America's "Horse With No Name" spins on an old fashioned record player and a scented candle burns at the checkout counter. I jab an old, wonky paintbrush into ivory chalk paint and start sweeping the color onto a small, totally white, wooden side table. It should take on a more Moroccan air when I'm done, I'm told, after the blue and green paints are applied along with a light brown wax. "The wax is where the magic happens," says Claire Amano, the owner of Serendipity on the Square in Denton, where I'm taking a shabby chic painting class with five other painting newbies.
For 40 bucks, customers get to pick a piece of furniture from Amano's collection of more than a dozen (or bring in their own small piece), use as much chalk paint and wax as they want, and take home a newly designed piece to keep. Because the European chalk paint has such a high concentration of chalk (35 percent), no sanding or prep is required, and the entire process takes only two hours.
The goal here isn't perfection. The brushes come used - bristles sticking out at odd angles - and we're told not to be too careful applying the paint. To create these imperfect, European-style works of art, we choose from more than 40 paint colors and seven wax finishes. The options can be overwhelming, but Amano helps to guide each person through color selections. Some of the furniture we're painting is chipped and worn from years of use, but many are even older, almost antiques.
Amano estimates some of the pieces, which she picks up at garage sales, estate sales and flea markets, are worth more than 100 dollars alone. But she's dedicated to keeping class prices down -- a novel idea in the industry.
"The idea came from my frustrations with being able to get into a class when I was learning," she says. "I started painting [on my own], but when I ran into troubles, I wanted some help. So I decided to take a class, and it was 150 dollars, and I was gonna have to wait about six weeks for the next one. The one coming up was booked -- they only did one a month." She found that other classes also ran about 150 dollars and were tough to get into. When she opened Serendipity, Amano committed to a low class price and plenty of class times to choose from -- she hosts painting classes almost every weeknight and weekend mornings. The price often shocks her customers, who can't believe the furniture is included. But for Amano, it's all about delighting her customers and making the class accessible to a wider range of people, including the casual do-it-yourself creative, like me.
As we survey our attempts at artistry, Amano circles the large table covered with several layers of Kraft paper and the pieces of furniture we're transforming, offering style suggestions and application techniques. Although she's a bona fide creative now, it wasn't always that way. Amano, who grew up in Hawai'i, moved to the Dallas area in 1985 to work for her brother (who graduated from SMU) at Beckett Publishing. She stayed there for 22 years as the president of publishing. She met her husband, Jeff, at Beckett and was surprised to find out the two had grown up mere minutes from one another, on the same island in Hawai'i. (Talk about real life serendipity). They married, had six children and, when the publishing company was sold, retired.
Amano started browsing Pinterest in her off time, finding inspiration in the do-it-yourself projects. She perused different sales and shops, picking up old pieces of furniture and giving them a new life with paint, sandpaper and wax. Soon, she was selling her creations at Garden Gate, a home decor and interior design shop on the Denton Square. The owner of Garden Gate suggested Amano rent a booth at Denton's annual Arts, Antiques & Autos Extravaganza, and the rest snowballed from there.
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"I was creating sort of a portfolio of things that I would have if I had some kind of a presence," Amano says. "Even though I had no intention of having a store presence. But I like spreadsheets, and I like PowerPoint and things like that, so I was always creating a business plan without knowing I was gonna have a store." But she soon realized exactly what she was doing and decided, with her youngest child off at college, it was the perfect time to open a shop. Wanting the brick and mortar store to be open in time for Arts, Antiques & Autos, Amano managed to find a space on the Square, set up shop and open in just 13 days (another bit of serendipity).
Now, two years later, the shop has doubled to twice its original size, which means she doesn't have to close the shop when a class is in session. As we paint, customers wander in and out, curious what we're doing. Some stop and take pictures with their phones, making plans to try the class out for themselves.
I'm the last to finish, but my little table has taken on a new life, and I want to paint everything in my house with chalk paint. "Once you start painting with this paint, you have a different eye for products, new and old," Amano says. "You can take something ordinary and make something extraordinary with the paint." The best part is how easy it is, because here, perfection is frowned upon.
"When you paint with this, it's very imperfect," Amano says. "And I think that it's about embracing the imperfections...it's hard for people to break past that. I think it's transferable beyond the paint, as well...about embracing our own imperfections. We're all imperfect."