On an early Wednesday evening in April, while many moms prepared dinners and reviewed their family’s schedules for the next day, 30-year-old Tahina Rodriguez was applying her electric sandblaster to a new custom-designed three-drawer dresser.
By day, Rodriguez, a 2003 Harker Heights High School graduate, is a development specialist at the Central Texas Workforce Center in Killeen. By evening and on weekends, she is creator and owner of Lee Designs, refurbishing and making furniture by hand.
Inside the garage of her Killeen home, wood chips fly through the air along with the smells of lemon oil and acrylic paint. Light music plays as Rodriguez prepares to finish her project.
“I love doing this. It brings me joy every minute,” Rodriguez said.
Born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico and other places around the globe, Rodriguez and her family settled in Central Texas in 1995.
“Both of my parents served in the Army, so the moving around helped me with many of my designing influences as well as 1800-era history,” Rodriguez said.
By the time she was 9, Rodriguez already started painting on canvas and began working with furniture when she was 11. She learned everything from her mother.
“The women in my family take pride in furniture-making,” Rodriguez said. “It is almost an unofficial family tradition.”
Now, Rodriguez’s son, Andres, is carrying on that tradition.
“He is my little helper around the shop. He measures, cleans and even helps me paint,” she said.
In early 2012, Rodriguez was encouraged by her co-worker, Marcus Carr, to take her hobby to a more serious level and start a business.
“We saw her work and wanted to help her take this to a another level. She is very talented and we always give her old furniture to be refurbished or to change into, who knows, a new coffee table,” Carr said.
By mid-2012, Rodriguez began making a name for herself by word of mouth. Soon she was vending at fairs, and even helped raise funds to support veterans. By the end of 2012, Rodriguez was selling her furniture throughout Bell County.
“It was very exciting to finally get the ball rolling,” she said.
In 2013, after her grandmother died, Rodriguez had to take a break from her business.
“I took it very hard when she passed, so I had to step away from the business side of things,” Rodriguez said. “My grandmother was the rock of the family and we were really close.
During her grieving, she started to paint images of her grandmother. In the process, she found a new artistic method — paper acrylic — an extremely versatile, fast-drying form of painting.
Rodriguez said she’s now ready to start her business again.
“I see myself owning a shop one day and being solely focused on my craft,” she said. “When I paint, decorate or even design, I am expressing myself without speaking. This is not only my hobby, but it is my therapy.”