To celebrate 9 years in business, we thought it would be fun (interesting?) to take a look back at our history—how we got started, and how we ended up where we are today. Thank you guys for taking the time to read this. It’s not in our nature to talk about ourselves or in any way brag about our accomplishments. We hope this doesn’t come across that way.
Thank you so much for engaging with us on social media, and, most of all, thank you for your (almost) decade-long support. We wouldn’t be here without you.
We are Kris and Kelley Denby, a husband and wife team, living and creating in Austin, Texas.
We started Hemlock & Heather in 2012 as a way to make ends meet while I (Kris) finished up my degree at The University of Texas. I had been laid off from my job in the building industry in late 2010, and Kelley, ever the optimist, insisted I take that opportunity to go back to school full time. We both knew it would be a financial burden, but she didn’t care. She had a mantra she would repeat (that she still repeats to this day): We’ll figure it out.
And she was right.
We did. But it was hard. Kelley shouldered the burden of being the main breadwinner while I spent my days learning and studying. To bring in some money, I went to work for a friend of ours, Rebecca McKee (owner of Briley’s Upholstery Shop) making simple furniture frames. I was comfortable around saws and other tools, and I could work largely on my own and in my spare time, which suited me. But I learned a lot in that year and a half, and, eventually, we were ready to put those skills to new use.
So we began brainstorming.
Over margaritas at our favorite Tex-Mex spot, Matt’s El Rancho, we came up with our name and our basic concept: We would acquire castaway pieces of furniture (which we seemed to be good at anyway), rehab them, and sell them on Craigslist.
We picked up furniture off the side of the road, bought pieces at Goodwill—even dumpster-dived for a few things; pretty soon our garage was bursting at the seams with sad, dilapidated furniture. We sold a few pieces here and there, but quickly realized we hated sanding old varnish.
It was time to make our first pivot.
But we weren’t quite done with the second hand furniture. We realized a lot of the pieces we had on hand had perfectly serviceable parts we could repurpose. We hate seeing perfectly useful things go into the landfill, so we kept what we could use, and got rid of the often broken or useless parts. Kelley liked the marriage of metal with the warmth of old wood, and I had a pile of reclaimed wood sitting around from my days in the building industry, so we got to work.
We sold some pieces online and to friends (thanks, friends), but we soon realized that, if you took away the legs or frames, essentially what we were building were art panels. And that was the part we really loved. But we didn’t think anyone would pay us to create art out of old wood.
How wrong we were.
In the spring of 2013, tragedy struck Kelley’s small home town of West, Texas. An explosion at a local fertilizer plant left the town devastated, physically and emotionally. Kelley and one of her best friends (Trisha V., also from West) decided to host a benefit to raise money for the town. She asked me to make something “Texas-y” for the silent auction. I tend to take things very literally, so I went into the garage and made a Texas cut out from some of the old wood I had lying around.
I honestly had no idea what I was doing.
Instinct, more than anything, drove the design, because I had no idea how the shape of Texas would be oriented while I was building the piece. I just tried to cut and lay out the pieces into a design that I found aesthetically pleasing. To my eyes at least. When I was done cutting, gluing, and nailing, I stood back to survey the damage.
I looked at the piece from different angles until I decided on an orientation, and then marked the shape of Texas onto the rough shape I’d made. Got the jigsaw out and started cutting. After a bit of sanding and a backer (which we later ditched thanks to Allison Beyer’s advice!), it was basically done.
I honestly don’t remember thinking that much about the piece after it was done. I certainly never thought that little 10” Texas would change the course of my life, but it did.
Spoiler alert: It was a huge hit.
And pretty soon we were selling our Texas Wall Hangings in a local boutique called Mockingbird Domestics. And later that fall, we were invited to be part of West Elm’s Best of Local collection. In 2016, to our complete shock, we were contacted by some folks from a little show called Fixer Upper and asked if we could build a headboard for an upcoming episode. We had to decline the offer due to a tight timeline, but not long after, someone from Magnolia reached out and invited us to be a part of their 2nd annual Silobration.
Since then, we have attended at least one Magnolia event (and sometimes multiple) a year. We’ve met lifelong friends at these events (fellow vendors, customers, and Magnolia employees), and we eventually got the chance to see one of our pieces on a Fixer Upper episode!
Today, we make 49 of the 50 states.
We’ve built murals for West Elm and Lululemon, and shipped thousands of state-shaped wall hangings, panels, and our minis all over the country (and a few overseas). Our work has been featured in Fast Company, HGTV Magazine, Texas Monthly, Austin Monthly, Austin Home, and Tribeza. We take pride in handcrafting each and every piece we make and ship. And we try to honor the spirit of that first piece by donating pieces every year to different charities.
We thank you so much for your business these past 9 years—and into the future. Every wall hanging you buy from us is made 100% by hand, by us, and supports our family. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity to live our lives in this way, making things that we love, and that, hopefully, you love as well.
Kris & Kelley Denby
Leave a comment