A few years ago, Anna Bailey, Duluth, was at a crossroads in her life. No longer working as a church music director and praying for answers on what to do next, the self-described DIYer decided to build some chairs for her patio. Little did she know that it would lead her to an answer.
“I was making all this furniture and designing all of this furniture in the garage, which was doing well, but I had a lot of leftover scrap lumber ... and I didn’t want it to go to waste,” said Bailey. “And so the scrap lumber on the ground became my next project.”
As Bailey built and designed furniture in her garage, a laundry sorter that she made and then shared on Pinterest became popular. Soon she was thinking of ways to keep up with the demand. Her laundry sorters were selling but she wasn’t inspired to keep turning them out.
“She wanted to be passionate about what she’s doing,” said her husband, Nathanael Bailey.
So Anna began to cut the leftover scraps and use them to make wall mosaics — earthy and often colorful pieces of art that showcase the natural grain of the wood.
“I still remember the very, very simple start I had. It was just like a few shapes that I cut down and put on a board, and then it morphed into more cuts, more colors,” she said.
Anna began to turn to the mosaics for her main creative outlet, a change that would pay off as orders came in.
Reclaimed and repurposed
“People love the idea of using reclaimed scrap lumber and repurposing it,” she said. “I also started to do a lot of art fairs and art shows and quickly saw that the reclaimed wood mosaics were kind of my niche, as far as a business opportunity for me.”
With order requests building up, Bailey realized she had a decision to make: Cut down on her projects or take a leap of faith.
“She said, ‘Either I hire somebody part time to help me in the garage, or I back off and don’t market as much and just don’t take as much work on,’ ” Nathanael said. “ ‘Or you join me.’ And for me, it was kind of a no-brainer.”
Nathanael quit his job as a production manager at a collision repair facility to begin work as a production manager with his wife. The same day he joined her in May 2017, they signed a lease on a vacant 1930s gas station where they could work.
“The first day that he joined me was actually the day that we moved out of the garage and into the building that we own now,” Anna said.
Before she could get started on her work, the building needed some renovations, which were helped along by family and friends.
The move sparked an evolution for the small business and a way for the Baileys to support other local artisans.
“We had the studio in the back and then we opened up our shop, Bailey Builds and Friends, which is an artisan marketplace featuring homegrown pop-ups,” said Anna. The shop is a gallery for her work, as well as for about two dozen other artists, many from Minnesota.
Customers of Bailey Builds can request custom pieces, or even provide their own materials, like a woman who brought the wood from her dad’s couch. The majority of murals are made of reclaimed wood from Duluth, although wood from as far away as a Boeing aircraft plant in Washington also has been used.
“Often we get wood that we really don’t know what it looks like until the piece is finished. And that’s such a beautiful part of the journey because we get to cut it down, we get to sand it,” Anna said. “And then the grain that’s been hidden for 100 years behind old barn board is finally revealed again, and there’s a depth and patina to the wood that you don’t get in new lumber.”
Local businesses like the Baileys’ help create a culture for other creative thinkers, said Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, who describes herself as a frequent customer of Bailey Builds. Since Bailey Builds’ investment in their studio, other businesses have invested in the area, Larson said.
“It really takes a special person to want to go into business and to kind of put themselves out there with their concept and their idea,” said Larson. “When one person steps out and does that, it shows other people that it’s possible.”
The apartment above the Baileys’ store serves as an Airbnb rental, called the Duluth Makers Loft, where guests can enjoy the Bailey Builds originals hanging on the walls.
“The last couple that stayed there [bought] the artwork that was right off the wall in the bathroom,” Anna said. “And some of our first guests actually spent more on the artwork from the loft than on the stay, which was really, really amazing.”
Fellow artists and creatives also can stay in the apartment. One woman, looking for inspiration in her creative endeavors, booked the Airbnb after she saw Anna, a brand ambassador for the Duluth Trading Co., in a company catalog as part of a campaign on Duluth women.
“There are a lot of women woodworkers out there, and I was really inspired by their work and their designs,” Anna said. “And I was really encouraged by them — kind of my role models in the woodworking industry — that there is a place for women in that industry.”
What started as a do-it-yourself project in the garage is now an ever-developing business. Needing to expand, the Baileys recently bought another building near the studio, a former funeral home, where they moved their production so their original studio can be used for events, including weddings and bridal showers. It also will continue as an extension of their retail store. The new location, Bailey Builds Collective, houses their wood shop, offices and coming soon a community artist collective.
“Honestly, it’s surreal because at the age of 38, I was pretty discouraged just thinking, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ ” Anna said. “I want to be an encouragement, my story to be heard and seen. Not for my own [benefit]. It’s really not about money or fame. It’s about telling the story so that other people are encouraged to follow their dreams and to step out into new passions and new directions and to give it their all.”
Staff writer Kim Palmer contributed to this report.
Imani Cruzen is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.