Custom Wood Worker Jamie Bradford Builds Her Own Future
By Rae Sanders | Photographed By Shanna Wolf
Jamie Bradford started her wood furniture and home accessory business under the pretense that she was just a mom with a hobby. But Bradford’s Wisconsin Farmhouse has become a thriving design hub for modern farmhouse style enthusiasts.
Bradford, a former Mrs. Wisconsin, was first inspired to create her own designs while she perused a Pottery Barn catalog just after she had her third, and youngest child. “I was like, ‘I love this stuff!’” Bradford remembers thinking.
In the catalog, she’d found a corner bed and desk unit for her daughters, but decided it was too pricey. So Bradford decided to build it herself, with a little help from her dad, Rich Eberle, a custom home builder who’d introduced her at an early age to construction. “I basically grew up with him taking me around job sites and houses, so I was never afraid to build stuff or get my hands into it,” Bradford says.
After that first project, Bradford was hooked. Learning on her own from trial and error, and by watching the occasional YouTube video for technique, she found herself looking for more projects to create for her home. Eventually, she started posting her creations on her personal Facebook page and people asked about buying them.
Bradford was wary about her instant success. “When you make your own stuff, all you can see are the imperfections.” But with every project her confidence grew, even as her workplace seemed to shrink.
“All this time I was doing it in the garage at my house while having my kids at home,” Bradford says. Now, she’s got a workshop in Middleton, with room to grow. She does custom work for individuals and has worked several commercial jobs including chocolatier CocoVaa, Perennial Yoga, CFL for Duluth Trading and Longtable Beer Café.
CocoVaa owner Syovata Edari hired Bradford to create a chocolate display, menu frame and butcher block style cash register table for her chocolate shop, all made from repurposed barn wood. Edari, who was a full-time lawyer before she launched her business, took to Bradford immediately.
“Meeting another woman that breaks barriers and breaks stereotypes and challenges us to look at ourselves in a different way has been so satisfying because it is a lonely place to be in, so to meet her, it normalized my experience, which was inspiring,” Edari says. “She had all of these utilitarian ideas for my business, and how to create pieces for my business with such a small space that would allow me to make such efficient use of the space. Had I not met Jamie, I don’t know what this place would’ve looked like, but it wouldn’t have looked this good.”
Bradford christened her business Wisconsin Farmhouse because of her love for farm house style and her roots as a Wisconsin native from the Mount Horeb and Middleton areas. The style that Bradford has crafted varies from project to project. Her customers think of her style as rustic, but she is hesitant to put a label on it. The one theme in her style is that everything is custom built and made of wood.
Although her success came quickly, Bradford had to overcome obstacles. She’d shown an affinity for building and design at a young age, but in high school, she says, a male architectural drafting teacher questioned her work. She was just one of only two girls in the class, and the teacher thought her father had helped her do her work. “The [doubt] from my high school teacher is just a small memory, and I don’t talk about it much just because I feel like we all have moments when we say things that are wrong out of ignorance or jealousy…it’s not negative in my mind and I don’t dwell on it, and it definitely didn’t hold me back at that time or now,” Bradford says.
Support from her spouse, Joe McDonald, who works in construction as a rough framer, helps keep her on track. He helps Bradford move and install her pieces, but she designs and builds everything herself. Her three children, Ellie, 10, Dane, 8, and Izzy, 6, join her on occasion in her shop to help with ideas and small projects.
Bradford has some advice for women pursuing their dreams, especially in nontraditional fields. “You have to have confidence in yourself. You can’t be afraid to fail, make mistakes or embarrass yourself. It’s going to happen, and when it does, you pick yourself up, reflect on what you learned and move forward.”