rather than removing it. Curtains are squares of fabric attached to small wooden dowels; tiny finials from Home Depot complete the look. Vintage Barnum and Bailey posters and bright colors lend a fun, circus theme. “Just don’t look too closely,” Young says. “The curtains are thumb-tacked.”
Connie Cusick has so much creative energy, she doesn’t have time to use it all. She’s already started and sold a vintage-jewelry line, graduated from life-coaching school in NYC, and taken an intensive interior-design course. She sells items online at Etsy, has started a company called Simply Defined Designs, and—as if that weren’t enough—is in the process of creating an online business school for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Cusick gives us a tour of her office and explains how to simplify clutter to maximize brain space. “I used to have fabric stacked up to the ceiling but it was clutter, not inspiration,” says Cusick. “It was overwhelming me when I went in there. I either got rid of it or started making collections.” She went with a black-and-white theme and chose pieces that were sleek and modern. Her desk is an architect table and drawers from Ikea. “But you can’t go all cold and streamlined,” Cusick says. “I still love vintage, and I love to mix it in. That’s what makes it me.” She has no patience for piles. Paperwork on your desk? Do it. Pens, paperclips, odds and ends? Buy jars and organizational bins. Old files? Shred them. “You don’t need all that stuff around you,” she says.
Jackie Fucigna loves to find old treasures and bring them back to life. “It’s really what I’ve done in my houses and apartments my whole life,” she says. Fucigna takes what she calls “Grandma’s cast-offs” and repurposes them with new upholstery, a can of paint, or maybe new hardware. Eventually she fixed up too much stuff to use in her own house, so she started a pop-up boutique in her garage—essentially a tag sale she holds two to four times a year.
In this picture, Fucigna shows us how she used recycled pieces to decorate the family room after the Fucignas moved to this house three years ago. “I had the blue desk in a sale, but my husband asked if we could keep it for ourselves,” she says. “It was dark and heavy but we loved the beautiful French Provincial lines.” With a coat of light paint, it was perfect for her comfortable, bright room. The couches from the Fucignas’ old house were recovered to fit in with the theme as well. The zebra-print sofa is actually two armless chairs pushed together. The drapes and rods were in the house when they bought it, so Fucigna simply had the hardware painted white. The large china hutch, given to them years ago by her mother-in-law, “was a hideous green,” says Fucigna. “I painted it white and have found a place for it in every one of our houses.” The enormous two-piece hutch in the other corner has gone everywhere with them as well. For this house, Fucigna had the movers saw off two inches from the legs so it would fit in the room.