Business partners comb garage sales for decor

Connie Carnes, left, and Laura Ellis have recently expanded their operation, from a small, rented corner in a downtown craft store to a Main Street storefront of their own. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Their artistry is revealed in details: a rocking chair with a carefully woven fabric bottom; a chandelier constructed with teacups and saucers; a wrought iron wall sconce shaped to spell the word “imagine.”

Connie Carnes and Laura Ellis create home decor, clothing and accessories. The pair recently expanded their operation, from a small, rented corner in a downtown craft store to a Main Street storefront of their own.
The venture began as a hobby about six years ago.

They comb garage sales, flea markets, and antique stores in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico in search for pieces they could transform. Then, they restore the dingy bed frames and chipping chairs with fresh coats of paint, usually white or a pastel in color. They sew covers onto couches and chairs, using floral, romantic fabrics.
But the concept didn’t originate with the pair.

An English mother, Rachel Ashwell, founded the aesthetic in 1989 with her brand, Shabby Chic. She wanted a line of home furnishings that were practical, and a home that “could handle children and a busy lifestyle,” according to her Web site, Her first creations were furniture slipcovers, but her line grew quickly to incorporate lampshades, chair pads, and a host of home accessories, according to her Web site.

Ellis and Carnes, mothers and good friends, adopted the aesthetic. “Shabby Chic is something old made new and updated from shabby to chic,” Ellis said.

The pair recently met their biggest project to date — restoring a shabby property on Main Street into an inviting place where they could sell their ever-growing collection of furniture and accessories.

“It took us weeks and weeks to clean it up. Everything was rusted and yellowed,” said Ellis from inside the renovated shop, now arranged like a home, with a living room and a bedroom and decorated nooks and crannies. The inventory will rotate monthly as the duo adds to their collection, they said.

“To me, (the arrangement) just made sense,” Carnes said. “You want people to see what our things might look like in their home.”

Finding merchandise to fill the shop, however, is becoming more and more difficult, as the market for restored furniture has swelled, Carnes and Ellis said. There are already nearly a dozen antique and crafts shops located in downtown Clovis. But some shop owners don’t fear saturation.

“The more shops the better,” said Anna Powell, the owner of Main Street Crafters Mall, where Carnes and Ellis still rent the small booth they started out with. “It is a nice thing. We are trying to get downtown to be a tourist attraction.”

Ellis and Carnes’ shop, named 2 Shabby Divas, opened in January. More than 100 people shopped there over the weekend, Carnes and Ellis said.

“I think,” Carnes said of the success, “that women are getting back to the point where they just want to pamper themselves. This (Shabby Chic) is a way to feel feminine and pamper yourself.”