Malenka Originals - Katrina
Tell us a little about yourself?
I’m the owner of Malenka Originals, a shop and workshop in Hintonburg specialising in painted furniture and high-quality products for refinishing. Our focus is on teaching, so we run many different types of workshops and spend lots of time helping our customers with their own projects.
I brought Chalk Paint™ to Ottawa in 2012 after falling in love with Annie Sloan’s paint and products. My first shop was in Britannia Village, and we moved to Hintonburg two years ago. It’s been a wild ride over the last 6 years, and I’ve loved every minute. I’ve been able to meet so many creative and inspiring people in this city, and have been very grateful to share and teach what I know about painted furniture and Chalk Paint. I created the Refreshed Furniture Pop-Up Shop, an annual event that celebrates the work of local refinishers. I also have a side business that I started 5 years ago called Madeline: Tools for Painted Furniture, a line of specialty brushes that are made in Canada and sold at select stores in Canada, the US and Australia.
My former career was working in the media. I started working in journalism for CBC Radio in Calgary, then worked at the BBC in London, England. Starting a business was a bit of a turnaround from my previous career, but I’ve been able to use a lot of my communication skills as a small business owner. I’ve learned so much along the way – it feels a bit like I’ve been doing a 6 year hands-on MBA! I was really grateful in 2014 to be picked as an Ottawa Forty under 40, recognizing my work in business and the community.
Apart from the business, my life revolves around my family. I’m a mother to two gorgeous children – 11 and 8 -- who keep me very busy. I’m married to the love of my life, Patrick, a Professor at the University of Ottawa. I’m a Calgary girl, but have lived in Ottawa for 7 years, and before that we were in the UK and the Netherlands for 8 years.
How did you first get into painting and transforming old furniture?
I look back now, and see it as this really magical time when lots of puzzle pieces in my life came together. It starts in the Netherlands where Patrick and I lived for 2 ½ years. I really got interested in design and architecture while I was there. Interior spaces are very important to the Dutch, and I was constantly in awe of people’s houses. So much care and thought was put into every single item in a home. They also have a wonderfully whimsical style, mixed with minimal Scandinavian design. Plus a lot of upcycling! You’d see 2000-Euro light fixtures, mixed with an antique armoire found on the roadside, painted in hot pink.
When we moved back to Canada, we were ready to apply everything we’d seen and learned to our own house. Only problem, we really didn’t have much of a budget. I wasn’t working at the time, and we were pretty much starting our home from scratch after 8 years of living like students in Europe. So, we started buying furniture from thrift stores and painting it. I learned as I went, reading a lot and finding information online. I started seeing amazing painted pieces appearing on blogs, and they were all done with something called Chalk Paint™ by a UK artist named Annie Sloan. At the time, there was only one place in all of Ontario selling it, so I took a chance and ordered some. The first time I tried it, I knew my life had changed. I loved it so much, I painted everything in sight. To keep up my addiction, I started selling pieces on Kijiji. The reaction was incredible. My pieces would sell within hours. Then, in March of 2012, I went to Boston to meet Annie Sloan, who was touring the US. It was suggested there that I should start selling the paint in Ottawa – my heart skipped a few beats. That night I called my husband from the hotel and said, “I’m opening a store!”. Malenka Originals opened five months later.
I should also mention the name – Malenka Originals. I realize it’s different, and doesn’t say anything about furniture or upcycling. Malenka is the name that my grandfather used to call me. It means “little one” or “darling” in Ukrainian. My grandfather – Daniel Skibo – was a renowned French Polisher, which is a very laborious technique for finishing furniture. He had a shop in Calgary, and people would come from far and wide to have him do their furniture.
He’s even listed as an “Artist in Canada” by the National Gallery. You can see the link here.
So this work is in my blood! I feel a very strong connection to what my grandfather did, and when I started to work with furniture, I felt I already had stored knowledge from all the years of going to auctions and being surrounded by priceless antiques. The store name is in his honour.
Chalk Paint and milk paint are weapons of choice when creating unique pieces. What is the difference between the two?
They’re both incredible products for refinishing furniture, and can create a variety of looks from rustic, to beachy to smooth and sleek. But there are definitely some differences.
Chalk Paint is a decorative paint developed by Annie Sloan in 1990. She’s a very inspiring and talented artist and business woman, who I’ve been lucky enough to train with and get to know well over the last 6 years. Her product has created a global phenomenon over the last decade, with many other brands trying to emulate what she’s done. It’s been fascinating to watch!
Chalk Paint is a decorative paint that for the most part requires no stripping, sanding or priming – this was a very new concept, as previously with painted furniture, if you wanted to do it right, you needed to take off the old finish first! It’s a very durable paint that can work on many things – wood, plastic, fabric, metal, melamine. We even use it outside. It’s very easy to use, very forgiving, and a whole lot of fun, too. It’s eco-friendly, water based and ultra low VOC.
Milk Paint is a powdered, paint that has been around for thousands of years -- it was found in the pyramids in Egypt and on ancient cave paintings! It’s been used in North America for many years on furniture, walls, barns, etc. It comes in powder form, and needs to be mixed with water. It works like a dream on raw wood, and will never chip or come off! It can’t be used in the same way on previously finished surfaces, however, or it can “resist” and chip off in some places (great if you want to achieve a chippy look). It’s also eco-friendly, zero VOC, and non-toxic.
Full disclosure, we sell more Chalk Paint, and overall customers find it easier to use and more forgiving. But milk paint can be a lot of fun, and some of our customers absolutely love it. We run workshops in using both products for those wanting to learn more.
In addition to transforming old furniture you also run workshops and help people learn to create their own pieces. How long are these workshops and what can people create?
We run lots of workshops! This has been a really important part of my business from the start. I love teaching how to refinish furniture and to discover their creative side. Our most popular workshop is Techniques One: Introduction to Chalk Paint™. I’ve lost track, but I think it’s now close to 2000 people who have taken this workshop from me. I’m humbled and grateful that so many students have joined us for this class! I also teach a Techniques Two and Three for more advanced techniques for using Chalk Paint. Members of my team also get involved with workshops, with Jennifer Bell teaching a Painted Paddle class, and Pat Dickinson doing a Chair Painting and Upholstery.
One of my favourite things about being a small business owner is the chance to collaborate with talented local painters, and this year I’m really excited that we’ve invited local blogger and painter Lisa Silferbrand to come teach some really cool workshops in our space. She has lots of sign classes (they change with the seasons, too!), plus classes like making a memo board, and a flowerbox.
When you aren’t busy painting and bringing old furniture back to life or inspiring others with their creations what do you do for fun?
When we were moving to Ottawa, several people told us, “Ottawa is a great place to raise a family.” At first we laughed and joked, “oh great…that must mean it’s boring.” But Ottawa IS a great place to raise a family – and it’s definitely not boring at all! We’ve been here 7 years and are still discovering new things and places in the city all the time. We love going to museums (we do a rotation between History, Nature, Science & Tech and Agriculture); walking in Gatineau; biking on the Ottawa River pathway; and going to every festival we can. In the winter we skate on canal at any chance we get, and I just took snowboarding up again after 20 years, so I’m actually not dreading winter anymore!
My husband and I are really into music and have seen some incredible concerts around the city. I think the most memorable ones were Patrick Watson in Gatineau, Kalle Mattson at the Black Sheep; Reuban and the Dark at St. Albans Church; plus some great performances at the NAC, CityFolk and Bluesfest over the years.
For a night out without the kids, eating out would be my first choice. I recently had phenomenal meals at Bar Lupulus and Table 85. I also pop into the Hintonburg Public House and Pure Kitchen when I get the chance.
If I have alone time, you’ll find me doing yoga, which I try to do daily. I’ll either practice from home, or head to Prana Shanti.
Plus, we just welcomed a fluffy Whoodle puppy to our family – her name is Poppy -- so I see lots of long walks in my future!
Hintonburg must be a great place for Malenka Originals with the creative scene, do you partner with any of the other local businesses?
We love being in Hintonburg! Previous to moving here two years ago, we were in Britannia Village for 3 ½ years. We had a great time there, but are super happy now in our new neighbourhood. We’ve had a great relationship with Gareth from Maker House since even before he opened, and have collaborated with them a few times with workshops and furniture. Further up the road, I did a fantastic collaboration with Flock Boutique a few years back where they displayed my pieces. I also know Jessica from Blue Peaches and we chat furniture and paint from time to time. I also have met and had some great chats with women from many of the businesses in Hintonburg and Wellington West, and it’s great to connect and share stories. I also end up eating a lot of SuzyQ donuts since they’re across the road, so I don’t think that constitutes a partnership, but they certainly keep me happy!
Do you have a dream project?
When 24 Sussex gets renovated, I’d love to transform some of the pieces! I think it would be a great way to reuse the incredible furniture that’s already there.
What is one thing that people should consider before embarking on their first project?
Pick a piece of furniture that you don’t really have much emotional attachment to for your first piece. Annie Sloan’s paints and products are so easy to use and forgiving – you really can’t mess anything up! – but it might just allow you to relax and enjoy the process more if you’re not as attached to the piece.
Choose your products and tools carefully! Good brushes really do make a big difference. And research the different paints out there. When I opened Malenka Originals 6 years ago, there weren’t any other furniture paints on the market. Now there are quite a few, but they all work differently.
And finally, let the furniture speak to you! It sounds a bit kooky, but while you’re working, you’ll find things change as you go. An idea you had in your mind for a piece might start going a very different way as you work – as you explore the details and curves of a piece, as you see how the surface absorbs the paint and wax. Just go with it and have fun. And make sure to take lots of breaks to step back and look at the piece as a whole!
How do you look for great pieces of furniture worthy of a project?
I’m in love with curves! Anything with a wavy front – bow or serpentine – I will buy. I also love pieces with interesting feet.
Although I’m open to fixing up pieces, I do prefer finding pieces that have drawers that work well, and are done with dovetail joints. Solid wood is also preferable, as it typically means a better constructed piece, but there are a lot of good pieces out there that include melamine or veneer, which can be painted over easily.
Are there any exciting activities or events that Malenka Originals has planned for summer of 2018?
Summer is a very busy time for us – lots of customers getting into their summer painting projects – so my team and I will be helping customers at the shop! We also have lots of custom work lined up, so you’ll find us also doing a lot of painting.
We also have lots of fun workshops planned for the summer. You can find them at malenkaoriginals.com. And we’re in the very early stages of planning our Sixth Refreshed Furniture Pop-Up Shop in the Fall – more info to come soon!