We are so excited to feature our first husband and wife team. We’ve been following Hemlock & Heather, aka Kris and Kelley Denby, for years. Together they started Hemlock & Heather, and design unique wall hangings made from reclaimed wood. When we found out they were expecting a little girl this past May, we knew they’d be a perfect fit for Love Child. We chatted with Kelley about working with your partner, how she balances running a business and motherhood, and even got a sneak peek into their adorable nursery for daugher Dottie Jude, complete with links at the bottom of the post to some of her favorite items. All photography by Amber Snow
What was the inspiration behind starting Hemlock & Heather with your husband?
In 2012, we initially started H&H to make ends meet while Kris returned to school to complete his degree at UT-Austin. We were down to one income and wanted to dream up a creative solution for him to earn an income without it interfering with his school and study hours. Most of our big life decisions seem to be made at Matt’s El Rancho, so we started there, and, after a few breakfast tacos we had a name and a basic plan: we would build furniture from old wood and restore castaway, neglected pieces that we’d already picked up along the way. We were inspired by the concept of breathing new life into old, unwanted things, and by the idea of working for ourselves and creating together as a couple. To this day, we still use reclaimed wood in all of our wall hangings; something that we’re truly proud of.
How did your business grow from being an idea to a real business? Any tips for our readers who want to their ideas to the next level?
Honestly, the answer to that is in the question itself. You just have to stop thinking about the idea, whether the idea has merit, if the idea will work, if anyone will buy it, and just start doing it. That’s easy for us to say, because we were already down to one income and had nothing to lose by giving it a try. But I think the principle still works. The idea to have a business stopped being an idea and became a reality that day at Matt’s when we decided what we were going to be called and what we were going to be about. Ultimately, I would say to just go for it. Don’t wait until everything is perfect, until your business plan is complete, and by all means, do not listen to the naysayers in your life. In fact, get rid of those people, because you won’t have time for their negative energy anyway once your business really takes off. 😉
Kris and I have always found that we work really well together. Whether it was planning for our wedding, tackling remodeling projects around our home, or collaborating on designs for our wall hangings, we’re fortunate that we make a great team. I realize how lucky I am to have someone who can take my crazy ideas and bring them to fruition. Over the years we have naturally migrated toward our own strengths within running our business and naturally toward our roles within H&H. I try to tackle all of the ins and outs of running the business, while allowing Kris to be out in the shop building, but we always seem to be picking up slack for one another when the situation calls for it.
I am such a big picture kind of person and Kris is all about the details, when it comes to building and designing, which works out great for making sure we have all of our bases covered. We balance one another out in every way, both personally and professionally.
It’s challenging enough to run your own business and find a way to “turn it off” when you get home. How do you and your husband balance your work relationship and personal relationship?
We definitely struggle with “turning it off” in the evenings and weekends, because it’s true what they say, “when you love what you’re doing, it never truly feels like work”. However, we do our best to not check our emails or talk about business once we have dinner in front of us for the evening. I will say that our best “work” brainstorming meetings always tend to take place organically over cocktails in our cul-de-sac or on our screened-in back porch.
What are the pros and cons of working with your partner?
Pros: You’re in it together, 100%. There’s no risk of your partner dumping you and moving on to the next venture. You each have equal amounts of skin in the game. The best part for us is getting to celebrate the wins in our business together and getting to see our dreams unfold before our eyes.
Cons: You’re in it together, 100%. Ha. You’re going to have disagreements with your business partner and with us, we try to draw the line of when we’re truly discussing business issues vs. personal issues. We have to constantly check our egos at the door and truly hear one another out when faced with an issue or stressful situation when it comes to our business.
Thanks so much! Life is definitely different, in that we now have to be much more efficient with our time and working hours. I now laugh at my former pregnant self who thought she would be able to tackle a mile long to-do list while on maternity leave from a full-time fundraising job. What I quickly realized is that there is no maternity leave when you own your own business. I was fortunate enough to lean on Kris that first month to run the business, even though he was just as stressed and nearly as sleep-deprived as I was. These days, I don’t respond as quickly to emails or text messages as before, nor can I tackle my to-do list in a single sitting, but, honestly, I’m learning to be more forgiving and kinder to myself, which is a lesson I needed to learn. Kris and I work hard to make time for one another and I now especially cherish our impromptu happy hours on our screened-in back porch at the end of a long workday. Only now, we’re a party of three instead.
I was inspired early on by the concept of designing her nursery around the southwest flair of West Texas, in particular, Marfa, Texas.
In October of 2014, Kris and I spent our wedding anniversary in Marfa, shortly after I had my first and only miscarriage. We had a chance encounter with a local who asked if he could share a beer with us under the town’s pavilion. We took him up on it and after talking for a bit, he suddenly turned to me and said that the next pregnancy would work out (which it did). Of course there’s no way that he would have known what we just went through and we were stunned by his words, but chalked it up to the magic that seems to surround Marfa.
While there, we stopped into the lobby of the historic Hotel Paisano, which is where I snapped the picture of the bison with my vintage 35mm x-700 Minolta camera. The West Elm rug was the very first item I registered for and was the anchor for the color palette used throughout. I also knew that I wanted to incorporate the decorations from my baby shower, which were made by my incredibly talented friend, Jane. So, I owe her for the pom-pom garland, gold dipped feather garland, and the mobile that I made out of her table decorations.
I noticed a Hemlock & Heather wall hanging in Dottie’s nursery. Was this piece designed with her nursery in mind?
I wish I could say that it was. While I was pregnant, we discussed designing and building a custom piece for her nursery, but alas, life got in the way and it never came to fruition. I always tease Kris that I’m the “shoemakers kid”! Kris designed and built the 24” Texas Wall Hanging a couple of years ago and let me keep it when I fell in love with its simplistic design. I opted to move the piece from our living room to her nursery when I realized it fit in nicely with her décor. But, honestly, I’m so used to working with what we already have or can acquire cheaply (we’ve never been above snapping things up from Goodwill or, sometimes even, the side of the road) that it sort of fit my “style” to use what was already at hand. There’s something extra special about making use of items that have been passed down from family or breathing new life into old things that others have failed to see the beauty in. I grew up in a home that was chalk full of new and old items and I’ve carried that concept into our home esthetic. My mom once used a stick she found in the yard as a curtain rod and it worked! Haha! I owe her for having the ability to take an eclectic piece and make it work with a new one.
Give us one piece of advice for balancing motherhood and running your own business?
I would say to learn when to shut it off and to lend your attention to your children. There are moments when my face is buried in a screen and I’ll look down and see that Dottie is smiling up at me. It shatters my heart that I might have missed that moment, because I was too engrossed in a screen to pay attention to her. I want to be as present as I possibly can, but have yet to master that delicate balance. On the flip side of that, I’m thankful that my daughter will grow up around a busy household and business and will get to see firsthand how gratifying hard work can be when you do what you love.
We love how you incorporated your dog in your newborn photos. Any advice for our readers who are nervous about how baby and puppy will get along?
We received the best advice from our vet! He suggested having a friend or family member bring home an article of clothing that the baby wore for each day that they’re in the hospital and allow the dog to sniff and get acclimated to the baby’s scent. Then, he went on, when you bring your baby home, allow your dog to greet you at the door and smell the baby directly. It worked like a charm for us, although Lucy seemed as though she couldn’t care less about Dottie. Haha! I hope Dottie’s toddler years will be kind to Lucy.
What does your wellness routine look like?
Currently, it’s non-existent, except for the occasional pedicure here and there. Once the weather cools a bit, I’ll be taking Dottie and Lucy to Lady Bird Lake Trail (aka: Town Lake) to run/walk. I miss the trail; it’s always been a therapeutic and special place for me, both mentally and physically.
What’s next for Hemlock & Heather?
Our list of goals for this year is a mile long, but the one that’s top-of-mind is to move into a larger shop space. It’s imperative that, if we want to grow our production efforts and continue to take on large custom projects, we have a larger shop space to do so. It’s exciting and, of course, a little scary to take such a leap of faith like this, but I feel that we’re ready for this next big step for H&H!