Follow Your Dreams

Hands down my most favorite movie this past year was La La Land. I saw it four times in the theater and I’ve watched it countless times on HBO. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about two people who seek to follow their dreams. One wants to be an actress and the other wants to own his own business, a jazz club. The movie shows the struggles, failures, and pain that happen along their journey. Every time I watch it, I am on the verge of tears for most of the movie. I can identify with their desire to achieve something that seems elusive. 

It’s rare that we get to hear the backstory of a business. It’s been five years almost to the day when I started Chair Whimsy. Within two weeks, I had my first sale to a client in New York City. I was so excited! 

My first chair sale from 2012

At that time, Chair Whimsy was merely a side hustle. I worked full time as an educational consultant and author. During those first years, I remember yearning for the opportunity to focus solely on this business but not being able to because, like most families today, we needed two incomes. I wished for an easy route to success, but there was none. So, I hustled to get both jobs done—something that has continued until this past September.

One of my early faux furs from 2013

In March of 2014, a friend snagged Spirit Magazine (Southwest Airline’s official magazine) while on a flight and gave it to me. The issue focused on the “New American Dream” about creatives who were forging new career paths for themselves.   One creative talked about his day job as a webmaster and his night job of furniture making–a business he wanted to do full time. He said that the five-year schedule of day/night routine to get the furniture business off the ground was “not for the faint of heart.”  Those words rang loudly in my ears.

Another story outlined the risks a woman took to start her own cheesecake business after being laid off by a corporate bank. She was nudged to take action out of a necessity to survive. Often our misery has to be greater than the fear of the unknown to move us to take these risks. 

Most of the creatives in these articles were successful in their day jobs, just like me. There wasn’t any logical reason to be discontent doing their regular work, except for the fact that at some point it wasn’t meaningful or challenging anymore. We grow as humans—and that’s a good thing. 

My chair giveaway from 2014

I read each article several times, often through tears. I knew where I wanted to be; I just felt that I couldn’t quite get there.  And as crazy as it sounds, I wasn’t sure exactly what my business would grow into. I loved chairs, but I learned along the way that just doing the upholstery would not make me happy. It was more about the design on these chairs that brought fulfillment and satisfaction. But to get good at design requires failure, success, and time to learn both. It’s trial and error. What looks good? What looks expensive and valuable? And what looks right? All of this takes time. 

2015 chair set for exhibiting at Marburger Farm

About a year and a half ago, I allowed myself to dream something that seemed impossible to actually do. I wanted to create a line of dining chairs. But who am I to actually do this? This idea came about because my clients loved antique chairs. But these chairs were often too short and unstable for every day use. I had to plump up the seat quite a bit to make it work for our tables today. And the repairs? Oh boy!  I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to create a set of new ones that were structurally sound and actually tall enough?” Yep, that was my dream. And I didn’t know anyone who could help me do this. So, I began casting a wide net. I took people to lunch or coffee to pick their brains. I researched manufacturers overseas. I asked everyone I knew if they knew a woodworker. Several times I thought I had found the right person to help me, and then it fell through every single time. One person led me to another who led me to another who led me to another… an actual chair designer who lives in Austin. And after five years I’m launching something new in the spring…a line of antique-inspired replica dining chairs. (Believe me, there’s more blogs about this coming soon!)  

A fun mixed boho set from 2016

These five years have felt like an eternity. Seriously. There were a lot of opportunities to give up. I could have. I know I’m not out of the woods yet—there will be more challenges ahead. Some days I feel excited anticipation, and other days I’m nervous about the unknown. That’s the way it goes, right?  Why do I share all this with you? Perhaps there’s someone who, like me, finds themselves on a unknown journey. And perhaps this story can bring some encouragement to them. Pursuing one’s dreams is hard work—I don’t think there’s an easy way, but it’s definitely worth it. The journey does bring some real benefits. You discover things about yourself. You build resilience. And I think you develop more compassion for others as you see them struggle.  

 A favorite chair from 2017             

To all my friends who have put up with me (complaining, crying, struggling), to my kind facebook and instagram fans whose comments have been so encouraging, and to my loyal customers who have supported me financially—thank you from the bottom of my heart. You will never know how much these things have meant to me. So, here’s to five years and many more!  

13 thoughts on “Follow Your Dreams

  1. Your chairs bring beautiful, vibrant life to our kitchen and there hasn’t been one person who has come into the house and not exclaimed how they “love those chairs!” A huge kudos to you, Wendy, for following your dream and passion; we are thankful to share it with you!!

  2. You truly are an inspiration and your chairs are works of art. Congratulations to you on bringing your dreams to fruition.

  3. Congratulations on your hard work and success! I’ve been doing upholstery work as a hobby business for the last 5-6 years, but have wanted to move in the direction of making one-of-a-kind pieces to sell to customers instead of doing custom work. It hasn’t been easy, especially in the market I live in. People think reupholstering a piece of furniture should be less than buying new. I’m sure you’ve run into that before. I recently convinced a shop owner to carry a couple of my pieces. I’m excited for the possibilities! Thanks for sharing your story and I look forward to seeing your new product line!

    1. Hi Linda,
      I feel your pain! Have you thought of listing on Etsy? You do have to ship it, but I could give you tips on that. Best wishes in the new year and I hope you sell a lot!

  4. Wendy, I met you while you were sewing welt cord at Austin Upholstery one Saturday five years ago. You were a kindred spirit. I loved that you were starting an Etsy site and have cheered you from the sidelines since. Wishing you more great things to come in the new year.

  5. So inspiring! I’ve been painting furniture for 3 years now but found myself drawn to chairs and fabric and finding your Facebook page is such a delight! Truly inspiring, I can’t wait to move on this year and focus on upholstery and developing my skills.

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