In Mason, women of Dixie Belle give furniture, themselves ‘new life’


Stacey Small entered the basement storage room at the Maple Street Mall in Mason wearing a blue work shirt.

“I’m here to absorb knowledge — and boy, do you have your work cut out for you!” she called out as she set a small, scalloped-edge tilt table down at her workstation.

The table had belonged to her father, Gordon Ellis Small. It bore a faded red, white and blue decal of an eagle with the motto “E pluribus unum.”

“It’s patriotic,” she said, and that “had meaning to him.”

Her father died of COVID-19 on May 8, 2020. His hobby had been selling matchbox cars and tin toys at flea markets, and Small spent her childhood attending markets with him. After his death, she didn’t know how she would return to the pastime. She found her answer in Debbie Shattuck, owner of the Maple Street Mall, who encouraged her to open a booth in 2021. She named it Small’s Keepsakes and uses the booth ID “G.E.S.” in honor of her dad.

Small sanded the eagle decal off the tabletop and coated the whole thing in Dixie Belle’s white Endless Shore paint. 

“I’m giving it new life,” she said.

Eight women were at the mall that evening to brush up on their knowledge of Dixie Belle, a line of mineral paints, stains and other products used for furniture upcycling. All were vendors at the mall who use the paint in their furniture upcycling and resale businesses.

Their instructor was Marilyn Greene, a registered retailer of Dixie Belle products whose booth, Gallery Eleven 11 LLC, welcomes customers at the mall’s main entrance.

Shattuck said Greene’s business is a “destination booth” for the mall that brings people in the doors. Greene is one of four registered retailers in a 25-mile radius of Lansing.

“Dixie Belle is one of those brands that continues to bring people back into the store, a retailer’s dream,” Shattuck said.

Greene said Dixie Belle aims to be a “one-stop shop” that takes crafters through the entire furniture upcycling process, from cleaning and preparing the piece for painting to sealing it with a top coat of wax.

Dixie Belle is based in Florida, but retailers have access to Dixie Belle University, an online platform where they can study up on the products and learn more from brand ambassadors. In addition to occasional vendor classes, Greene offers a Dixie Belle 101 class for the public. The next one is June 30, and participants will receive 30% off any products purchased.

“I don’t think there’s a company out there that gives more training and help to their retailers than Dixie Belle,” Greene said.

Greene attributes the popularity of the line of paints, in part, to the poor workmanship found in most new furniture.

“It’s hard to find solid furniture, and you pay a fortune for it. People are starting to appreciate the workmanship that goes into some of the older pieces. But the look that some of that brown wood or orangey-colored wood has doesn’t always fit their aesthetic. That’s where paint products come in,” she said.

Many of the women in the class traced the opening of their booths to times of personal or professional change or upheaval: children flying the nest, retirement, a death in the family or an unexpected career change. Upcycling home furnishings with Dixie Belle and reselling them is helping them start over, economically and emotionally, and carve out room for creative pursuits.

Greene said most of her customers are women between the ages of 30 and 60, many of whom first come into contact with the products at a time of transition in their lives. Some of those customers end up taking on upcycling as a “side hustle.”

Amy Fox of Lansing opened her booth, Expressive Collective, in April. She retired from public school teaching after a 28-year career out of frustration with the system. 

“This place has really helped me transition from my professional life. People say this is better than therapy,” she said.

Like others, she got into upcycling after a death in the family. She helped her mom sell some of her stepfather’s possessions on Facebook Marketplace after his death.

She brought a short, blocky side table to the class.

“You’re the only one who did your homework!” Greene announced, happy to see Fox had primed her table in advance.

Lorena Griffin, who described herself as being at an “intermediate” level with the products, brought an old suitcase to repaint. She said she loves the cycle of choosing, buying and refurbishing something creatively, then selling it to someone else “who loves it.”

Her plan was to turn the suitcase into a piece of display furniture on legs. She prepped by exposing the wood interior of the old suitcase and spent the workshop priming the surface with Dixie Belle’s Bonding Boss. 

Griffin began upcycling in the years prior to retiring from her 35-year career at Michigan State University so she would have something to do with her time.

She opened her booth at the mall because “hobbies are really expensive sometimes,” and selling her work allows her to “make money while doing my hobby.”

“I don’t really look at it like I’m making a ton of money because I feel like I would let myself down. But emotionally and physically, it’s a positive change in my life,” she said.

Veteran vendor Shelley Brown of Charlotte, who has had a booth in the mall for six years, got right down to business. She said she chose her piece based on what was likely to sell.

“You gotta have small stuff because bigs don’t sell,” she said, referring to larger pieces of furniture like dressers.

She brought in a splayed-leg end table with a lower shelf, which she painted with the shade Cape Current from Dixie Belle’s Silk line in preparation for a beachy floor set for summer.

Anyone can be a Dixie Belle customer, and every customer is a potential vendor. Several women reported coming to the mall as customers until, through Shattuck’s encouragement, they opened their own booths.

Greene said many seek out Dixie Belle’s products for a specific project but get hooked when they realize they find them relaxing.

It’s also a way to build community. Greene said her involvement with the mall and Dixie Belle has been a great way to meet people.

“When I moved here, I was 60 years old. My kids weren’t in school, so I wasn’t meeting people that way. It afforded me the opportunity to make friends in the community.”



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