But it was a series of extenuating circumstances that not only expanded their storytelling passion to the unexplored medium of woodworking, but also allowed the two to go into business together in 2012.
And funnily enough, despite a family full of woodworkers, a penchant for creating one-of-a-kind wood pieces for friends and family, previous experience in the carpentry business, and a crazy creative side, it wasn’t until the Denbys created a piece for a local fundraiser that they realized the true potential of their business.
“I’m from West, so when the explosion happened in April , my friend and I had a fundraiser in Austin to raise money,” says Kelley. “I asked Kris to build something for the silent auction, so he went into the shop and made a Texas wall hanging out of reclaimed wood. People just went nuts over it.”
That was the ignition moment for their business, Hemlock & Heather – a name born from a combination of hemlock trees and Mexican heather, meant to symbolize the partnership between the married duo: Kris’s hard to Kelley’s soft, his masculine to her feminine.
From there, Kris and Kelley secured a meeting with local retailer Mockingbird Domestics. Though their original intention was to sell furniture, the store’s buyer was immediately drawn to the wall hangings and bought a test batch. In less than a week, the store was sold out – they just couldn’t keep them on the shelves.
“We didn’t set out to do these, but that’s what people were most drawn to,” says Kelley.
In 2013, they completely turned their focus to the Texas wall hangings. As the pieces continued to gain traction at Mockingbird Domestics, other local retailers began to take notice of Hemlock & Heather… soon, they were being carried in West Elm.
It’s easy to understand why Hemlock & Heather’s work has become so popular in such a short time. Besides playing on the immense state pride Texans feel, the duo (along with Kris’s son, Ethan) spend their days artfully crafting the design of each wall hanging, and the results are truly beautiful and unique. When it comes to the look of each piece, Kris assures me there’s no secret formula. “We don’t try to overthink this, and these wall hangings don’t carry some hidden meaning – I just look for what is aesthetically pleasing.”
Unlike other artists who can envision something in their heads and then bring it to life, the Denbys’ decision to use 100 percent reclaimed wood puts some constraint on the final result. “I may really want to use some turquoise but ran out of that particular wood, so I’m forced to work with a maroon or gold piece and have to figure out how to make it look good,” says Kris. “That’s what I love about this – we’re confined to the stuff we find. Sometimes that gets boring, but I like to let the texture and color of each wood inform the piece.”
Even with the constraints, the duo continues to wow fans across the country with their talent, and has even expanded their portfolio to include other state hangings and a corporate project for Lululemon’s Barton Creek store.
For Kris and Kelley, the next logical step is the expansion of their business to include more corporate installations like the one at Lululemon. But the Denbys remind us that growth will be a delicate balance for them: “We want to grow this business without losing a sense of who we are and forgetting what we originally set out to do.”
Personally, I’m not worried for the pair. Just talking to them, it’s clear that no matter how popular Hemlock & Heather gets, they’ll always honor their humble beginnings and the piece that started it all.
“I f I see a pattern I like online, I’ll screenshot it and save it on the computer. If I’m walking through a parking lot and see a color pattern I like, I’ll capture it. I take pictures all the time of things that I think will help inform what we do.”
Tips of the Trade
Who are your three favorite local artists?
1.“A&K Home,not only do they create beautiful, quality furniture, but they are also incredibly talented, good-hearted people.”
2.“Paul Meyers, if you’ve ever been to Mockingbird Domestics, you’ve probably seen his mixed media work. He makes these scenes that are not what they seem, but super evocative – like a Rorschach test, I think you see what you want to see.”
3.“Shawn Smith, we first saw his work at the Parade of Homes this past May, and it is AMAZING.”
Writing by: Rachael Genson – @rmgenson
Photography by: All images shown courtesy of Hemlock & Heather.
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