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Room to Grow

Kelee Katillac set out to restore an old chair. She ended up restoring herself.

Personal growth: Kelee Katillac restores chair and life

For years I’ve worked as an interior designer. My designs have appeared in magazines, newspaper articles, on TV. But here’s a secret I rarely tell. I got my start in a trailer on the wrong side of the tracks! 

It all began with a chair. I saw it on my way home from the Quik Mart, where I’d replenished my stash of cupcakes, soda and chips. Someone had put it out with the trash, and something made me stop.

I couldn’t believe the stuff people had thrown away. Maybe it was because my husband and I were newlyweds and we didn’t have a thing. We could barely afford the trailer where I spent most of my time languishing on the couch, alone and depressed. Maybe it was because I felt a little discarded myself in those days.

There was a time when I had big plans. I loved to draw and paint and make collages that shimmered with glitter. The more I created the more I believed in myself. I was going to be someone special.

But af­ter one hard semester of college classes I lost all confidence. My teach­ers didn’t real­ly like what I did and my classmates ridi­culed me. I dropped out, got married. My husband got a job as a security guard and we moved into the trailer.

I had no self-esteem left or even a will to live. I’d sleep most of the day, watch TV and eat. The hardest thing was to get off of that sofa and walk to the Quik Mart. That effort alone was exhausting.

Then came that day when I saw the chair sitting next to a pile of junk. I walked over and picked it up. One leg was loose, the fabric seat tattered and dirty with scribbling on it. The paint was chipped and the back scratched. And yet, something made me want to sit down and try it. Still works, I thought. In fact, it was surprisingly comfortable for an old chair. What a waste to throw it away.

“Tell you what,” I said to the chair. “I’ll take you home and find something to do with you.” Maybe I felt sorry for it—it looked so much like how I felt. Or maybe it reminded me of the chairs I used to sit in for hours when I worked on art projects as a girl, cut­ting paper, gluing glitter, drawing horses. I put that chair under one arm, took it home and parked it on our little front porch. There it sat.

One day I was watching the rerun of a come­dy I couldn’t find funny. I don’t want to be like this anymore, I thought. I’ve got to do something. I couldn’t bear spending one more minute on that sofa.

Then I looked out the window. The sun had slipped out from behind a cloud and a few shafts of light found that old chair. Nothing had changed about it. It was still battered and chipped with a wobbly leg, but it looked different to me. Salvageable. No, even better than that. Why couldn’t I paint it or decorate it with fringe? And the fabric…well, I could put something new on the seat. The wobbly leg would be easy to fix with a bit of glue and maybe some wire.

I got up, turned off the TV and started to work. Newfound energy surged through me. I felt like I did when I drew pictures as a girl. It was fun. I hunted for glue and wire. Instead of making another dash to the Quik Mart, I went to the thrift store for fabric and paint.

For days I worked on that chair, redoing the seat, putting on several coats of paint. All the while the dreams and plans I’d abandoned for my life came tumbling back. You could go back to school, get a degree. You could learn about redoing chairs and sofas, even whole rooms.

Maybe I could be an interior designer and help people remake their homes. I looked around the trailer and started seeing all the projects I could do. New curtains. New pillows. New paint for the walls. It wouldn’t be hard or expensive. The thrift store had all the stuff I needed. It just took a little imagination and time.

The finished chair was only a beginning. I redecorated the trailer and invited my neighbors to see it. “How did you figure out how to do this?” one asked. “You must have paid someone a lot of money.”

“I did it myself,” I said. The ideas were just waiting for me to stumble over them, the way I almost tripped over that old chair.It might sound crazy to you, but I believe God used that old chair to help heal me and give me a new purpose in life. 

I did indeed go back to school and get a degree. I started my own business and I’ve helped hun­dreds of people remake their rooms as they remake their lives. I especially love to give inspiration to kids. I tell them that creativity is something God gives all of us. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement—and an old chair. 

For Kelee’s tips on nurturing creativity in children, read 5 Ways to Inspire Your Kids.

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