Behind the Design: The Waterloo

I’ve always been interested in the creative process. I grew up with a love for both film and literature, and I always wondered how some of these great and popular works could spring so well-formed from the mind of one person. As I got older and became more interested in writing fiction, I began to realize that behind a finished novel are hours of revision, editing, and tinkering. I also found that many books or works of art I admire often ended up in very different places than the artist intended when they began them. 

Maybe there are some geniuses out there whose art springs wholly formed from their minds, but, for us mere mortals, art is a process. 

In the early days, most of our output took the form of our popular state wall hangings. Kelley worked a full time job back then, so I would spend my days in the shop experimenting with every shape, pattern, and color combo I could think of. Every evening when she came home from work, we’d have a little show and tell. Sometimes she loved what I showed her. Sometimes she didn’t.


Through this process of what seemed like trial and error, we began to get a feel for not only what worked and what didn’t but also why it worked or didn’t work. Our experimenting became more intentional. Still speculative, but informed. 

One of the Earliest Designs

One of the first designs to emerge at this point was something we dubbed “the spiky design”. At the time, I was playing around with form in the shop and trying to push beyond my comfort zone. By then, I had realized that contrast was an element I liked playing around with in our pieces. From there, a lot of the design work involved tinkering with colors, tones, and textures to get just the right amount of contrast to make a piece pop the way I thought it should.

The first true example of the spiky design was kind of a revelation for me. Instead of a pattern, like most of our work had been up to that point, this design was random. Both of our brains (Kelley and I) like symmetry, so just being able to do something asymmetrical like the spiky design was sort of radical for our fledgling design sense.  

The piece was a hit, and we both liked it, so we kept exploring it and pushing it, working the random aspect and dialing in the contrast.

We noticed that different people saw different things in the design. We saw the potential for an abstract skyline, and one of our best customers, Melanie, agreed and asked us to create a custom panel for her. For her piece, we actually used a picture of the skyline as a reference to mimic the buildings in the piece we designed for her. We hand drew the concept for her, but before we could actually build it, we were approached by West Elm to build a mural for the cashwrap in their downtown Austin store. 

A simulated Austin skyline seemed like a perfect fit for a store in – downtown Austin. 

We approached the West Elm mural the same way we did Melanie’s piece. We sketched it out on paper, then drew it to scale using reference photos of Austin’s skyline to simulate the peaks and valleys of the buildings. 

In less than 3 months, we went from concept to install on the biggest mural we’ve done to date. 

We named it The Waterloo in honor of Austin’s original name. It’s 28’ x 8’ and can be seen behind the registers at West Elm-Austin.

For those of you that have been wanting one, we’re bringing it back for a limited time. Get yours here.

Thanks, y’all!

-Kris & Kelley

Like many great discoveries in history—chocolate chip cookies, Post-it notes, the Slinky—Kris and Kelley Denby came up with their popular Texas wall hangings almost by accident.
In 2013—about a year into their sputtering business of repurposing furniture, called Hemlock & Heather—the Denbys decided to make and donate something to a silent auction that would benefit the victims of the fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West. Kelley, who is from West, asked her husband to build something “Texasy.”
So Kris came up with a colorful wall hanging made entirely from reclaimed wood and in the iconic shape of Texas. It sold for $150. 
“People just went crazy for it,” recalls Kelley. “We were like, Maybe we’re on to something.”

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