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Northampton furniture maker Liz Karney offers showrooms that double as Airbnb spaces

  • Liz Karney, center, works on a bench she is making out of sheet metal and wood in her workshop, located in the back of her store, Sticks & Bricks, on Tuesday August 1, 2017.

  • Liz Karney, owner of Sticks & Bricks, rents out two different apartments she has, located above and behind her store, to people through Airbnb. Here is the larger, two-bedroom family-sized apartment that is located directly above the store. Liz also decorates and furnishes them with her own handmade products and stylistic accessories.

  • Karney rents out two apartments located above and behind her store, through Airbnb. The units are filled with furniture and accessories she has made. Above is the larger, two-bedroom family-sized rental. GAZETTE STAFF/Caroline O’connor

  • Liz Karney, owner of Sticks & Bricks, rents out two different apartments she has, located above and behind her store, to people through Airbnb. Here is the larger, two-bedroom family-sized apartment that is located directly above the store. Liz also decorates and furnishes them with her own handmade products and stylistic accessories.

  • Liz Karney, owner of Sticks & Bricks, rents out two different apartments she has, located above and behind her store, to people through Airbnb. Here is the smaller, single-bedroom apartment that is located directly behind the store. Liz also decorates and furnishes them with her own handmade products and stylistic accessories.

  • Liz Karney, owner of Sticks & Bricks, rents out two different apartments she has, located above and behind her store, to people through Airbnb. Here is the smaller, single-bedroom apartment that is located directly behind the store. Liz also decorates and furnishes them with her own handmade products and stylistic accessories.

  • Karney leads the way one of the apartments she rents out behind the shop. GAZETTE STAFF/Caroline O’connor

  • Liz Karney, center, works on a bench she is making out of sheet metal and wood in her workshop, located in the back of her store, Sticks & Bricks, on Tuesday August 1, 2017.

  • Liz Karney, owner of Sticks and Bricks, works on a bench she is making out of sheet metal and wood in her workshop which is located in the back of her store. GAZETTE STAFF/Caroline O’connor

  • Liz Karney, left, and good friend, Robyn Wynn, right, co-owns the store, Roost, with Karney's husband, also helps manage the Airbnb apartments they rent out to folks year-round. The two of them are inside Karney's workshop, attached and located in the back of her store, Sticks & Bricks, on Tuesday August 1, 2017.

  • Liz Karney, owner of Sticks and Bricks, builds all of her furniture and the majority of her accessories by herself. This is a portion of the inside of her store on Tuesday August 1, 2017.

  • Karney has refurbished her shop on Market Street, Northampton, to allow her to better display the pieces she makes. GAZETTE STAFF/Caroline O’connor

  • The displays of her work inside Sticks and Bricks allow customers to see her interior design skills, too. GAZETTE STAFF/Caroline O’connor

  • Karney says she doesn’t have an overriding design philosophy: “I just fill spaces with things I like.” GAZETTE STAFF/Caroline O’connor

  • Liz Karney, owner of Sticks and Bricks, builds all of her furniture and the majority of her accessories by herself. This is a portion of the inside of her store on Tuesday August 1, 2017.



For the Gazette
Thursday, September 14, 2017

Liz Karney says that as the girl of the family, she was never trained to use tools. Building things for a living, consequently, always seemed like “too much of a sweet dream.”

“The idea that I would be able to build a life building things always seemed impractical,” she says.

But that dream became tangible in 2008 when she opened Sticks and Bricks, a shop on Market Street in Northampton from which she operates her furniture-making workshop and floor model-based storefront. The latest renovations to her workspace have thrust that dream state into a full-fledged reality.

Karney specializes in building new objects from old ones. Horseshoes and lampshade skeletons hang from the ceiling of her workshop, subtly separated from her storefront by a partially closed sliding barn door and a thickly woven stretch of rope.

This summer she spent a month overhauling the shop to better serve her clients. She built the massive sliding door out of actual barn doors and storm windows “from someone’s house in Holyoke.” Now, “I can make a mess back there without it interrupting the front part of the store.”

She says her former business partner decided to open up a shop of his own, taking his art projects with him and opening the door for her to streamline the storefront.

“I can have samples out there in the store in a way that I didn’t have room for before,” she says. “If someone walks in and likes what they see in the store, I’m sure we’re going to be able to come up with a custom design for them.”

Karney also outfitted the building’s surrounding rooms, which now double as a place where Airbnb guests can rest their heads and as a container to showcase more of her work.

“They’re basically like living showrooms,” she says.

The time spent on rehabbing the store also served as an opportunity for her to exercise another of her skills-for-hire: interior design. She painted the floors glossy white and removed staging from the windows to open up the room.

“It just brightens the whole space up a lot,” she says, explaining that a key to her sense of design rests in filling a space to a point where it has character without it feeling cluttered.

Sawhorses hang from the ceiling and stacks of miscellaneous wood planks line the wall. Beside Karney’s table-top desk sits an old sewing machine base, which she says stands among her favorite types of bases on which to build dining room tables.

“I don’t have an overriding design philosophy,” she says. “I just fill spaces with things that I like.”

She says the workshop-storefront combination is already lending itself to unexpected creativity.

“This is a bowling alley,” she says, running her hands along a counter-top table on sale in her store for $1,450. The wooden surface that once served as a track for bowling balls now stands ready for a different type of use.

She describes her style as having “a modern sensibility with reclaimed elements.” If you’ve visited The Roost, the neighboring Northampton cafe owned by her husband, then you’ve gotten an eyeful of her aesthetic.

“I find something that inspires, I design something with that object, and then I build,” she says of her process. “I really love finding old materials, going junk shopping and looking for treasures.”

The fruits of that process, she says, are for sale in the store.

Other times, customers will come in with older objects — often family heirlooms or other items with sentimental value — that “they feel attached to, but want changed to look more modern.”

There also are many clients who come in and say: “I want a round table, with this function, this style and this budget.”

For customers like this, she says, she has a standard starting point.

“What’s most important?” she asks. “Design, budget, or timeline? Pick two.”

Then she asks if there’s something specific about her design that they like, and she asks for a photograph of a piece of furniture that they like.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” says Karney, 40, and that’s how she began building furniture in the first place.

Her first piece of furniture was a cabinet to hide the television that she made in her 20s. “I’ve always been someone who couldn’t afford or find what I like,” she says.

She jokes that she’s the result of what happens when a collector (her dad) meets someone who doesn’t like clutter (her mom).

What’s her favorite thing to work on? “It changes all the time,” she answers, smiling. But for now, “I’m just excited to be in this new, refreshed space.”​