Melissa Eaton is the artist behind The Top Drawer. She creates sought-after designs that bring a distinctive, bold quality to a room. Eaton’s style embraces whimsical, and sometimes wild, design possibilities. She leads with her instincts, a quality that championed her business growth. Clients trust this quality when it comes to commissioned projects. Some trust her enough to say, ‘Do your thing. Do whatever you want to this piece.’
Clients expect unique textures, effects, and color combinations. “Sometimes, they give me a list of colors, or [reference] something of mine that they liked before,” says Eaton. Otherwise the designer works off of minimal references, often pushing the limits of home décor into an eclectic direction. “That’s what keeps things exciting,” says Eaton. “Life would be pretty boring if everything was beige and farmhouse. Sometimes, I think it’s important to throw a bit of color and whimsy in there.”
When Eaton purchased and painted an item for her own home she didn’t expect her life to take a new, creative direction. After the birth of her third child Eaton chose to put her career in nursing on hold to focus on her family. She had always sketched and painted here and there, and she decided to use this phase of her life to develop a creative practice. Overtime, she transitioned from various crafts into painting furniture, and eventually starting a business. Her designs caught attention on social media and she developed a following. Eaton also began live-streaming videos of her painting sessions online to share her tips and techniques. Now, as an ambassador for Dixie Belle Paint she is expressing her creative vision while demonstrating the design possibilities that their products offer. “I get to create beautiful things for [Dixie Belle], and in return I get to use this fabulous product and teach people about how to paint furniture themselves.”
When she live-streams her studio time Eaton values being open and honest as a way to help others overcome obstacles that block their creative potential. “People get a little scared about the process,” she says. Viewers often leave comments while watching Eaton’s live streams, and she takes the time to answer questions. “I’m very open when it comes to my teaching style. I’m doing these hour-long live streams on Facebook. I’m showing people from step-one-into-done. I just really want them to know that they can do it, too. Don’t be worried about what’s perfect because nothing is perfect. It’s just art. You’ve got to paint what makes you happy.” If a color or pattern isn’t working out, she lets them know that she’s about to do something different. Dropping her brushes, grabbing the wrong color – Eaton sees these mishaps as opportunities to help others overcome the fear of taking on creative projects.
“Art is basically free therapy,” she Eaton, citing creativity as a positive release through the ups and downs of life. “There have been days where I’ve gone out to the shed, put the music on, opened up all the paint, and got mad at a poor little piece of furniture…Sometimes, from that chaos, from that anger and emotion in your painting, the best things happen.” Most importantly, “When you’re done, you feel better.”
Eaton often shops for second-hand furniture to be transformed into products for The Top Drawer. “If I’m lucky enough to find something that’s fabulous for a wonderful price, I will take it,” but the self-described “thrifty girl” also repairs damaged furniture, making it a perfect canvas for her next idea. Hunting for older pieces to up-cycle means that they can require some extra TLC. “I get excited about trying new products, or trying new colors, and making something fabulous with something ugly or broken,” says Eaton. When asked about what her ideal pieces are, she says, “I’m lucky enough to be busy. This is a dream job for me to be paid to create. But I get really excited when I get something that is ornate and special.”
While she admires 1920s and ‘30s waterfall styled art deco furniture, smaller pieces are a welcome canvas. “If you’re lucky you can find an end table or a nightstand for ten dollars and under. Those are pieces that you get to creatively do something that you might not normally try.” She recommends smaller thrifted pieces, including jewelry boxes, for anyone just beginning their journey with Dixie Belle paints. “Those are the ones that you can play and experiment with – throw all of the color onto them,” she says. “You’re not worried that you’re going to ruin them because they’re only ten dollars.” Chalk mineral paint, Dixie Belle’s product, is a striking material. Their paints have character. “You’re able to be a beginner and still get an amazing look to your product,” Says Eaton. The company offers a variety of colors and finishes, as well as textured mixes –like Dixie Dirt and Sea Spray – that create unique effects. Like The Top Drawer the company is a woman-owned business, and Eaton appreciates being a part of this niche is the small-business world.
For any budding entrepreneurs who don’t quite know where to start, Eaton highlights the advantages of social media. Building connections with other artists, and being able to share ideas, is very important. Also, putting your product out there through social media is a valuable way to generate sales and build a following. “Social media is where my business is living. Who would have thought that a middle-aged mom of three would be hanging out on social media all day and painting furniture? I didn’t think it would be me, but I’m very happy that it is [me] at the end of the day.”
Learn more about The Top Drawer: