“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” — you know these old sayings. So when we say Karen Brennan has a soft spot for Junk, well it’s all relative.
Here’s the dictionary meaning of JUNK: anything that is regarded as worthless, meaningless or contemptible. That seems a little harsh. Thank goodness Karen is literally Junk’s Salvation. Her Deer Creek Junk business repurposes, recycles and beautifies special junk. “I think of junk affectionately”, Karen says.
Karen creatively breathes renewed life into tired and forgotten items, making something new to love. She is truly inspired by the craftsmanship and detail from the past life of vintage and artistic beauty. Her creations are extraordinary. At every turn in her warehouse, you will be mesmerized by her talented craftiness.
If you know your way around a Pinterest board, you are vividly aware of how influential this movement has become with a new generation of crafters. Karen’s working workshop and store is located in East Jordan, and already she has changed some of her inventory and original ideas to accomodate the trend. People and interior designers shop just for her unique, one-of-a-kind home decor items – creative lighting, wall decor, benches, headboards, shelving, and more. But these days, there’s a “new normal” client, looking solely for the raw materials that Karen stocks to satisfy his or her Pinterest creative cravings; let’s call them Pin-Junkies!
A true original, Karen was doing this long before Shabby was Chic and Pinterest’s creator was even a thought (cofounder Ben Silbermann was born in 1982). She grew up downstate in Williamston on the family’s 135 acre farm. “My dad would take me to the farm auctions with him. I’d pick up interesting things and started to appreciate old things”, recalls Karen of the beginnings of her lifelong passion for classic objects and frequenting flea markets for fun finds. Her mother was an avid antique collector, as well.
She didn’t put this passion into practice for a while though. “I graduated from Michigan Tech as a mechanical engineer and did that for 20 years”, she said. It wasn’t until her dad sadly passed and she returned home to empty all those barns full of what others would see as doohickeys, scrap and trash, that she realized she had a treasure trove of antiques and architectural salvage ready to be molded into magic!
This is when she repurposed her career.
That was 10 years ago. The pole barn on her Deer Creek property (hence, her company’s name) slowly became full of rare, uniquely put together items that people were custom ordering from Petoskey to Traverse City, and she would host barn sales.
Along the way, she sharpened her tool belt resume. “I’m self-taught, but my father-in-law helped me a lot. I’m not a trained carpenter, but I think it adds a subtle difference that things aren’t perfect” Karen says. She proficiently uses a cut-off saw, table saw, hand drill and a drill press! That’s way beyond a glue gun, people! But that’s in there, too, when Karen adds finishing touches along with painting and distressing. It all contributes to the individual style that has allowed her to carve out a unique niche in home decor.
Up until this point, her passion had been more of a mental and emotional outlet, not necessarily a financial one (like most artists, unfortunately). But now that her kids are grown and in college, she felt she could expand. A year ago, Karen moved all her junk out of her pole barn and down the road a mile to where she bought the ambulance station building that now houses her Deer Creek Junk universe, 1600 square feet of Good Junk that’s open for business all year.
Karen had an amazing summer in the new space, and she nearly sold out of all the eclectic creations she had made. Since then, Karen has been collecting up her junk and working those power tools, getting ready for when East Jordan wakes up again. She is excited to host some workshops and her Junkapalooza event again.
Deer Creek Junk is also known for garden pieces, so take a spring drive out and see Karen in action. You’ll be amazed at how the old and ordinary can be transformed into the new and whimsical. And if you’re a Pin-Junkie, you have just found a fabulous supply outlet and a wonderful lady to inspire your inner artisan.
Photography by Tatum Photo and Design