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passion projects

Shop owner Heather Huntingford built all the display furniture and the change rooms at her Kiss and Makeup in Vancouver, much of it from reclaimed wood.Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

Step into the Kiss and Makeup store in Vancouver's Olympic Village, and you'll see all sorts of natural skin-care products on display, alongside items such as grapefruit-scented candles, hipster button-down plaid shirts, locally made jewellery, and funky printed socks and scarves. Look a little closer at the display tables and shelves holding all that inventory in the apothecary and lifestyle boutique and you will see that those pieces of furniture are unique items in their own right.

Take, for example, the long table in the centre of the 1,000-square-foot shop where several graphic T-shirts are sitting. It is made from an enormous slab of Western red cedar left over from a local construction site. The lumber has been levelled, aged and glazed, then mounted atop plumbing pipes from Home Depot. Kiss and Makeup founder Heather Huntingford made it herself, her carpenter boyfriend having hauled home the gorgeous timber that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.

Ms. Huntingford had picked up a drill before, for DIY home and garden projects, but it wasn't until about a year ago that she turned to power tools in earnest, first to work on her store's North Vancouver location, then to build out the Olympic Village store, which opened this past July. She has gone on to become a fervent furniture builder, antique restorer, and all-round handywoman. She built every single piece of furniture in her newest shop. She even constructed the change rooms out of reclaimed wood.

The 36-year-old entrepreneur says that building items such as shelving units, where she puts everything from body lotion to baseball caps, and product "ladders" (one of which a customer wanted to buy from her to use in her own store) is easier than those who are unaccustomed to mitre saws and sanders might assume.

"I don't know how to do any of this stuff; you just say, 'Okay, I'm going to do it,'" Ms. Huntingford says in an interview at her store. "I think people have a lot of fear around this kind of thing or think they can't do it. It's just like makeup: What's the worst that's going to happen? If it looks like crap, you do it again.

"I don't get frustrated," she says. "If you make a mistake, you just have a beer and carry on. Try again. Then you develop a system. It's not as hard as people think. It's hands-on and it's kind of therapeutic. You can just zone out. Sanding is fun. Who knew? You can make pretty much anything with plumbing pipe."

Ms. Huntingford seems to have found several other ways to make woodworking fun. For one of the countertops in her store, for instance, she came up with some creative ways to make the newer wood appear aged: "I stained it, sanded it, beat it, ran over it with my car," she says. "… I wanted it to look like old barn wood."

Citing Instagram as her source for ideas, Craigslist and consignment stores as places for finds, and YouTube as her tutorial resource (say, on how to install her farmhouse-style laminate flooring, a two-day project that she got her boyfriend to help her with), Ms. Huntingford built her cash desk out of an Ikea table and leftover plywood from one of her boyfriend's job sites. She layered cement over the front of the unit and "glazed the crap out of it" to give it an industrial look.

She did the same thing with an inexpensive mirror by applying cement all over its frame, then glazing it. "I'm really happy with how this turned out," she says. "It looks way better because it's not an Ikea mirror any more."

Elsewhere in the shop there are refurbished antique milk crates, a dining hutch from Belgium and a spectacular chandelier; the look could be described as rustic chic. Then there are the change rooms she constructed two days before opening out of doors from a boat shed on her parents' property that had to be torn down when they sold their home.

"They were these big, full sheets of plywood, so I cut them into strips of varying widths and sanded, sanded, sanded them so you can see different grains," she says. "Then I glazed them, and that gives them that soft look. It was a bit of a panic because I did it at the last minute."

More than a decade ago, Ms. Huntingford was studying kinesiology at the University of British Columbia when she got the idea to open a shop that specialized in natural makeup. With a history of skin allergies, she was always seeking alternatives to commercial, chemical-laden products.

She signed up for a venture program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, wrote a business plan, and opened her first store in West Vancouver in 2004. (That location has since closed.)

From there, she started bringing in other items, including clothing and accessories – articles that went with her "sophisticated slouch" aesthetic. "I like Champagne, diamonds and sweat pants. [For clothing], I want to be comfortable – I need to be able to get on my hands and knees – but I also need to be able to sell makeup."

The avid gardener intends on pursuing her new-found passion on the home front: Her boyfriend and parents recently moved into a large house together on Bowen Island, and she has no shortage of projects in mind.

"I'm very excited; we're looking at building a greenhouse and we're working on building steps down to the water," she says. "When some of the trees have to come down, I'll use the big slabs to do picnic tables or an outdoor patio.

"I want to build a headboard for the bedroom – again, Pinterest," she says. "Whenever I finish making something now, I'm just excited about what I can do next."