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 bread winner 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.
We began brainstorming.
Over margaritas and fajitas 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 Etsy.
We picked up furniture off the side of the road, snagged pieces from 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 metal frames we could repurpose. We hate seeing 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 a few 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 Vanek, 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.
It was a huge hit.
Pretty soon, we were selling our Texas Wall Hangings in a local boutique. And later that fall, we were chosen to be part of West Elm’s Best of Local collection.
Today we make 49 of the 50 states. We’ve built murals for West Elm and Lululemon, and we’ve shipped thousands of state-shaped wall hangings to customers all over the country. We take pride in handcrafting each and every piece we make and ship out. 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. Every wall hanging you buy from us is made 100% by hand, by us, and supports our family.