Name: Leslie Bonnell
Location: Austin, TX
Size: 1,100 square feet
They say it takes a village, but in this case it takes one sassy leader and a squad of willing friends to mend a house that was a little frayed. The minute you walk into the Stitch Lab, the sense of community and joy of crafting is more than apparent. The space is bright, cheery and utterly inviting.
Though this house is not used as a home in the literal sense, it is a home to the Austin crafting community. The Stitch Lab house was just another South Austin boutique only a couple of months ago when Leslie Bonnell took over the lease and made it her own. Now it is a crafty haven that is a also a direct reflection of its owner. If Leslie were to morph into a house, this would be it and in a way, she has poured herself into this new space. She, along with a crew of dedicated friends, transformed this 1920's bungalow from shabby to fabulous in only one month. They refurbished the wood floors, restored the built-in cabinets and wood trim, painted almost every other surface, and took care of countless other not-so-decorative (but necessary) tasks.
A meticulous organizer, Leslie designed custom built work tables to meet her specific sewing needs and structured the entire space for maximum efficiency. For the remaining furniture, Leslie thrifted her way through local second hand stores and Craig’s list to find items to makeover and repurpose for the studio. She decoupaged patterns onto a child size armoire to use it for fabric storage. A wonderful cabinet made from architectural salvage by a local carpenter was discovered on Craig’s list. The Stitch Lab has also become the home for Leslie's personal collection of vintage metal tins and sewing knick-knacks which are displayed on very unique shelving units from Uncommon Objects. The Depression era shelves were made from mahogany thread spools to resemble the popular Jenny Lind furniture of the time and could not be more perfect for a sewing studio.
Leslie has lovingly stocked her new studio with plenty of eye candy and it's yummy. One of our favorite treats in the Stitch Lab is the hand embroidered and appliquéd "No Regrets" image, which is almost the unofficial anthem of the studio (those who have had to rip out seams during a sewing project will understand). The "estrogen fueled" restroom is painted an unapologetic pink to match the shower curtain made from 1950’s Schiaparelli fabric that Leslie had been saving for 15 years. The curtains in the orange room are also made from vintage fabric: a handmade pieced quilt that Leslie discovered at the City Wide Garage Sale. The same bright room is host to the "kitschy stitchy wall" which is a collection of needle point and embroidery samplers that span the decades.
My style: Vintage and hand-made in a colorful, "virgo-tastic" nutshell.
Inspiration: The boundless creativity, quirkiness and enthusiasm of our students and Austin's indie-crafter scene and the FABRICS fueled the passion to get this place open and looking fab. I'm surrounded by incredibly creative and talented people--it was key in the success of the design here. I was able to run color choices and design concepts by a whole gaggle of great minds which gave me confidence in the direction we were headed. My brother-in-law David Marks is a vintage dealer and excellent designer. He now lives in San Francisco with his husband, but he was in my head the whole time I was decorating. WWDD? (what would David do). David in my brain helped me edit, where my tendency is to fill, layer and jam pack it all in as is evidenced by the "Turkish Love Den" and "Liberace Lounge" at my private home. Rachel Hobson was so excited about the new space and frequently sent me visual tidbits from the web which gave inspiration to some of our display and decorating ideas. Seeing plump jars filled with wooden spools and zippers at Uncommon Objects for sale as art objects inspired me to pull all of my vintage sewing notions collections out of drawers and boxes and display them this way. I never had the free space to do this before!
Favorite Element: I have fallen so deeply in love with this house as we worked every room to get her all spiffed up. All the original built-in cabinets with their original glass pulls and dark, rich woodwork made me swoon when I first toured the house. They were an excellent springboard in choosing cheerful fresh colors and the style and finish of the custom furniture. I love how all the dark wood makes the bright colors of our fabrics pop!
Biggest Challenge: I had a month to get this house whipped into shape. She was in rough shape: floors were worn to bare wood, walls and trim were pock marked and dingy from previous retail display fixtures, there were electrical and plumbing issues, and cranky door locks. Being the daughter of avid antique collectors and furniture refinishers I couldn't stand that the original kitchen cabinetry was painted over, so I had the brilliant idea to strip them back to the gorgeous wood. It was extremely tedious using the less toxic orange stripper and getting into all the nooks and crannies of the crossbar trim over the glass window fronts, etc. I had to call in some help to get them finished. It's immensely pleasing to see that gorgeous wood back! The exterior of the house was so dirty--cracked peeling paint and covered with years of dirt from the road out front. It was such a pleasure to see the transformation and restore the exterior and interior to their original glory.
What Friends Say: It has been wonderful getting everyone's reaction to the space. There have been squeals, coos, oohs, wows and even speechless tears! I'm mainly getting that it feels so warm and inviting; everyone wants to move in! It's exactly what I was hoping, that craftsters and stitchers would walk in and immediately feel at home, inspired to create and happy to have a literal home in Austin to realize their creative goals.
Biggest Embarrassment: Right now it's our office. It was the room we ran out of time to properly decorate, but it's coming along slowly. I'm going to take this up with my therapist; why our personal private space got short shrift!
Proudest DIY: The kitchen cabinets were really satisfying. I'm also loving the decoupage cabinet for our pattern storage and our roman shades in the main room. My landlord, Leslie Moore suggested we pull out a wall that divided the two front rooms and that made all the difference in being able to make the house work for our needs. He and contractor, David Adame did a beautiful job of pulling out that wall. Because Leslie owns many of the homes on this street, he was able to fill in the missing flooring with identical antique planks from another house.
Biggest Indulgence: Scouring the thrift stores, Craig's list and antique shops was so time consuming, but it paid off with some really key pieces that kept me under budget. My biggest budgetary indulgence was using no VOC paint inside the house. It was something I felt really strongly about, especially having friends help with the painting. The vintage spool furniture was not in my original vision (or budget!), but was a no brainer when I found them at Uncommon Objects. I literally wept when I spied them.
Best advice: I'm a big list-maker to stay organized, prioritize, and I also like to sketch everything out. I plotted out the whole house layout on graph paper to scale and it was so helpful in making decisions about furniture scale and shapes.
Dream source: Aldo Valdés Bohm, custom furniture maker and artist. Aldo really understood my needs for functionality and style in this space and delivered absolutely gorgeous pieces that were perfect on every note.
Furniture: All the worktables were custom made by Bohm and many of the smaller pieces were found on Craigs List. The amazing thread spool shelving units are from Uncommon Objects. The red chairs purchased from an on-line discount retailer.
Accessories: Most of the accessories are part of Leslie's personal vintage collection or hand made by Leslie, like the decoupage "pattern pieces" artwork.
Window Treatments: The roman shades were made by Leslie from Alexander Henry fabrics. Sign up for classes at the Stitch Lab in Austin and learn to make your own!
Photos by Misty Adair
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