By Aliza Baker
There’s a lot to consider while house hunting. Is the living room big enough? Does the kitchen have an island worthy of being featured on HGTV? For Stephanie Freeman, though, the biggest question was, “Does it have a craft room?” So when she discovered a charming house in North Shelby County with a creative space already furnished with just about everything a carpenter would need, she knew it was home.
She didn’t know at the time though that her rustic new “craft room” would become the workspace for her woodworking and home décor business, Sawdust & Sweet Tea.
Like a lot of people, Stephanie has long played around with DIY projects in her free time—that is, when she wasn’t busy explaining formulas and equations as a math teacher at Briarwood Christian School. Always thinking outside of the box, she handcrafted a clothes hamper for her children as a way to encourage them to help out with laundry, and she dabbled in making centerpieces that she could display in her new home.
A few Instagram posts later, friends and family started suggesting that she sell her work, and it seemed like a shift from hobby to business was the logical next step. Funnily enough, she was the last one to catch on.
“I was like, ‘I don’t have time for this, this is crazy!’” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t need a business. I never would have thought that I would do something like this—I’m not an entrepreneur type of person. But it was just one of those things where with every step that I took, I just started to know. I prayed for the Lord to guide me through every step that I took, and He did.”
She started small, selling various woodwork items—all hand painted and crafted, of course— intermittently in a Facebook group called Buy Sell Trade Hoover. Her bestsellers were shiplap charger centerpieces, a staple that remains a favorite in her business today. Her coasters and seasonal décor were a hit as well. But as Stephanie jokingly puts it, she wasn’t “officially official.” That wouldn’t be the case for long, though.
She credits her husband for giving her the courage to finally take the leap and open a business of her own. “He helped me with all of the paperwork that it takes to get my business license and the name of my business registered,” she says. “He could’ve said, ‘Well it’s your business, so figure it out.’ But he didn’t, and that was his way of supporting me,” she says gratefully, tears streaming down her cheeks.
To Stephanie, her Sawdust & Sweet Tea creations are extensions of herself. Fitting with the name, you’ll find her brushing sawdust off of her jeans after an arduous afternoon in the workshop. As for sweet tea, that part of the name is the warm feeling of southern hospitality that’s intertwined with the farmhouse décor she specializes in.
As a perfectionist, Stephanie finds the farmhouse style freeing. Though she prides herself on her precision and attention to detail, there’s a certain leeway that farmhouse décor grants her. She lives by the phrase “perfectly imperfect” both personally and in her work.
Her favorite part of creating, though? As you’d expect from a math teacher, it’s problem solving. She revels in figuring out how to maximize her materials to not be wasteful and loves getting the measurements for a stencil just right for the piece of wood.
But as many makers do, she cherishes the appreciation and support she gets from customers most of all. Having someone say that she captured exactly what they were imagining is, according to Stephanie, is the best compliment she can receive.
Singlehandedly running a business on top of a job and parenting isn’t all rainbows and sunshine and a cold glass of sweet tea, though. “The only way I can explain it is just the Lord’s grace,” she says. “On paper, it’s impossible. There’s no way anyone could do all of these things.” Overwhelming as it may be, she manages, and she finds the time to give back to the community along the way, too.
Stephanie has partnered with Jason Williams, the founder of the nonprofit organization Aspire Movement, whose mission is to equip mentors to develop and deploy leaders through mutually transforming relationships. She designed an Aspire piece that’s currently for sale on her Etsy shop, and all proceeds from the project will go toward their work.
When she’s not busy working on her latest orders or brainstorming ideas for a new project, Stephanie ponders what the future might look like for Sawdust & Sweet Tea. Right now, that looks like getting an official Sawdust & Sweet Tea website up and running. As for everything else? She’s taking it one day at a time.
Stephanie never thought running a business would fit into the already hectic schedule of her life. But sometimes, after a long day of teaching geometry, she’ll peek her head into the classroom of a fellow teacher to say goodbye and see one of the décor pieces she lovingly created in her craft room back home proudly on display on their desk. And she’ll think maybe it does fit, in an imperfectly perfect way.
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