Like most people with a hectic work life, Annabel Wrigley wants to come home to a peaceful environment after leaving the chaos of her studio, where she teaches children’s sewing classes.
“This is my calm, ordered place,” Wrigley, 42, says, surveying her living room. But that doesn’t mean she leaves her craftiness behind at the Little Pincushion Studio in historic Warrenton. Her 1930s-era home nearby is filled with the same DIY ingenuity.
The sturdy fabric curtains that make her dining room feel fresh and bright are repurposed drop cloths. The colorful rug that gives her kitchen so much character is hiding dated linoleum until she can put in a new floor. And the dramatic framed bird prints that fill the walls of her stairwell? Pages cut from a $2 book, placed in inexpensive Walmart frames.
“Sometimes I call myself the master of illusion,” she says, turning a vase in the living room so a chip won’t show. But it’s that ephemeral, utterly imperfect quality, she explains, that makes her home so livable with her husband, two teenagers, and a dog.
“When I was growing up, everything was so precious—there were rooms you couldn’t go into, there were things you couldn’t touch,” she says. Not so here, half a world away from her native Australia, where Wrigley can count on one hand the things she’s bought new. Instead, she haunts the Manassas Salvation Army thrift store and scours the weekly listings for estate and yard sales. She runs a regular circuit of secondhand shops such as Quail-at-the-Wood Antiques and Found Antiques & Vintage, both in Culpeper. She buys what she loves, and if there’s no immediate place to set it out, she’ll store it until she redecorates—which happens frequently.
“Nothing to me is permanent. My style is not permanent,” says Wrigley, a former psychiatric nurse who moved to the US from Sydney when she and her husband Darren had a case of wanderlust—and he was offered a job transfer. “I like the idea of changing things around,” especially in a small house where kids are spilling things, the dog has accidents, and a husband in a hurry might knock a frame off the wall. “And if I have guests here who fall over with a bottle of wine, it’s not going to be the end of the world.”
Colorful rugs hide myriad stains, she points out, and though it seems counterintuitive, so does furniture slipcovered in white. Her mantra: If you can’t hide it, bleach it. Or paint it, as she does with the dining table. Once it starts showing “spills, scratches, or Sharpies,” she rolls it clean with a new coat of crisp, glossy white.
Wrigley’s talent, honed by teaching young people how to turn fabric scraps into headbands, quilts, and purses, which she has been doing for the past six or seven years, lies in her ability to see decorating potential in things that the rest of us overlook. The curvy, Tiffany-blue mirror in daughter Ruby’s room, for example, came from a fancy estate sale—that is, the barn where organizers stored items too worn to mingle with “the amazing and expensive” heirlooms in the main house, she says. When she travels with Darren; Ruby, 13; and Oliver, 15, furthermore, she avoids trinket shops in favor of natural mementos—a walking stick from Yosemite National Park, say, or rocks from an Italian shore. Those souvenirs become sculptural objects that warm a room—and provide tangible memories of family adventures. And also plenty of inspiration; Wrigley has so far written four books for children, to help coax them into crafting.
Now that Ruby is helping her mom with the sewing classes and workshops, where students come from as far away as Bethesda and Richmond, the teenager’s room is filling up with her own handiwork—throw pillows on the bed, a fabric map of the United states that hangs above it, and on the desk, a beanbag that holds her iPad. Her curtains, also made from drop cloths, are stamped with circles of pink paint.
Downstairs, Wrigley’s pillows grace a living-room sofa, and she’s thinking about splattering indigo ink on the dining-room curtains as her next project. If she isn’t pleased with the result? “I’ll just use them as drop cloths” for another paint job, she shrugs.
Wrigley’s only true splurge is art, a creative endeavor that is so close to her own. She mixes important pieces—such as a large, impressionist-like beach scene by Virginia Beach artist Theodore “Ted” Turner in the dining room—with Salvation Army and other “junk shop” finds. Wrigley’s high-low instincts come out with the gallery wall over the living room sofa, where she blew up sea-life prints from a book, then used a coupon at Michaels craft store to have them matted and framed.
At the Little Pincushion Studio, Wrigley uses her DIY sensibility to try to instill her students with imagination and vision. “I do what I do so kids can grow up and be creative people,” she says. “We live in such a throwaway society, so if I can teach kids to create something meaningful, then I’m doing my job, and I’m happy.”
My idea of spring cleaning:
Simple little changes to create a fresh new space. Maybe pull out some of that furniture stashed in the basement. Throw some bright pillows on the sofa, change out the rug, paint a room a fresh new color. It’s amazing how much cleaner a space can look with a few little changes.
Spring fever indulgence:
Fresh flowers everywhere!
A charcoal artwork given by a dear friend as a wedding gift. It has traveled all over the place with us.
Favorite DIY decorating trick:
Cheap wood frames to create dramatic art groupings. Drop-cloth drapes; they are just the perfect color!
Best junk-shop find:
My blue-and-white marbled lamps. They were only $2.50 each!
Favorite retail destination:
I love to shop local; Warrenton has some great antiques stores and possibly the best bakery around. But I also love Culpeper. It’s a sweet little town filled with a ton of cool vintage shops and my all-time favorite antiques shop, Quail-at-the-Wood.
Sheepskins—everywhere. I love the texture they add to a space.
Favorite family outing:
Family night at the movies.
Best teacher’s gift:
Anything handmade. I was just given a huge jar of homemade chicken soup—it may have been the best gift ever!
Anything vintage from the ’60s or ’70s. I am a bit of a vintage-clothing collector.
I will be teaching workshops in my new mobile trailer this spring break.
Kids’ crafting ideas:
I am totally obsessed with making paper flowers. We have a blast making wreaths of them for spring.
I live in the country because:
It’s quiet, the air is fresh, and the pace of living is similar to home in Australia.
I love to mix vintage tablecloths and mismatched plates. I never like it to look so perfect that you are afraid to mess it up. I also love Mason jars with fresh flowers all over the place.
Favorite family restaurant:
There is a little Thai place here in Warrenton that we love: Faang Thai.