On weekend nights, it isn’t out of the ordinary to find Cole and Carrick McKinney at a condemned house or building, dragging out huge wooden beams in their pajamas by the headlights of Cole’s Jeep.
“People tip us off all the time to places we can salvage wood from,” Carrick said. “We’re never sure going in what we’re getting, but it’s always interesting.”
The Tennessee natives own and operate Henry Furniture Company out of New Albany, making beds and tables by hand – and by hand, they mean everything, from cutting to planing, from sanding to staining.
“New wood, like pine, it’s white and soft and generic,” Cole said. “It’s the same every time.”
A bundle of dirty, nail-studded wood crowds the floor of their workshop, a modest storage unit tucked away on a side street in New Albany. Outside the loading bay under a tarp is another stack of boards a friend gave them off a barge.
“Working with these pieces is like putting a puzzle together,” Cole said. “It’s more work, but we don’t rush it. When you’re working with 120-year-old floorboards, everything feels like it has a story behind it.”
The story of Henry Furniture Co. begins like all invention: with necessity.
Carrick and Cole met and graduated from Ole Miss, with degrees in graphic design and business management, respectively. Carrick was back and forth between New York with an internship, during which time Cole found himself without a bed.
“I just had a mattress on the floor, so me and my roommate borrowed some tools and built a bed frame out on the front porch,” Cole said. “We put some pictures on social media, and from the comments it seemed like maybe we had something.”
Cole’s grandfather worked in a log mill outside of Eugene, Oregon, and taught him the bare basics of wood working as a kid. His grandfather would cut old growth fir and sell it overseas, and as he cut it, he taught Cole how to grade it. But that had been long ago.
When Carrick’s internship was over, the two were wed and moved to New Albany about a year ago.
In the first month, the couple sold half a dozen beds. They’ve shipped all over Mississippi, and recently sent a trailer full to New York City. In the meantime, they experimented with bunk beds, day beds, night stands, and a few other designs.
“The bunk bed came about when a woman in Atlanta ordered three headboards and asked if we would make two bunk beds for her too,” Carrick said. “So that was a fun challenge to figure out.”
“We’re good about customizing and listening to customers and getting them exactly what they need,” he said.
The couple prides themselves on making sturdy, long-lasting, tough furniture, and Carrick said when they complete a bed, they hang and swing on it to make sure it holds up. Surprisingly few of their orders have come from the area. Most ship out toward the East Coast, according to Cole. But the two have been making appearances at nearby farmer’s markets, and have seen success there.
“It makes all the difference having something they can see and touch in person,” he said. “And when people walk by, we get to have a conversation with them.”
Carrick said that what started out as a hobby has turned into a lot of long nights and weekends, but neither of them would have it any other way.
“It’s our time together,” she said. “When we started, he called me ‘The Hammer’ because that’s all I knew how to do, but we’re always learning. He does most of the cutting, but I do most of the staining.”
Cole works as a new project specialist for a Toyota distributor. It’s a desk job, he said, so by the time the 5 o’clock whistle blows, he’s ready to be on his feet.
“It’s definitely an outlet for me,” he said. “It’s more fun than work and it’s nice to actually do something together. There’s always something new to try. Like we never thought about making a day bed until a customer asked for one, so we drew it out and sent them the plans and brought it to life.”
Cole said they intended to keep working with old wood, but in upcoming projects, he wants to learn how to work with steel and copper to incorporate an industrial look to the furniture. Ironically, Carrick said their own home is actually sparse of furniture.
“We’ll get to our house someday,” she said.
Cole recalled his grandfather, who passed away a few weeks ago.
“When we got into it, he said, ‘I can’t believe what you’re doing with the stuff I taught you,’” Cole said. “He was stoked about it.”