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The Art of Reinvention

Ashley Garner Aims to Create Her - and Your - Best Nest in 2022

Article by Jennie Treadway-Miller

Photography by Rachel Woods/Smoke Signal Media

Originally published in West Knoxville Lifestyle

Like so many, the last couple of years have prompted myriad life changes, some by choice and others by necessity. Ashley Garner is no exception. 

“When the pandemic started, I thought, ‘Great. I’m done, because I am the literal definition of a non-essential worker’,” she says. 

Born and raised in South Knoxville, Ashley has spent the better part of the last decade refinishing furniture, refreshing vintage pieces, and building a business focused on helping clients create comfort and style in their homes. She piecemealed together a good living as a single mom of three young boys — not only in furniture redesign but also as writer, consultant, and active participant on various organization boards in the community. By 2020, she’d hit her stride and things were looking up. 

Yet, as soon as the pandemic hit, she thought she was in for the biggest professional slow-down. To her surprise, that’s not at all what happened.

“What actually happened is a couple of people saw that I’d refinished some kitchen cabinets, and now they were stuck at home and wanted their cabinets painted,” she says. “One thing led to another, and this became the backbone of my business. I went from, ‘I know you do furniture, but do you do cabinets?’ to ‘I know you do cabinets, but do you do furniture?’  

What followed were two of the busiest years of her professional career, taking on one cabinet job after another. She was working seven days a week, fielding calls from clients at 9 p.m. on a Saturday, networking, planning, and rarely resting. By the fall of 2021, Ashley was physically and emotionally spent. Something had to give. She took a long, much-needed break to catch up on sleep and reevaluate her business plan. 

“I’d become a painting robot. It finally caught up with me. I’d dropped so many balls, but I was just trying to cling to a ledge. There’s a fine line between being hungry and acting starved, and I couldn’t ever really find the balance,” she says. “Yes, I wanted to make money and be successful, but I wanted to make my own schedule. I sat down and figured out what brings me joy, which is going to markets, finding vintage things that make others happy, and breathing new life into them.”  

On the top of her list of goals for 2022 is opening up a brick-and-mortar store and workshop in South Knoxville where she can fully immerse herself in her work and interact with clients and shoppers on a regular basis. The vision is there, but so far, the perfect building hasn’t yet presented itself. If there’s one thing she’s learned from every course correction she’s ever made, it’s that she’d rather try and fail than be left wondering what if. 

For example, after graduating from Belmont University in 2008 with a degree in Music Theatre, Ashley took a chance on herself by moving to New York City, no job or place to live, and only $500 in hand. She’d already enjoyed a slew of audiences and opportunities, so why not? Little did she know a recession was right around the corner. She moved back to Knoxville in 2009 to rethink her career. 

She also took a chance on herself in 2018 when she left an abusive marriage, taking one small step after another, refinishing furniture, and tucking away money for her and her sons’ future. (Nest was born out of that endeavor.) 

Sometimes the risks paid off, and sometimes they didn’t. Ashley forges ahead regardless. She believes in the art of making old things new again, whether reinventing both the look and feel of a room without the waste or heavy expense or turning over a new leaf in her life. 

“I grew up loving old architecture, and the quality is often better. Instead of being cast off, sometimes a piece needs new hardware or a new finish. Knowing the footprint we have, sure, we can throw pieces out and go to Ikea for something new. There’s nothing wrong with Ikea, but when you throw something out, it has to go somewhere,” she says. “Know better, do better, right? Once you understand the impact, you’ll want to keep those things out of the landfill or burn pile.” 

She applies that same concept to herself. Know better, do better. She sits on the board of a domestic violence organization. She works with Maker City and Aught, an all-female entrepreneurial company. She’s a mom, a small-business owner, and says no when her schedule is already full. Ashley is someone who wants the very best for her clients’ homes.

“To me, home is the place where you can be your most authentic self. You can wear pants or no pants and be exactly who you are on a cellular level. That comfort extends through your surroundings,” she says. “One of the things I’ve already tried to do is keep my price points attainable because everyone should have something in their home that is comforting and aesthetically pleasing. I taught myself how to do a lot of things because I couldn’t afford to buy something new. Now, everything I do in my business, whether it’s restoring something or finding a vintage piece, I want to do what makes people feel joy.” 

That goes for her too. 

Connect with Ashley on Instagram and Facebook @BestNestHome, and through her website,  

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