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Wonder Women of home improvement

By Staff | Mar 9, 2009

‘Painting by Tammy’ literally walks the plank to fulfill the decorating dreams of others.

Comprised of Tammy Zabel, Nancy Hanevik and Kendi Boehm, these three amazingly talented young women are well-known in the area for their painting, wallpapering, housecleaning and talking skills.

They are Faribault County’s ‘Wonder Women’ of home improvement. They even remind one a little of the ‘Ghostbusters,’ since they aren’t afraid of tackling any job and do so with much enthusiasm. Like the movie’s song lyrics repeatedly ask ‘who ya gonna call?’ One wants to shout “Painting by Tammy,” especially after hearing them heartily share the words “give us a call and we can help.”

Talking while on a project is natural for sisters, Tammy and Nancy and sister-in-law, Kendi. But it is anything but idle chatter. Paint cans are opened and rollers seem to be motorized on high speed as the women spread bright-colored hues on walls in record breaking time.

“Kenny Breen (Breen’s Hardware) doesn’t know how we get anything done because we talk so much,” laughingly confesses Tammy Zabel.

The much in demand trio have done numerous jobs in Faribault County as well as in Fairmont, Albert Lea, Owatonna, and the Iowa towns of Rake, Buffalo Center, Thompson and Spirit Lake.

Area decorating suppliers also know the bubbly, enthusiastic and animated women well, since the group always tries to buy the supplies needed for a job in the community in which they are working.

Sisters Tammy and Nancy unknowingly got their start in the business as children.

“We started stripping wallpaper in the wintertime when we were kids,” says Tammy. “That was our fun during snowstorms. Our mom would heat water and vinegar in an electric skillet, then we would dip a sponge mop into it to remove the wallpaper.”

In the summertime, their dad had them painting the barn or fence posts.

Their parents, Don and Carolyn Skogen of Rake, still worry about their girls when they are on a job.

“I’ve fallen from the scaffolding and sprained my ankle and Nancy had to have stitches one time when she backed into one of our knives,” says Tammy of the risks they take on the job.

“We’ve been known to say we would never do a certain type of job again, then find ourselves agreeing to tackle something like it again,” says Tammy as she rolls her eyes and laughs.

Prior to getting into the housecleaning and decorating business 22 years ago, Tammy worked as the head cook at the Elmore and Blue Earth schools, as well as serving as a cook in an area nursing home.

“I had considered going into interior design work at one time,” says Tammy. It wasn’t a real surprise to anyone when she decided to go into the cleaning and painting business. As a result, ‘Painting by Tammy’ was born.

Nancy Hanevik also worked at the school and had an embroidery business before joining her sister. She continues to operate ‘The Perfect Gentleman,’ a tuxedo rental business from her home. She also records videos at weddings, anniversaries, graduations and other significant events.

Prior to joining her sister-in-law over eight years ago, Kendi Boehm did child daycare. Both she and Nancy had once considered careers in child development before channeling their energy into their current home improvement business.

“We have a lot of fun when we get together to work on a project,” says Kendi. “It doesn’t seem like a job.”

No job is too big or too small for the girls. They have painted bulk tanks in fields as well as the entire interior of an 8,500 square foot house in one week.

“We were some wild women on that job,” says Tammy. “There was a lot of chatter the last night we were there because it kept us going,” she recalls.

“The hardest jobs I ever had were those when I was by myself,” says Tammy. “I would stain and varnish the windows as well as do the painting. Having Nancy and Kendi makes it a lot easier.”

The group has never felt the need to do much advertising, as their satisfied customers do it for them. It has always been this way. In fact, when Tammy first began doing housecleaning, she started with one lady and the numbers kept increasing. Today, the threesome cleans homes one day each week and do their painting and papering jobs the other four.

“As a cleaning person, you get to know not only the families well, but also their pets,” adds Tammy.

It is second nature for them to clean as they go when they paint, so a customer’s home or business is always in good order when the ‘Painting by Tammy’ crew is done with a job.

The trio never has to worry about exercising as they get a workout everyday on their 8 am to 5 pm job.

After priming a ceiling or tackling some of their other jobs, they admit they sometimes have been really stiff and sore after these workouts. At these times, Tammy says they probably would benefit if they were to see a chiropractor.

In their line of work, people skills are definitely needed. Tammy adds a person has to be willing to go the extra mile when doing a job. She also says she has found the ability to be flexible a necessity, especially since they juggle schedules around frequently to accommodate the needs of area contractors.

“We get a lot of 911 calls from contractors who want a job done the same week they call us,” says Tammy. “We’ve been doing more of this work in the last couple of years. We all try to work together, so I arrange my schedule so I can go to these emergencies.”

She says, “I don’t know what I’d do without my cell phone. It sure helps with the jobs and makes it easier for the contractors to reach us when we are needed.”

Tammy has access to all the colors Armon’s, Dikken’s, Breen’s and Lamperts’ stock, so when she is called for a potential job, she takes these along as well as pictures of jobs the group has done which range from a black and white Nascar room to a bedroom resembling a circus tent.

“I can pretty well estimate how long a painting job will take us,” says Tammy, “but stripping wallpaper is always a surprise. One never knows what’s beneath the top layer, so I can never tell them a set time we’ll have the job done.

One very memorable wallpaper stripping job involved the group running into calcimine on a wall. The girls ended up covered in a Pepto-Bismal pink colored substance.

Although Nancy likes to ‘mud,’ the group primarily sticks to painting and papering. They also get excited when they try new products and projects such as staining a cement floor.

“We do a lot of leveling and measuring,” says Tammy. This is particularly needed when wallpapering and with today’s home improvement trend where any kind of painted lines are used on accent walls.

‘Painting by Tammy’ has also seen an increase in popularity by homeowners to use dark colors as well as teals, sage greens, reds and browns when redecorating.

The threesome receives referrals from the local realtors as well as Lamperts and Breen’s Hardware, so they are kept busy. When they have a cancellation, they merely move the next person on their ‘to-do’ list up, so scheduling ‘Painting byTammy’ is never totally predictable for a client. However, if an emergency or rush job is needed, the girls will try to fit it in.

“We have a different job every week,” says Tammy. This variety accounts for the group’s enthusiasm as they are always faced with a new creative challenge.

“Sometimes the client or even we will change an idea in mid-stream if we don’t like how it’s going,” says Tammy. Nothing is ever permanent in their business, as an added drop of pigment in their paint or a different type of roller can result in an entirely different effect.

“Sometimes we have to laugh when something really goes wrong, but generally we know a few cosmetic tricks and make things work,” says Tammy.

The scariest jobs they have tackled are those requiring them to use three levels of scaffolding to paper or paint and they have just a narrow plank on which to walk.

The least favorite product the crew has worked with is paintable wallpaper, but Tammy says they have learned by trial and error how to work with various products.

Tools of the trade for the group include ladders, strippers, lots of putty knives, screwdrivers, tapes, brushes and handles.

“We use only certain brushes and wallcoverings,” says Tammy. “We want good thick roller handles when we’re on a job.

Kendi jokingly adds they don’t have to worry about their appearance while on a job either. They can go to a used clothing store for their job wardrobe and no one would know the difference with all the paint spatters they acquire while walking the plank.

“We all like watching Extreme Make-Over and decorating shows on HGTV. Sometimes while I’m watching these shows I realize they didn’t even prime it. They just painted over it,” says a criticizing Tammy.

The local ‘Wonder Women’ of home improvement take the fresh ideas they have seen on TV and storm, like ghostbusters, into area decorating shops. Here they select their supplies in order to do their magic at area homes and businesses.

And they do so without idle chatter.