I was scanning through our Instagram feed the other day and reflecting on how our style has changed over the almost decade that we’ve been making reclaimed wooden art. If you’ve recently stumbled onto our site or social media feeds, you might think we’ve always been about bold colors and a retro aesthetic, but those of you who have been with us for a long time (thank you, by the way!) know that our style has changed a great deal over the years.
The truth is, I always wanted to try using retro colors in our pieces, but I had to overcome some fears before we were able to successfully pull it off.
For the first 4 years of our existence, we didn’t paint a single scrap of wood that we used in our pieces. Not one. If you go back through our feed, you will see bright colors, but none of it was painted by us.
In those days, we scavenged 100% of the wood we used. Most of it we found when Austin did its seasonal bulk pick up. I drove a 4 Runner at the time, and I would drive around the city, piling anything and everything made from wood we could find in the back and on the roof rack. We’d grab nightstands, dressers, coffee tables, and any other brightly-painted furniture we could get our hands on, take it all home, clean it up, and disassemble it. It was fun, but our designs were always limited by what we could find.
If it had been up to Kelley, we would have started using paint much earlier, but I was afraid that if we deviated from what we had always done, that if we changed our style, people wouldn’t like it. As time went on, though, it became clearer to me that if I didn’t change my rigid thinking and move past my fear of trying something new, Hemlock & Heather would forever be limited. And when the opportunity came along to build a 28’ mural for West Elm’s downtown Austin store, I caved.
After that build, we started experimenting with paint and different vibrant colors, and it was like a whole other world opened up to us.
A few months after we wrapped the West Elm Austin piece, we began work on a mural for a brand new West Elm San Antonio store that incorporated the bright colors of Fiesta. A little less than a month after the piece was installed, we began offering our first-ever made-to-order, Texas wall hangings in set colors and designs.
It was a huge step for us.
But it would be another year and a half before we were able to successfully marry the retro aesthetic I had in my head with our work. And, again, it mostly came down to fear.
The first time I tried using a retro colorway was a fail. I convinced myself that using pop culture and nostalgia in our work would somehow devalue it and that our customers wouldn’t like it, so I abandoned the concept.
Fear of failure, once again, stood between me and progress.
That finally changed on November 1, 2017 when the Houston Astros won their first World Series. As Texans and erstwhile ball players ourselves, Kelley and I got caught up in the excitement. The next day, we decided to build a Texas wall hanging inspired by the Astros tequila sunrise uniforms of the 70s and 80s. Through luck or an abundance of inspiration fueled by nostalgia, we managed to hit it out of the park on our first at bat. We posted the piece to our Instagram that day, and by the end of the week, we’d sold a couple dozen of them.
It took time
We knew we were onto something, but it would be another 7 months before we started really experimenting with those retro colorways. And it started, like so many other things do with H&H, with Kelley’s encouragement.
It was all I needed to get started. I built a bunch of new concepts that summer. Some of the pieces worked out, some of them didn’t. But our ‘76 Collection was born out of that phase of experimentation - and probably the most honest design work I’ve done since we started H&H.
In the 3+ years since we built that first Astros piece, we’ve leaned into that retro design aesthetic.
I’ve learned to trust my gut more and let who we are (not who people think we should be) inform our work.
But it took letting go of fear. Fear that it was the wrong move for our customer base. Fear that it was the wrong direction for the business. Fear that it was limiting. Fear that we (I) would fail.
I won’t lie to you and tell you that I’m no longer afraid of failure. Because I am. But I fear it less.
I can look back over our history as a business and recognize that it’s only been through failure (and the lessons learned from each failure) that we have arrived here, where we are today.
And it’s a place we feel pretty comfortable in.
What’s holding you back? What would you like to fear less of in 2021?
-Kris & Kelley