Welcome to the Maker Movement
To stay grounded in an increasingly virtual world, couples like Ellen and Stefan Foord are taking matters into their own hands (and evangelizing their neighbors). Take heed, the “maker” movement is out to change everything
On any given day at their home in Dover, Ellen and Stefan Foord can be found working on a handful of do-it-yourself projects. Ellen, a blue-eyed, wavy-haired writer for the DIY Network’s Made + Remade blog, is typically finishing up a how-to project for her next post and gearing up to photograph the final product in her home studio — a room awash in sunlight and stocked with a potpourri of craft materials. Her husband Stefan, who works at Concord Motorsport during the week, can be found most evenings and weekends in the garage, crafting custom roll-cages for BMW racecars or tinkering with his own vintage BMW, his welding helmet pulled over his bushy beard. Their daughter Elsa, a rambunctious 4 year old with straight-chopped bangs, is usually floating from room to room, putting together puzzles or digging into her own personal mini-toolbox — a maker in training.
It used to be that at-home tinkerings were seen as without career potential. Building a car or doing arts and crafts was something done for fun, nothing more. But in the blossoming do-it-yourself community, the gaze has focused on self-reliant, creative people — those who are able to sustain a career in a niche passion.
The national trend of the maker culture, fueled by marketplaces such as Etsy and websites like Pinterest, has made its way to New Hampshire, with numerous maker spaces popping up around the state. In these maker spaces, residents are able to use communal tools to undertake DIY projects. Make magazine, the journal of the movement, has also included Dover as part of its annual Maker Faire, a series of family-friendly events held in different cities across the country where makers showcase their products and share the advantages of at-home inventiveness with attendees. Ellen was part of the fundraising team that helped launch the first Maker Faire in 2013.
Stefan forged a custom brand for Sad Lumberjack, the skateboard company of one of the couple’s friends.
The equivalent of a modern do-it-yourself power couple, Ellen and Stefan have emerged as leading examples of the maker demographic. Their resourcefulness and personal passions have become the basis for fruitful careers in artistic hobbies. Stefan has become a revered car craftsman, and Ellen a much-followed home-project blogger. People have become more interested in everyday creatives tackling projects themselves, and followers of Ellen and Stefan’s work — guys at the track, readers on the blog — have proved that maker culture is as sustainable as it is fulfilling. “It didn’t occur to us that we could make a living doing what we love — what we were meant to do,” Ellen says.
Their artistic touches can be seen in the nooks and crannies throughout their home. From Ellen, clusters of birch wood on floor-to-ceiling shelves above stacks of cookbooks, hand-labeled jars filled with gluten-free flour and raw oats atop the kitchen counter, homemade designs housed in white frames lining the walls. Her schedule for Made + Remade hung on the refrigerator.
On Friday, she planned to create a how-to for a homemade wooden desk. Next Tuesday, a headboard makeover. Stefan uses his welding expertise to construct knickknacks that fill the house: door frame adornments crafted from gears pulled out of old transmissions; a pot of flowers made from chain-link, raw steel and sparkplugs; and a cluster of fish, also made from chain-link, adhered to a wooden board that hangs in the bathroom — a birthday present for Ellen the year after Elsa was born. “Elsa’s nickname is Minnow,” Ellen explains. “We kind of have a fish theme going on in our house.”
As the couple continued to pull bits and pieces of their life off the shelves, reminiscing of memories past, Ellen put her hands on her hips and turned to Stefan. “We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?” she says, smiling. “Yes,” he says, returning her gaze. “We have.”
Reusing one of her DIY Network craft projects, Ellen created this
paper feather wall art.
Ellen was born in Maine, and lived there until she was 6. Her family settled in New Hampshire while she was in high school. Despite being naturally creative — a crafty kid whose lack of access to formal tools didn’t deter her from indulging in personal DIY projects or trying her hand at writing, theatre or design — she came from a white-collar family where the maker culture wasn’t necessarily seen as a legitimate career path.
But, in her early 20s, she knew she wanted to work for herself. “I knew I didn’t want to work in an office,” she says. She went to school for anthropology at the University of New Hampshire, eventually falling into event management for nonprofits in the Seacoast area, including the New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits and, after that, Prescott Park Arts Festival.
Around that time, a friend of Ellen’s invited her to a birthday party. Ellen wore a red shirt. She went with her friend, who just gave birth to twins. She thought it would be helpful to look after one of the babies during the party. She walked into the house, clutching the infant, and saw Stefan across the room. “Right when I walked in, I noticed him,” Ellen says. “It was this absurd, cliché moment. My heart was racing.” But they didn’t talk during the party. “Usually, when a woman is carrying around a child, there’s a husband somewhere in the picture,” Stefan explains, laughing.
He was planning to move to Germany in the next few weeks to work on BMWs at the Nürburgring, a motorsports complex. But after he got word that she was, in fact, not the mother of the baby she was holding, they reunited through mutual friends.
“I was in the process of selling all my stuff and figuring out how to get my toolbox to Germany,” Stefan says. “And that’s when I met Ellen. That’s when I changed my mind.”
Ellen in her modest studio, which is the home’s converted sun porch. The home abounds with DIY designer touches.
Stefan was born and raised in New Hampshire. His father was a BMW hobbyist and aficionado who bought and restored wrecked BMWs. Their property was basically a junkyard — a scenic menagerie of vintage cars peppering the hills behind their house, tucked away in barns, hidden behind bushes. “I spent a lot of time in the garage with him,” Stefan says.
Stefan went to Gould Academy, a snowboard-focused boarding school in Bethel, Maine, and was part of the first wave of high-level professional riders in the mid ’90s. He was on the United States Snowboard Team before the sport was an official part of the Olympics, turning pro at age 18. During that time, he studied business at Plymouth State University.
BMWs were still a distinct hobby of his, but like Ellen’s upbringing, blue-collar, maker-style professions weren’t viewed with the most viability. Similar to his father, Stefan saw automobile restoration and modification as a pastime, and nothing more.
After college, he became a sales representative for a snowboard manufacturer. While he was there, he started hanging out with a man named Rick Stormer, a BMW shop owner in North Conway, lending a hand around the shop, tinkering with cars for free and gaining more knowledge of mechanics and welding. Rick eventually offered Stefan a job as a mechanic.
Stefan’s work there would eventually, in 2000, lead to a job at Turner Motorsport, a BMW racecar shop in Amesbury, Mass. He spent the proceeding 10 years perfecting his approach to building top-of-the-line professional BMW racecars, many of which were worth well over $250,000.
Stefan welded the ever-blooming flowers as a wedding anniversary gift.
In 2003, Stefan convinced his boss at Turner to buy a junk car so he could practice building a state-of-the-art metal roll cage — to prove, as well, that he could specialize in that niche service. After his first roll cage was installed, that junk car was eventually sold to a customer and Stefan found his personal vocation in the racecar community. By 2010, Stefan had built a tremendous reputation under the Turner umbrella, but, due to the downtrodden economy, he longed for an escape from his day-to-day work.
He took a trip to Germany to visit Nürburgring and convinced himself that working there was his calling. When he got home, he e-mailed them and was offered a job. He started selling everything he owned to raise money for the move. That’s when he went to the birthday party and saw the woman in the red shirt holding the baby. And that’s when everything changed.
A year later, he and Ellen were married. Two months later, they bought the white cape, a fixer-upper, in Dover. She became pregnant shortly after they moved in, and the couple worked painstakingly to finish remodeling the house while still working full-time.
A few months after Elsa was born, in February 2011, Ellen quit work and became a stay-at-home mother. But, being home full time, her creative itch starting getting the best of her. “If I’m going to be home,” Ellen remembers telling herself, “I am going to get stuff done.”
She started a small DIY blog to showcase her at-home projects, mainly as a means of creative release. It was discovered in 2013 by her now-editor Kelly Smith Trimble at DIY Network’s Made + Remade blog. “We were friends on Facebook and I started seeing that she was posting her own projects from her home on her personal blog,” says Trimble, who is now the content and programming manager for the DIY Network. “She has such good style and voice, and really great projects.”
Ellen has become one of the most popular bloggers for Made + Remade, with more than one million page views in the past year. She has written more than 150 articles for the website, some of which garner thousands of likes and shares on social media.
After Ellen started freelancing for them as a contributor, she eventually quit her here-and-there, part-time freelance work to write for Made + Remade full-time — her ultimate career goal. Her posts for Made + Remade range from tutorials on various home projects to dessert recipes, seasonal beauty tips and profiles of other makers and creators from the New Hampshire area, including Papa Wolf Supply Co. and Sad Lumberjack Skateboards, among others. “Part of it is wanting to shine the spotlight on other makers who have been doing this for a long time,” Ellen says. “You never know who could be reading the article and reaching out to that company and helping them out.”
Stefan has built top-of-the-line BMW racecars, but found a specialty niche in custom roll cages for them.
“She’s also amazing on video,” Trimble adds. In addition to writing for Made + Remade, Ellen has also covered events on camera for Great American Country, which is under the DIY Network umbrella, including American Field, a pop-up exhibition held in Boston and Brooklyn that showcases niche, American-made products from small businesses. “Her projects speak as much to moms as to millennials,” says Trimble. “On the one hand, she’s family-oriented and trying to make a beautiful life for her family on a budget, but on the other hand, she makes time to keep up with pop culture and design and DIY trends that have edgy appeal.”
During his first few years as a father, Stefan bounced around to different garages in New Hampshire and Massachusetts after leaving Turner Motorsport, eventually landing, in 2014, at Concord Motorsport. He had also started doing custom roll-cage projects for private clients out of the garage at their new home in Dover, gaining recognition and building a personal brand within the BMW racing community. When car geeks check out the racecars, it’s not hard to spot Stefan’s workmanship from the loads of other guys outfitting cars in their garages.
“He is one the very few people in the racing scene that I would call a craftsman,” says Ron Checca, an amateur BMW racer who is part of the SCCA. “When several friends saw my roll cage, they immediately contacted him and had him build a roll cage for their cars. He’s on the leading edge of his discipline, and that’s why I chose to drive four hours to get to him to have him do my cage.”
The couple’s daughter is already following the DIY lifestyle at 4 years old.
His personal work has since become more regional, with many clients coming from other parts of New England and the tri-state area. He has become a source for custom cages and roll bars, even building some for his previous employers, and has completed nearly two dozen custom racing roll cages and other projects for private clients.
“His craftsmanship is beyond compare,” says Ben Liaw, co-owner of Rogue Engineering, a BMW motorsports shop in New Jersey who has partnered with Stefan on more than 10 projects. “There are very few guys like Stefan who are not only artists but also know safety protocols that need to be in place. He has that pro-level experience that nobody else really has, and he puts that same attention to detail to his private projects.”
Stefan has had many opportunities to take on larger projects — building a racecar from scratch, for instance — but turned them down because of the time it would take away from his family. He sold off a few of his BMWs too, but still keeps his prized possession under a tarp in the garage: a mint-condition 1971 BMW 3.0 CSI coupe, glazed in orange and blue stripes. But now, with the house basically complete, and Elsa starting preschool in the fall, he hopes to open his own shop in the coming years.
On a Monday evening in early August, Ellen asked her daughter Elsa if she wanted to help cut string beans for dinner. Elsa shook her head. She had strewn three different puzzles across the dining room floor and hoped to convince Stefan to play with her. But, being a 4 year old, she soon became distracted with her pink umbrella that hung on the adjacent wall.
As she opened the umbrella and twirled it above her head, the sun fell behind a row of oak trees that lined the backyard. The house filled with the soft glow of dusk, and the smell of ham and potatoes floated from the oven.
As Ellen and Stefan watched their daughter pose with the umbrella, prancing around in her rubber rain boots, it became clear that they have found themselves hunkering down into their lifelong DIY project.
It’s the project that can only be completed in a team, by a duo that have spent their adult lives together pursuing personal passions and working together as a single unit. They’re still in the thick of it, figuring the project out as they go. But today, they know they are doing the right thing. They’ve not only picked the right project, but they’ve picked the right person with whom to take it on. It’s something, whether they know it or not, that they will collaborate on for the rest of their lives. Elsa looked up at them and smiled.
They’re building a family.
Have a Happy DIY Thanksgiving
Ellen Foord shares two easy ways to add some crafty charm to your holiday table. (Note: Both projects were previously featured on her Made + Remade DIY Network blog.)
White Pumpkin Place Card Holders
It’s always a challenge to come up with innovative ways to label seats. For Thanksgiving, I wanted to give a nod to the season, but still keep the décor modern. White pumpkins with sharpie marker patterns fit the bill perfectly.
Step 1: I found my mini white pumpkins at a local farmers market, but I know you can also find them at Trader Joe’s. Grab up a few and hunt around for some permanent markers. I knew I wanted to use plain old black, but silver or copper would look just as cool.
Step 2: The first design I did was a kind of vine/leaf trellis. I started by drawing a line straight up every other section. Then I drew little arrows pointing down.
Step 3: I went back and rounded out the ends of the arrow ends.
Step 4: The result? A simple pattern that took all of five minutes.
Step 5: In order to make the place card, I used black card stock and a paper punch, but you could also simply cut out a square of the card stock.
Step 6: I used a white gel pen to write the guest’s name on the black card stock, and then grabbed my razor knife to cut the stem.
Step 7: I made a shallow horizontal slit in the stem of the pumpkin to hold the name card.
Step 8: Place the card in the slit. Finished!
Leather Tassel Napkin Ring
I’m not normally one to mess around with napkin rings. A decent napkin folded neatly suffices in pretty much any situation, in my book. But after seeing leather tassels everywhere over the past few months, I had an idea that I couldn’t resist. Why not add some fringe to a strip of leather, make it a ring and call it a napkin ring? It was hip, modern, playful and not at all fussy. Perfect for an autumn tablesetting.
Step 1: My craft store has an entire aisle of leather supplies. I’d never been down that aisle before, but now I had a reason. I picked up a sheet of dark brown leather about the size of a piece of printer paper. I also grabbed a packet of snap fasteners, but they were a bad idea I ditched pretty quickly.
Step 2: To get started, grab a pencil, a ruler and a pair of scissors. I started out by marking a line so that I could cut the sheet in half, because I wanted to make four napkin rings out of the sheet.
Step 3: Then I used regular scissors (which worked perfectly) to cut the leather.
Step 4: At this point, I had two rectangular strips. Once again, mark a line to cut each piece in half.
Step 5: Now you’ve got four pieces. Keep your ruler on hand, as well as your pencil and scissors.
Step 6: Now mark off a strip at the top of your leather piece. I used the width of my ruler because it seemed like the fastest and easiest method. I like fast and easy.
Step 7: This will be the ring part of your leather — the part you don’t cut into fringe. Make the line so that you know where to stop cutting.
Step 8: Now start marking the lines of your fringe. Because my leather was relatively thick, I decided to keep my fringe lines a quarter of an inch thick.
Step 9: You can start to see exactly what the fringe is going to look like, once you have all of the lines drawn on.
Step 10: Start cutting the lines of your fringe, stopping at the line you marked at the top.
Step 11: Yay! Fringe cut. I spent a few seconds rolling the leather around to loosen it up a bit and make it look a little more beaten up and weathered.
Step 12: So, this is where I did a little testing with the snap brackets and decided to abandon that idea pretty quickly. Second plan of attack? My all-time favorite, tried-and-true super glue.
Step 13: Apply a thin line to one end of the leather. Wrap around to form a ring and affix the glued end underneath the non-glued end.
Step 14: Wrap around to form a ring and affix the glued end underneath the non-glued end.
Step 15: Because the napkin rings weren’t going to be doing any heavier lifting than wrapping around a napkin, I didn’t feel like I needed the strongest bond known to man, but the super glue bonded pretty darn strongly. Despite giving a pretty hearty tug, the leather ring held tight with the glue. Cute, right? Trendy, hip, a little rustic, and totally perfect for dressing up the table for a Thanksgiving feast.
Make it or Break it
Maker life is a curious blend of hands-on, tool-oriented activities and online research. The Foords use plenty of both in their home and work. Below are two lists that Ellen provided for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in the DIY world.
Maker Hot Spots
- Port City Makerspace – Portsmouth
- MakeIt Labs – Nashua
- Chases Garage – York, Maine
- Brimfield Flea Markets – Massachusetts
- Nor’East Architectural Antiques – Exeter
- Elephant’s Trunk Country Flea Market – New Milford, Connecticut
- Papa Wolf Supply Co. – Portsmouth
- Architectural Salvage Inc. – Exeter
- Folk Shop & Gallery – Kittery, Maine
- Craft Fix (neo craft fair, November) – Kittery, Maine
- Green Foundry – Eliot, Maine