Summer Briggs has always had a penchant for turning discarded items into display pieces. She turns lamp bases into end tables and fashions potting benches from discarded pieces of wood.
Old medical dictionaries, leftover buttons, discarded staplers, broken door handles — anything old and headed for the trash finds a new mission in Briggs’ hands.
For four years, her handiwork was showcased at her downtown Tacoma design and vintage store Millesime Designs, but she took a detour and decided to close that store and open something more appealing to today’s craft-it-yourselfers.
Her new store, Urban Squirrel, still carries some of her handiwork — be sure to check out her collection of coasters carrying caricatures from Tacoma’s old Never Never Land and ready-to-take-home furniture — but she’s devoted a good part of her store to those in search of pieces to create their own vintage furniture, decor and eclectic finds.
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“Millesime Designs was about what we were making. They were completed projects. Urban Squirrel is about giving you the supplies you need to create a project. It’s an interest-inspired store. We’re full of those pieces and parts for people to design their own projects,” said Briggs, who operates the store with husband Daniel.
The store is located just one door away from where Millesime Designs operated. Find Urban Squirrel at 747 Broadway. They named their store after their habit of “squirreling” away things for inspiration.
You also can find Briggs at the Tacoma Home and Garden Show, Jan. 26-29 at the Tacoma Dome. As she has in the past, she’ll share a booth with Tacoma’s Urban Gardener, a gardening store, in the section of the home show called Vintage Market. The market will host about a dozen vendors selling vintage items for the home and garden.
Inspiration takes up quite a chunk of Briggs’ 1,300 square feet store (that space is more than double the size of her last one). A section is filled with open-back picture frames, which Briggs considers one of her favorite design prompts. “They can become jewelry organizers. You can add knobs and turn them into anything. Frames are really affordable and we have ones that you can’t find at a usual craft store. We find them at estate sales, junk sales and garage sales.”
“We have a really large selection of chair legs and table legs. You can build your own tables with them,” said Briggs. Don’t have time for that? Briggs has ready-made items ready for purchase. “We made some reclaimed wood shelves out of the old legs.”
Interesting pieces of old wood takes up one corner. “They’re great for making tabletops or signs and you don’t have to go to a salvage yard or get dirty looking for them. We’ve got a nice clean section you can poke around in.”
“People want to customize and they want it to be personalized. It’s fun to walk in and pick out something and take it home, but if you really do want to personalize it and make it yours, which I think is where people are going, we want to give people the supplies and knowledge to do it themselves and that’s where the trend is going in shopping now.”
She stocks an “inspiration corner” with items such as marquee letters and sheet music from the early 1900s. For those needing a bit more concrete direction, she has printed “idea sheets” that tell crafters what they could make with the pieces and parts she stocks in her store.
Her take-and-make bags are as appropriate for kids as they are adult designers. “I’ve got one now that is blue jean triangles and old twine. You can make a personalized pennant with it for your house. It’s really easy, that one can be made quickly,” said Briggs.
When she attends the Home and Garden Show’s Vintage Market, she’ll tote along many of the items described above, but also has garden items she’s been working on.
“We’ve got some gorgeous vintage garden chairs. Some are done and ready, others are ready to be made over. They’re from the 1940s, metal and black.” She made some over with a mid-century fabric (a neutral pattern in greys and dark browns, with slashes of cream and black).
She’s most excited about an industrial find, a green cabinet traditionally used as a tool cabinet. “I can see it as a craft cabinet. It’s ridiculously deep. It’s in a halfway done stage so someone could interpret how they could use the piece.”
Where: 747 Broadway, Tacoma; bit.ly/2jpgC62.
Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays.
Appearing: At the Vintage Market in the same booth as Tacoma’s Urban Gardener at the Tacoma Home and Garden Show, Jan. 26-29 at the Tacoma Dome (see accompanying story for details).