Alaska's DIY dynamo Ana White believes anyone can make furniture.
By Sharon Selz
Ana White is a homemaker in every sense of the word. Not only does she dust the furniture in her family’s remote Alaska home, she builds it herself from scratch.
“There are no words to describe what it’s like to turn a pile of boards into a beautiful piece of furniture,” she says from her family’s scenic acreage just outside Delta Junction. “It’s incredibly empowering to know you’re capable of that.”
The mother of a 7-year-old daughter and a newborn son, Ana, 33, is the blogger behind the popular DIY website ana-white.com. A self-taught carpenter, she learned her skills while building her own home and all the furniture inside it.
To date, she’s designed thousands of furniture projects, inspiring others to create attractive, budget-friendly pieces. Some of her most stylish are in The Handbuilt Home, a book she’s filled with simple plans and step-by-step instructions that are a rookie woodworker’s dream.
A Lifelong Passion
Growing up in Alaska’s interior, Ana learned how to use tools at an early age. “While most other girls were playing with their dolls, I was salvaging boards, pounding nails straight and building forts in the trees,” she recalls.
In the late 1990s, she left Alaska to attend college, graduated with a degree in computer science and landed a corporate job in Silicon Valley. “I remember looking out my office window at the gardeners tending the flowers,” she says. “I felt so envious trapped in my office. That’s when I realized that climbing the corporate ladder was taking me farther from the flowers. I had to go back.”
Returning to her roots, Ana married Jacob, a hometown boy. The two bought property and tackled the ultimate do-it-yourself project—building their own home. “We were living in a converted garage when I found out I was pregnant,” she says. “We wanted our daughter to have a home, but we couldn’t afford to buy one. Since Jacob had a lot of construction experience, we decided to build it ourselves.”
At first, Ana was a glorified gofer, fetching tools and watching her husband work. “Then one day, he said, ‘I’ll hold the board and you nail it,’” she remembers. “I closed my eyes, held my breath and squeezed the nail-gun trigger.” In no time, she was using saws, drills and routers. “I just looked at Jacob and asked, ‘Why didn’t you tell me it was so easy?’”
Over the course of a year, while making weekly 100-mile trips to the closest Home Depot, the determined couple constructed a three-bedroom, two-bath home, paycheck by paycheck. “Of course, there was no budget left for furniture,” Ana adds. “We were sleeping on a mattress on the floor and using a card table in the dining room and camp chairs in the living room.
“Finally, I decided that if we could build a house, I should try my hand at furniture. My first project was a farmhouse bed I made with leftover boards from the house and $80 in other material. We still sleep in that bed every night, and it’s as sturdy, strong and beautiful as ever.”
Her education in carpentry was far from formal, Ana admits. “It wasn’t uncommon for me to climb under a table at a restaurant to see how it was put together. Or I’d ask friends we were visiting if I could check out how their bookcase was made.
“I was going furniture crazy,” she says of the obsession that spurred her to build pieces for every room in the house and then some. “One of our most elaborate projects was a full DIY kitchen made from scratch using seven sheets of plywood. It’s amazing!”
Soon, Ana was inspired to build something else—her own furniture design website. “I wanted to share the incredible happiness and sense of accomplishment my hobby gave me with other moms and dads,” she explains.
“So I started designing and posting free plans on my blog five years ago.” Nowadays, Ana White is a household name among DIYers the world over. Her Facebook page has more than 200,000 followers, and her blog gets up to 4 million visitors a month—many encouraged by her fun, straightforward projects to take a crack at construction.
“At last count, we had about 800 projects posted, ranging from a simple picture frame to an armoire and children’s furniture,” Ana says. “I especially love when people contribute to my blog’s brag board. Seeing the wonderful things they make is the wind in my sails.”
Ana’s mantra, “If I can do it, you can do it,” has aspiring female furniture builders coming out of the woodwork. “Women are getting involved in everything from coming up with a design and picking material to building, painting and moving it into the room,” she says. “And they’re getting their husbands, kids—the whole family pitching in with them.”
Fittingly, Ana and Jacob’s latest building project is family-focused. “Both of us dreamed of having an efficient, low-maintenance, easy-to-clean house for our mothers to live in. So we decided to build a ‘momplex.’” That from-the-ground-up duplex is only 1-1/2 miles from their doorstep—easy walking distance for grandkids to visit often.
There just may be another handywoman in the making at the White house. “Our daughter, Grace, gets in on nearly all of our building projects,” Ana says. “She already has her own mini drill. It’s pink, and it really works.”