Bethany Sy: Reality Daydreams of Woodworking and More

Bethany Sy: Reality Daydreams of Woodworking and More

When Bethany Sy started her blog, Reality Daydream, about eight years ago, she and her husband were newlyweds who “didn’t know each other was creative at all. Nick had one tool, and I had a cordless power drill to my name.”

Not only newly wed, but also new homeowners of a 116-year-old farmhouse in Iowa, her blog began chronicling their creative ideas as they spruced up the home – among other things. “When I originally started blogging, I was just chattering away about our lives. For our readers, it became like a reality TV show, but online.”

So they knew when Nick started becoming interested in woodworking and acquiring small power tools. Bethany’s first power tool was a scroll saw, which she says is still her favorite. “There’s so many beautiful, decorative things you could make with it. It’s the least intimidating power tool, in my opinion.” Plus, “It gives me instant gratification. I can go out to the garage and make something useful and beautiful in under an hour.”

Most of the projects that Bethany features on the blog are things she and Nick build for their own household use, although that wasn’t necessarily the case for early efforts. Back then, she said, they were making headboards constructed of wooden squares. Bethany would upholster each square individually, applying fabric and filling so that it “looked like a fluffy, tufted headboard.”

The headboard project was what first got her and Nick working together in the garage, and was also what instigated the purchase of a table saw, since they wanted to make sure the squares were cut accurately. After spending about a year putting effort into making the headboards, Bethany said, they noticed that the blog was growing fast – and making more money than the headboards – and that, in a DIY-oriented culture, “a focus on projects that were easy and visual struck a chord with a lot of people.”

These days, their tool count includes, in addition to the table saw and cordless drill, a compound miter saw, band saw, router and lathe, among others. “We never park in our garage; it’s solely a woodshop,” Bethany said. In the winter, “We just clean off our cars when it snows and utilize the remote starter.”

Many of the projects Bethany and Nick build in the garage are for their children, who are another journey that has been chronicled on the blog. “Before children, we were really open about our infertility struggle,” Bethany said. “A lot of people were very encouraging, and I think a lot are still around [as blog readers]. A lot of people have watched the kids grow, and watched us incorporate them into our DIY projects.”

The children now include three girls: five-year-old twins Paisely and Adelyn and their one-year-old sister Cypress. The fainting couch-inspired toddler beds she built for the twins when they moved out of the nursery into their big girl room is one of Bethany’s favorite projects. “It was the first time I built a structural piece of furniture by myself,” she said. “I saw a chaise lounge in a movie – it might have been Downton Abbey – and thought ‘how cute a bed for a toddler.’ I designed them out of my head,” using a crib mattress for sizing. “They turned out adorable.”

The twins themselves, she said, have “been using a hand sander since they were three.” They also help with photos and painting. “In summer, we throw the garage doors open, and we’ll be working building, and they’ll be riding their bikes in the driveway,” Beth said. “We like to joke that Cypress was our garage mascot; she had an Exersaucer with her toys all round, so she can’t run off.”

The wood choices for those projects built in the garage, Bethany said, include a lot of alder or oak for strength, as well as poplar. “I think pine is pretty, and it’s cheap,” she said, but overall, “It depends on what I’m building or making. I love really strong, contrasted wood grain – but if I’m painting something, it doesn’t really matter.”

Speaking of painting, one of the techniques Bethany has showcased on the blog that has really resonated with her readers is “painting” – as in, the artistic kind, where you shade in a pictorial representation of something (or someone) with wood stain. “It’s gone crazy viral,” she said. “Using stain as a medium for art is unique, and it’s been a fun process to watch that become a thing.”

Just as readers learn from her projects, Bethany feels that she does, too. “I feel like I learn something with every build,” she said. For instance, she has come to realize the importance of the order of steps in a project: “how to assemble things to be structured in a way that makes sense, and is still simple enough to photograph and explain in a blog post.”

“Simple” is the direction Bethany naturally gravitates to when building projects, whereas her husband, Nick, is the opposite. “I’m more of ‘let’s make this as simple as possible’; he’s more ‘let’s make this as complicated as possible, and people will think we’re amazing.’”

Still, it is a partnership. “I’m the face of the blog, but we both build things,” Bethany said. “My favorite is to design, then he will draw it up on CAD software. Once we have building plans, we will tackle it together in the garage.”

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