When Brittany Bailey
was a child, her parents built their ranch house “up and out” – including removal of the roof. The family didn’t move out during any of it, and always invited the children to help.
“I grew up thinking that was normal,” said Brittany. “Now I realize that most people hire a contractor and move out.”
Experiences such as learning to wire an outlet at age eight, building structures out of scrap wood and more have stood her in good stead as an adult. As she and her husband have purchased houses (they’re currently in their second home together), Brittany said, “I drew on my confidence” to achieve projects like installing moldings and board and battens, building furniture or dealing with a leak that caused a gutted situation in the kitchen and laundry room. “If something needs to get done, I just kind of make it happen,” she said.
For instance, as a “sanity saver” to deal with shoe pileup in her mudroom, Brittany created a mudroom bench. “It was the first time I went out of my comfort zone and built something from scratch,” she said.
For the bench’s legs, she used some that had originally belonged to a coffee table. “I’m a huge upcycler,” Brittany said, “a huge person for savings things from the landfill. I’m notorious for picking things out of my neighbors’ trash: discarded shelves and things.”
That propensity has shown up in other projects as well. For instance, her living room floors are heart pine lumber purchased from a Craigslist seller who had pulled them from a 100-year-old farmhouse.
“I love reclaimed lumber, with all its nail holes and scratches,” Brittany said. “It has a story to tell, and it’s better quality.”
When she does purchase new lumber for building, Brittany said, she mostly works with pine. “Because it’s easy. It doesn’t break my drill bits and screws.” She also likes that pine accepts paint well, as she does paint many of her pieces.
Brittany has also purchased a bed frame off Craigslist in order to turn it into a garden bench. And, when she needed to make a cushion for that bench, Brittany headed into her sewing room.
“I sew; I craft; I do a lot of creative things,” said Brittany, who has an art degree. Her mother was a professional artist, and “I’ve always painted and decorated things. I like to take something and make it myself.”
For the woodworking and home improvement areas of making things, “most of it is self-taught, “ she said. “Sometimes I kick myself and wish I would have taken shop class in high school, but I read a lot, and I ‘YouTube’ things I don’t know how to do. I always read my tool manuals; I’m a little neurotic about it.”
At this point, with requests to her husband for power tools every birthday or anniversary, “I pretty much have a full shop,” Brittany said: “all the gadgets for home improvement, like a miter saw, table saw, scroll saw … My first real power tool was a Porter-Cable circular saw. It was my birthday, and my husband and I went to Home Depot and he said, ‘pick out what you want.’”
At one point, Brittany and a friend were going to start a business wherein Brittany would conduct classes in her garage to teach other women how to use power tools. Her husband, however, heard this business idea and suggested that she might reach more people with a blog.
Brittany started her Pretty Handy Girl blog
in June 2010, “and I haven’t stopped.” She has come to realize, she said, that, with the original plan, “I might have been able to reach 100 women a year. Now, it’s 800,000 pageviews a month. I feel like I’m empowering a lot more people than I would have in my garage.”
Some of her blog posts chronicle the complete kitchen renovation she accomplished after a water leak led to a complete gutting of the kitchen. Brittany’s favorite part of the renovation, she said, is the hutch and command center area with open shelving that she created.
During that kitchen renovation, Brittany – who roller skated on the plywood surfaces in her parents’ home as a child – allowed her two sons to ride their scooter on the plywood subfloor, write on the gutted walls and help demo the kitchen. “It reminds me of my childhood,” she said. “I’m really glad they get to do that.”
She’s also been taking the boys to Lowe®’s Build and Grow clinics since they were much younger, and letting them pull things out the recycling to build their own projects. “My one son loves putting stuff together,” she said. “I try to take time and show him, ‘If you want to put this together, here’s how.’”
In addition to inspiring her own children, Brittany gives lectures at venues like the Habitat ReStore
or blogging conferences, on topics like installing trim and how she became handy. “Especially for women, I try to tell them to give themselves some confidence they can do it,” she said.
And, Brittany continues to be busy with her own projects, ninety percent of which are for her personal use. (She’ll sometimes help out a friend – or her mom.)
“I always have to be working on a project, or I’m not happy,” she said. “I have a vision in my head for a lot of the found objects I have. [The next project] depends on which one’s screaming the loudest at me.”