JAMES CITY — Jennifer Stanley knows one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
A local makerspace owner who has been quietly changing lives for years, she has witnessed the impact of her workshop on many makers, and now looks forward to welcoming many more. She’s got countless solutions for this summer’s gift-giving challenges, whether you’re celebrating a new baby, a wedding, a new beach house, or a retirement.
But if all you really want is a chance to relax, meet new people, and do something to be proud of, she can provide that too.
Stanley and his family run the hobby shop at 1208 Jamestown Road in James City County, and wooden items are their specialty. The walls of their studio feature a wide array of signs, plaques and other objects that makers can create, some brightly painted with fun characters, others carefully colored, with elegant stenciled fonts.
Fancy a little humor? There is “I am outdoors. I drink wine on deck. Need motivation? There’s “Wake up and be awesome!” There are holiday themes, Bible verses, really anything. And Stanley says, “It’s been a labor of love, and it’s never been about the money,” so if buying such a gift seems too expensive, that’s fine. For a reasonable cost, she can help you create one.
If art isn’t your forte, she’s got you covered too. “I can easily assess the skill level in a piece and determine who needs help,” says Stanley, who has acquired substantial artistic expertise in addition to his two decades of experience teaching English and Of the history.
Stanley provides as little or as much assistance as needed: “I won’t let you walk out of here unsatisfied.”
If a maker’s goal is particularly ambitious, Stanley and his family can usually create the custom project themselves. So even novice makers can achieve their goal, whether it’s a paperweight or a porch sign, a cornhole board or a refurbished antique cabinet.
Greg Stanley, Jennifer’s husband of 36 years, is the resident carpenter and cuts all the wood pieces used by their artists, but he says of his wife, “It was totally his vision.
Now Vice Principal at James Blair Middle School, she has spent years helping people at many skill levels achieve results.
A pivotal experience leading to the makerspace occurred in 2006, when Jennifer taught at Williamsburg Christian Academy. Her husband, then in the midst of nearly two decades as a Home Depot employee, also stepped in to teach shop lessons at the school. Jennifer, struck by the children’s joy of being creative and using their hands, was convinced that many adults would benefit from a similar opportunity. But now was not the time to start a new business, as she was busy teaching and, with Greg, raising their four daughters and son.
Years later, in 2017, their family was overwhelmed by Jennifer’s mother’s decline due to Alzheimer’s disease, and a positive distraction was much needed. That same year, Jennifer was shopping near the current makerspace building and saw that it was for rent. She knew it was time to realize her budding idea.
After carrying out major renovations, she and her family also began to learn various skills to help manufacturers. This was in addition to their full-time jobs, but Jennifer says she, Greg and all of their children were already working in service-oriented professions, and she adds, “we’ve always been servants,” spending time together while helping others.
Opened in 2018, they started small with just word of mouth, inviting family friends, throwing a few kids birthday parties. Then groups like book clubs enjoyed wine and snacks while they worked, and a local company’s team-building event became a regular monthly activity. Some out-of-town families who came for the first time at Christmas came back four or five holiday seasons to make plans together.
Artists, even children, learn how best to use latex paints, how to apply sandpaper in the direction of the grain of the wood, and how to use a speed square to make a 90 degree angle. And while the makers work, there is conversation and reflection, commiseration and laughter.
Things had really taken off when COVID hit in 2020, but like many business owners, Jennifer realized the key to survival was to ship business. So she sent out kits for art projects, as well as all kinds of math and science-related crafts, and by then the family had a local following determined to keep them afloat.
As COVID has waned, bookings have picked up. On a recent morning, Mary Hopkins was busy creating a gift for her husband. She doesn’t think she’s artistic, but she keeps coming back despite her half hour drive from her home in Providence Forge.
“Jen is helping us tremendously,” Hopkins said. “If you make a mistake, she can fix it. She makes us all look good.
And Shalynn Phillips, working nearby on her own project, put it simply, “It’s become my second home.”
Hours of operation for the DIY workshop are Tuesday through Friday 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations are preferred. To learn more and make a reservation, visit diyworkshopva.comemail [email protected] or call 757-345-9496.