Made to look like a million bucks

Published January 27, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - You have to spend a little time roaming Lanette Cregger's house to realize the scope of her work.

At 44, the willowy, self-taught furniture painter who grew up in St. Petersburg coaxes new zeal into the ordinary and functional: spindle-back chairs, writing desks, pantry cupboards, coffee tables, dressing-room vanities, piano benches, pie safes and wine racks - anything that she can cover with fresh color, a faux finish or a free-hand design.

"It's what I love to do best - I feel so lucky," says Cregger, who paints on a drop cloth on the floor of her kitchen and small back porch - home to what she teasingly calls her "small farm" of caged birds.

She shares her small-but-charming New Port Richey house with her husband, Scott, and their two daughters, Donua, 7, and Sarena, 5; and the family's Yorkshire terrier, Chewie.

On a tour one afternoon this week, she pulled out her portfolio, pointing out the dozens of pieces of furniture she has infused with fresh color - and new soul.

"There isn't anything I can't paint," explains Cregger, who began painting furniture more than a decade ago when her brother, who worked in an antique store, started bringing her pieces that couldn't be refinished.

She'd paint.

The antique store dealer would buy.

Cregger, who has been good at art since elementary school and loves to decorate, found her calling. Over the years, she has worked a lot in restaurants, climbing the ladder from server to manager. But her real passion, she says, is making forgotten furniture look like a million bucks.

In her own house, the black, crackle-finish, roll-top desk in the living room is her work. So is the matching console table adorned with small Oriental flowers and an elegant elephant motif. She made the lattice-patterned, Palm Beach-style hutch in her daughter's room, a shabby chic dressing table, a cabinet adorned with an African dancer, the piano bench trimmed in black and white painted keys.

Her love of decorating is evident in the tiny, three bedroom, two bath house with a two-car garage near Ridge Road and U.S. 19 that she and her husband rent.

Her collection of small, neatly framed African masks adorns the walls ("I love African art!" she says). She made the forest-green drapes as well as the decorative lamp by the front door. She arranged plants and placed framed family photos on the tops of tables and desks. A cozy Oriental-style carpet centers the family room. And several of her own folk art-inspired paintings, including one of a lighthouse that she just dreamed up one day, hang on the walls. On the back porch is a jaunty table and chairs in greens, blues, yellows and reds that she painted in a tropical jigsaw pattern that her daughter said looked a little camouflage.

"The abstract part is fun - nothing has to be perfect," she explains.

She's currently working on a pantry cabinet with wooden doors that she's painted with the faces of Egyptian gods. One is considered a creator; the other leads the souls of the deceased into the afterlife. It was a coincidence she discovered while reading about Egyptian art and choosing interesting images to paint.

"The nice thing about having decorative pieces like this in your home is that they really bring out your personality," she says. "I really love getting a hold of an old piece that someone thinks should just go in the garbage."

Her gray Isuzu Rodeo advertises her business, Art 4 Furniture. Lately that business has really started getting noticed. This week, she was loading up the SUV with a few of her pieces to take to the Progress Energy Art Gallery in New Port Richey. Even the white T-shirt she's wearing subtly advertises the company in small letters.

"My husband is the one who really got me going," she says. "He even sat down for hours and created my Web site."

Cregger has created a niche market for her special knack for transforming the old and dreary into one-of-a-kind signature pieces. Clients can bring their own furniture, old or new. She prefers old she says, because "most of the time it has a lot more character - I'm just adding to it."

Fast Facts:

Find her online

Lanette Cregger's husband, Scott, created a Web site for her business. It can be found at www.art4furniturebylc.com.