In the Trenches: Featuring Jen of Sanctuary Arts at Home

Jen’s tablescape

Are you all as excited about the new interview today as I am?!?! In case you haven’t visited her blog previously, Jen is a wife, at-home mom, and handpainted furniture artist in Illinois. Her work is so gorgeous that it tempts me to change my design style so that I can purchase a few pieces for my home.

Jen’s personality is as warm and beautiful as her art pieces. Which is why she’s adding a new role to her list of accomplishments: Television personality! Read on to find out more about this talented and multifaceted artist:

May I gush for a moment? You are such an amazingly talented designer/artist! The first night I visited your blog and website, I literally spent a good hour looking at your handpainted furniture. Every piece was so beautiful and lust worthy. Share with us how you got started? Do you have an art background or was this a talent that you stumbled upon?

Back when I was 17, I was originally a theatre/art major (and, actually, what I received my Associate’s Degree for) but I was at a loss as to what to do after jr. college because I thought “well, nobody makes any money in art, that’s not a very stable career.” I only had 10 credit hours left to graduate and I was dating a firefighter and he suggested the EMT class to kill the credit hours.

I took it and I loved it! It was exciting, and stable money-wise, so I started testing for fire departments, got into paramedic school, and got hired as the first and only woman at a full-time career department as a firefighter/paramedic. I loved it, but after I got married (my hubby is a cop) we didn’t want two of us in high risk jobs so I “retired” so to speak. And started doing craft shows for money (this was after a stint as a personal trainer… let me just say, I was a bad personal trainer….) and then did a few projects like murals and furniture for friends and my business grew word of mouth.

Each of your pieces share a certain elegance that I really appreciate, but at the same time, each piece is unique. Where do you draw your inspiration?

A lot from antique pieces. I love botanical art as a passion, so that theme shows up a lot,Revamped table and I love the art of 17th and 18 century Italy and France. Sometimes I’ll just see something and think, this just needs to have pomegranates on it. This part is going to sound very eccentric-but sometimes the furniture kind of tells me when I look at it what it wants to have done.

How would you describe your personal design aesthetic? Does your artwork reflect your personal style? if not, what would you say is the difference?

My design aesthetic…I have 2 preschooler’s and a toddler. I like to tell people it’s early Fisher-Price with a twist of post-modern Little Tyke’s (wink). I guess my main adult aesthetic is eclectic with a bit of French country; a smidge of Traditional with a hint of Europe and a big dash of trash… actually I mean thrift. Always on a budget, a lot of what I put in my home had been thrifted, resaled or yard-saled and has a coat or two of paint slapped on.

From the pictures I’ve seen, your home looks picture perfect! You’ve set up all these wonderful little vignettes and tablescapes… worthy of Victoria magazine I’d say. Do you have any suggestions for readers who may be trying to put together those little finishing touches that make your home look so put-together?

I just put together what I love, and when I get bored with something I move it from one floor to another. I do try to do little grouping of related objects. Right now in my living room on the console, I have all “natural” themed items…

repurposed baby blanketsMy biggest piece of decorating advice in regards to accessorizing is one I am passing on from my girlfriend, Amy, an interior redesigner. “Shop your own home first.” Most people have enough stuff. And they don’t need to buy more stuff. Half of it might be in the attic or buried in a box; but see what you can do with what you have; it might just need a coat of paint, or just might need to be used in a new way.

We both have young children, yet somehow your home always looks so pretty and adult… every picture i take would have matchbox cars or stuffed animals in it! How do you keep things looking so gorgeous with three young girls at home?

I’m laughing, because everything looks good for pictures. With 3 kids age 5 and under, most days my husband walks though the house and whistles the theme from “Sanford and Son.” It’s such a mess! I shove a lot of things into baskets or drawers and I always wait to take pictures until they are in bed. I have recently banished most of the toys except for a few of the baby’s to the downstairs and those go into a basket. If it doesn’t fit into the basket it stay’s downstairs (where I can close the curtain in the doorway so I don’t have to look how they’ve trashed it.). I have to admit, I’m a bad mom, I don’t make them pick up the basement every day…

I know that you are also a stay at home mom who decorates on a budget. Will you share with our readers how you determine a budget for your decorating projects?

Mostly the change in the bottom of my purse!

Jen’s decorating budgetSeriously… I had an orange juice container I filled halfway with in 3 months from change in my purse (I never spend my change, that’s an Oprah tip…) and around the house… it had $70! Also, when you shop thrift, that can go a long, long way….I spend a lot of the birthday and Christmas money I’m given on my house. Also, if I have a garage sale, I get to use that money to decorate with. While I don’t have a set budget, I try to save up over time when I want something new like curtains. And I garbage pick a lot. It’s free.

As an expert in revitalizing thrifted furniture that other people have given up on, can you share thrifting tips with us? How do you determine if a piece is worth saving? How rickety is too rickety… or is there such a thing?

I’m a huge fan of Gorilla Glue and Aleen’s tacky glue. Rickety, if it’s meant to hold any weight, is bad. A little shake to shimmy is okay, sometimes a fresh glue will fix it up. But Good wood is really important. Pass on laminate or pressboard. There’s no quality. A smoky (cigarette) smell is okay because most of the time a good wash, cleaning and fresh paint will take care of it. Always pass on anything that has water marks up the back and revamped black tablesides, smells/looks mildewy or moldy or has a funk to it you just can’t place. I am sure stuff ends up in thrift stores that has been in basement floods and who knows if that involved sewage or not so it’s better to be safe than sorry (This goes for garbage picking too.).

Also, when buying thrift, never look at the color of an item. Especially furniture. Almost everything decent can be repainted or reupholstered. Some of the best furniture starts out as the ugliest color….

We both know that “blogland” is a huge place and the finding the best blogs can be hard work! We found each other through Manuela… who are some bloggers that you consider MUST see for decorating inspiration?

Besides Manuela, I love, love love, Rhoda from Southern Hospitality, Angela at the Cottage Magpie, Notes from a Cottage Industry, Sadie Olive, the Paris apartment, and Debbie Egizio’s Beat of My Art. Those are always on my “daily read” list if I’m in hurry. But I do have to say I have so many other favorites, I actually read every blog on my blog roll at some point almost everyday, even if it’s just a click in to see if there is anything new.


All of the photos accompanying this interview are of Jen’s home and work. Please drop by her blog, Sanctuary Arts at Home, to comment and show her our appreciation for chatting with us! You can also see more of her work and learn how to make your own painted furniture masterpieces. (But if you’re like me and hopelessly paint disabled, take a peek at her business site to see what lovelies she has available for you to purchase!) And if you’re in the Illinios area, keep your eye out for “Inside Studio 180” where you’ll get to experience Jen’s sparkling personality as she keeps you in the know about the local art scene.


9 thoughts on “In the Trenches: Featuring Jen of Sanctuary Arts at Home

  1. Shawn says:

    Just found your blog through Jen’s. Absolutely love her painted furniture. Great interview!! I’ve followed her blog and still learned some things I didn’t know before. 🙂

  2. the feathered nest says:

    What a wonderful interview! I learned some new things about her. Isn’t she just amazing! Jen is such a talented artist and always so giving with her knowledge!
    I’m so excited for her now that she’s going to be on TV!


  3. Melissa (mx3myers, Cafemom) says:

    I adore Jen 🙂 It’s nice to see her receiving recognition for her talent and great personality. Her page makes me totally jealous, but after viewing it I go on a scavage hunt around the house to see what I can do! Thanks for all you post Jen, we love it!!

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