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Rustic, handmade signs make popular decor

LeAnne Stowe, of Overland Park, Kan., sells signs through her home-based business, Annie’s Barn. She paints her signs on inexpensive pine or recycled barn wood. (Associated Press)
LeAnne Stowe, of Overland Park, Kan., sells signs through her home-based business, Annie’s Barn. She paints her signs on inexpensive pine or recycled barn wood. (Associated Press)

Walk into a crafts or home furnishings store today and notice all the signs: rows upon rows of pre-fabricated signs that speak of love, blessings, family and home.

There’s the ubiquitous “Live, Laugh, Love” and “Kiss the cook.” Other signs offer guidance for staying strong, building courage or getting happy.

Those signs can’t be that difficult to make – and personalize – ourselves, right?

It depends.

If you want to make signage with a folksy, imperfect bent, then sure, that’s easy to do. If you’re after something more sophisticated – if you’d like to create signs for the home that mirror those sold in stores – there’s a little more work involved.

LeAnne Stowe, of Overland Park, Kan., says that if perfection is not the goal, signs are “super easy to make.” She started handcrafting some a year ago, after viewing a tutorial on the website Pinterest. They fit well with Stowe’s interest in refurbishing “rescued relics,” aka flea-market finds, which she sells on her Facebook page, Annie’s Barn.

She paints her signs mostly on inexpensive pine boards or recycled barn wood.

“People love the rustic feel of barn wood,” Stowe said.

In the beginning, she painted on stretched cotton canvas – cheap and available at any crafts store – using vinyl letters and acrylic paint (spray paint works, outside or in a well-ventilated room). Place the vinyl letters on the canvas, spray or brush paint over the entire surface (then maybe again for a second coat after the first one dries), lift off the lettering and voila!

The canvas itself can be painted or wrapped (and stapled in back) with a vibrant fabric beforehand to give the message added pizazz.

This is the way homemade signs ought to be made, asserts Bob Richter, an interior designer and cast member of PBS’ treasure-hunting series “Market Warriors.”

“The more rustic the better. That’s what gives it its charm,” Richter said. “Anytime you’re asking for perfection in a home project you’re asking for trouble.”

Richter sees families naming their country homes, their cabins and their boats – all of which can benefit from prominently hung signage. Many parents hang their newborns’ names – often embroidered – over the crib. And Richter sees tourists in New York City carting around cheap signs they bought with their child’s name – lettered on the streets of Chinatown or Times Square.

“There’s nothing significant about New York City about it. It’s more about people’s attachment to having something personalized,” he said.

Stowe sells signs that list lake cabin or porch rules (“Feel the breeze,” “Read a book”).

For $65, she’ll make an 11-by-24-inch sign with a family’s name emblazoned across the top and room for some personal lines below.

Stowe distresses the cheap pine boards with a hammer and other tools, or treats the barn wood with a bleach-and-water mixture to kill tiny critters. She follows that with a coat of primer paint, then paint, often latex. Her vinyl letters are arranged, and then the entire surface is rollered with a contrasting color of paint.

After the letters are removed and the paint dries, Stowe distresses the piece with sandpaper. She drills holes at the top for baling wire for hanging.

Finally, she seals the sign with a clear wax – she uses Annie Sloan Soft Wax – to make it weather-resistant for hanging outdoors.

“It looks like it’s worth a million bucks once you put the wax on,” Stowe said.

Using vinyl letters is more expensive and time-consuming than stenciling, she says, but she believes her method provides the cleanest, sharpest lines.

Her sentimental signs sell best, but her “snarky” signs (“Trust me you can dance. – Vodka”) get posted to Facebook.

“Words are powerful, and we all know that,” Stowe said. “(These signs) tell a personal story. That’s why I think it’s big.”



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