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Katrina Barclay, owner of Malenka Originals, a company that refinishes furniture and teaches others how to do so, says that having ‘a wide-ranging skill set has probably been the biggest asset’ in her success. (KATRINA BARCLAY)
Katrina Barclay, owner of Malenka Originals, a company that refinishes furniture and teaches others how to do so, says that having ‘a wide-ranging skill set has probably been the biggest asset’ in her success. (KATRINA BARCLAY)


A new career path: Giving life to unloved furniture Add to ...

What is your full name and title? And how long have you been in this role?

Katrina Barclay, owner of Malenka Originals. It’s been one year since I started selling refreshed furniture out of my house and six months since I opened my store.

What exactly do you do?

I “refresh” furniture – I find unwanted, outdated furniture and – using paint and refinishing techniques – aim to transform it into contemporary, beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces. I also sell the popular Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and run workshops teaching people how to paint furniture.

Describe what you do on any given day.

I’m in my shop four days a week, where much of my time is spent with customers. I’m one of only four shops in Ontario selling Chalk Paint, so I have customers coming from Ottawa and beyond to buy it. When it’s quiet, I paint furniture in the shop. A few times a month, I run workshops. In between, my time is spent managing the financial side, answering e-mails, mailing paint, maintaining my blog and online shop, updating my social media sites, looking for used furniture, placing orders for supplies, picking up shipments, and keeping up with trends in design and furniture.

What’s your background and education?

I have a BA in communications from the University of Calgary, and an MA in Media Studies from the University of Westminster in London, England.

I spent nearly 10 years working in various roles in journalism and the media. Although I had good positions and enjoyed the atmosphere of working in the media, I never loved it. I was constantly looking for something more creative to do.

How did you get to your position?

My husband and I lived abroad for eight years, first in London, then in Rotterdam. When we came back to Canada, we needed furniture for our house. I was unimpressed with the quality of furnishings in our price range, and we couldn’t afford the really well-made stuff. We started buying used furniture and painting it to match our style. I became interested and inspired by design while in the Netherlands – we had a lot of architect and interior designer friends who had eclectic houses, and one thing I always noticed was the absence of brown wood furniture. Everything was painted.

My first pieces were not particularly stunning, but I enjoyed the process so much and started reading books and using the Internet to learn more about refinishing. Eventually I got my first can of Chalk Paint and realized what all the hype was about. After becoming hooked, I went to a workshop last spring to meet Annie Sloan, who was on a North American tour. I got chatting with the North American distributor, who mentioned they were looking for someone in Ottawa to sell the paint. From that moment on, I set all my energies and focus on finding a retail space and making it happen.

My grandfather – Daniel Skibo – was a master French polisher and an antique restorer. Much of my passion for working with furniture comes from his influence. He used to call me “Malenka Katrina” which means ‘little one’ or ‘darling’ in Ukrainian, so my company name is in honour of him.

What’s the best part of your job?

I get an incredible boost by taking a piece of ugly unwanted furniture and turning it into something beautiful and useable again. The creative process is very satisfying, as is the knowledge that I’m encouraging people to reuse furniture instead of buying new.

Running workshops and helping others find their creative side is also one of my favourite parts of this job. Many people who take classes have never painted a piece of furniture in their lives. Seeing them leave at the end of the day with a beautiful masterpiece and a huge sense of accomplishment makes me really happy.

I also enjoy the variety of tasks. There’s so many different things to do, I could never get bored.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Being the only one in a company can have its advantages, but it’s also a huge challenge. I am constantly working, and often have to stay up late into the night to get everything done. I’m the mother of two young children, and finding a balance between home and work is also difficult.

What are your strengths in this role?

Persistence and patience have certainly helped. But having a wide-ranging skill set has probably been the biggest asset. Having an ‘eye’ and being creative is important, but it’s only one part of the business. The rest is about building a brand and reaching out to customers. I set up, customized and built my blog (malenka.ca) and my online shop (malenkaoriginals.com). I design and make my own graphics. I do all my own photography. I maintain my blog and social media sites. I spend as much times as needed with customers in-store and via e-mail to help them with their furniture projects. These are all areas where my communications background has definitely come in handy.

What are your weaknesses?

I wish I was more organized! Filing papers and receipts, and keeping my work bench and storage room tidy are certainly areas where I can make improvement.

What has been your best career move?

Deciding to become a stockist for Chalk Paint. It’s an incredible product and I love working with it every day and teaching people how to use it.

What has been your worst career move?

If I could go back in time, I would have set up workshop dates from day one. The interest and demand for workshops was so huge in my first few weeks because of an article in the local newspaper, but I was too swamped with my opening to think about setting up classes. I’m sure if I’d had some dates and booked people in I would have been sold out into next summer.

What’s your next big job goal?

I’m currently working on bringing a Canadian-made wax brush into the market. I collaborated with established Quebec brush maker, Crown-Meakins, to develop a hand-made wax brush called the Madeline brush (madelinebrush.com).

What’s your best advice to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Make sure your motivation to start a business is coming from a place of passion – that’s the key element that will keep you pushing long after others have given up.

Start small. Too many retail businesses get far ahead of themselves in the beginning and put too much borrowed money into start-up costs. It’s amazing how fast the money gets spent in the early days.

Do you know an executive or leader who has an interesting career story for My Career? E-mail mycareer@globeandmail.com

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