One of the overarching ideas of newly minted AR Workshop Chesterfield is that custom, DIY craftsman-style projects can be accomplished by truly anyone – even the most ham-handed, all-thumbs aspiring home décor artists out there. Having just opened its new digs this past June in the Chesterfield Towne Center, the franchise is part of a rapidly growing family of boutique DIY studios from Charlotte, North Carolina-based Anders Ruff.
Charlotte designers Maureen Anders and Adria Ruff started their eponymous company in 2010 as a source for graphic-design and party-styling materials for event planning, as well as a DIY blog and online shop. As the company grew and the pair’s creativity kept a steady flow of DIY projects on the “Ruff Draft” section of the blog, Anders and Ruff found themselves fielding requests to teach workshops where attendees would learn the techniques described in their posts. The flagship AR Workshop launched in Charlotte in 2016 and has since experienced explosive growth, now with more than 30 franchises across the country, including two Missouri locales, in Chesterfield and Springfield.
“Every month, new locations are signing up,” says Anna White, co-owner of the sole St. Louis-area franchise, as she told the story of how she came to own her own studio. “I went to Charlotte over Christmas, my sister took me to the workshop, and I loved it. The instructor said, ‘You should come back,’ and I told her I live in St. Louis, and she replied, ‘You should open one in St. Louis!’” With just one more year as a kindergarten teacher in the Rockwood School District left, White had happened to be searching for a post-retirement-life plan. “It just sort of fell into my lap,” she says.
She returned to school after the holiday break, determined to turn the seed planted by a passing comment into reality, bringing on a partner, her Rockwood colleague Sarah Jones, a likewise creatively inclined kindergarten teacher. This was in January of this year. By April 1, the pair had secured a rental space, and the pioneer Missouri location of AR Workshop opened to the public in June.
The studio holds daily events, each running about 2½ to 3 hours, that are focused on one type of project – plank wood signs, trays or Lazy Susans, canvas wall hangings, wood-framed signs, canvas pillow covers or wooden centerpiece boxes. Rather than having each attendee work on the same design – not everyone wants a monogrammed door hanger or city skyline on canvas, after all – attendees register ahead of time and select the size and design of their project from an online menu. That way, White and Jones are able to prepare their materials, such as cutting wood to size and providing wall-mounting hardware, ahead of time. With the exception of cutting pieces of wood, attendees truly do everything themselves from start to finish.
“We give them the pieces of pre-cut wood, and we walk them through the process of assembling them,” White says. Designs can be preselected from the AR Workshop website, or customers can work with the team on a custom design for just $25 extra. “Some people might want lyrics or a quote from their wedding, and we can do that,” White says. Designs are created and cut to scale on vinyl, which is then transferred to the project surface when the material is ready to paint.
“We walk them through the process,” White says. “[For wood signs], they sand it down, assemble it, paint or stain the wood, whatever they want. When that piece is drying, they get their stencil, apply it, paint, and at the end, they pull off the stencil for the big reveal.” Each attendee leaves with a completely finished and completely unique product, and so far, reviews have been glowing. “People are crazy about it,” White says. “No one has gone home unhappy.”
Designs selected for each class are as unique as the individuals sitting at the table – a wood plank sign class around the Fourth of July had several people making various sizes of Americana-themed wall hangings, with one attendee choosing instead to celebrate Christmas in July, painting a glittery holiday-themed sign to get a jump-start on December décor.
In addition to hosting its regular calendar of classes, AR Workshop offers its studio space for fundraising opportunities, corporate team building and private parties, including birthday parties, bachelorette parties and showers. The studio also has a small retail space up front, with jewelry, ready-made décor, soaps, bath bombs and more. “We’d love some more local artists,” White says of the growing retail section. “A lady who works for the city of Chesterfield and helped us with our zoning license knew a little girl who makes candles and gives her proceeds to Friends of Kids With Cancer – I told her, ‘Bring her in.’”
Classes, which include all necessary materials for the project, range from $37 for youth projects to $95 for oversize wood-frame signs. Customers in a hurry can buy already-painted sample projects off the studio walls or can choose a design and have the AR Workshop team complete the project for them – but if you’re not crunched for time, the full creative experience is the most fun and fulfilling.
AR Workshop, 135 Chesterfield Towne Center, Chesterfield, 636-237-2369, arworkshop.com/chesterfield