December 1, 2023

Furniture Bank

Swing Your Furniture Bank

Life ‘can be great again’ after cancer, says Nova Scotia survivor who turned furniture hobby into busy business

Tanya Sullivan’s hobby-turned-business all began with a dining room table.

The Aylesford, N.S. woman launched a business this past year that features handmade modern rustic farmhouse tables, benches and accessories.

But she didn’t start out with that in mind – rather, she just wanted to use her skills to create a statement piece for her own home.

“It all began because I had built a ten-inch trestle table for our family dining room and, after a little while, we found it just too big. I decided I would sell it and rebuild a smaller eight-inch table,” she explains.

The response to Sullivan’s advertisement for her 10-inch table was so overwhelming that she ended up offering to build tables for those that weren’t able to buy her original table.

Sullivan soon turned her new hobby into a business.

“For a long while, we went without a table of our own while I built tables for others,” she says.

“Today, we now have our own table, but most of the time it’s being used to paint or stain components of customer tables. I am OK with that,” she says.

One of the handmade tables Tanya Sullivan has created. - Contributed
One of the handmade tables Tanya Sullivan has created. – Contributed


‘Role model and inspiration’

Sullivan is a two-time cancer survivor and most recently a Stage 3a five-year lobular breast cancer survivor.

Building furniture and accessories is a great confidence boost that also helps to keep her focused.

“It allows me to use many of my creative skills, expend extra energy, settle my mind, open my heart, and earn extra money,” she says.

Like Sullivan, many cancer patients can attest to the loss of income that often accompanies a cancer diagnosis.

“Sadly, during my illness, I was without income for more than a year, so this has also helped to rebuild our finances.”

Sullivan, therefore, fully understands the value of a dollar.

“I want to offer great quality tables and benches to families just like mine, that want something custom and special, that doesn’t break the bank,” she says.

“And I want to be a role model and inspiration to not only my two daughters but to all cancer patients and survivors, so that they may realize that their life too, can be great again.”

'Each one is like a child to me," Tanya Sullivan says of the tables she creates. - Contributed
‘Each one is like a child to me,” Tanya Sullivan says of the tables she creates. – Contributed


Special spikes, brackets and screws

“The tables and trestles I make are made out of carefully selected wood, then dressed to make tops in various lengths and widths,” she explains.

Sullivan also allows her customers the option of having their tables made with turned wood legs in various profiles, which she contracts out to a local Nova Scotian company.

She finishes the tables based on her customers’ desires and offers them the option of having their tables painted, stained, or both.

“My tables stand apart from others though, because of the various highly customizable finishes and inlays I use, as well as special spikes, brackets and screws.”

Sullivan says that “many folks love the basic neutral colours commonly used in rustic tables, but growing in popularity are tables of colour. More and more people are daring to be adventurous, and this is where my interest lies.”

Tanya Sullivan also creates smaller pieces, such as this planter. - Contributed
Tanya Sullivan also creates smaller pieces, such as this planter. – Contributed


Each one is like a child

From as far back as she can remember, Sullivan always loved to design and build.

“My father was a hobbyist carpenter and my mother loved to decorate, so I guess it came naturally to me,” she says.

Over the years, that passion has been used in her own home – and now, it’s spread to other people’s as well.

“As a homeowner, I’ve always loved to plan a renovation, execute it and then stand back and admire it,” she adds. “Building tables for me is the same. Each one is like a child to me.”

Each piece she creates in the hopes it will soon become a treasured item for its owners.

“I see the build through from beginning to end, with the goal being an heirloom piece that a lucky family will share stories and memories at, for their lifetime,” she explains.

“I build these tables and benches with love and care, with minimal help except to help flip a top for finishing. It’s very rewarding. When I see a family pick up their table and they are happy, I know that I have contributed positively to their lives.”