After Natalie and Julian Dion bought their first home, they needed to furnish it—but the couple spent all their savings on a down payment. So what would they do in a few weeks when they were hosting family for Christmas? Julian was a carpenter and designer. Natalie had a knack for home décor design, so they combined their resources to create their dream dining room table using remnants from Julian’s past projects.
Not long after creating that first table, Natalie caught the creative entrepreneur bug, and today she is the CEO of The Carpentry Shop Co., a woodworking and design company that creates unique, handcrafted furniture and decor. We’re talking pieces that will one day be heirlooms. In her interview, Natalie shares how the business started, what keeps it going and advice for running a creative business—including recommending other small businesses that helped shape her brand.
Artisan Joy: How did you get started creating your art or creative product?
Natalie Dion: I started designing furniture when we purchased our first home. I was seven7 months pregnant with our first child. We had just spent our life savings on closing costs and had no money for furniture. I am extremely close with my family, and they asked if we could host Christmas. Julian and I panicked for a moment until an amazing idea popped into his head. He would make us a dining table with leftover wood from his construction projects. The dining table is the first piece we made together. Then, there was an entry bench, some bookshelves, toy boxes, console tables, coffee tables, a vanity and frames. We would host gatherings at our home, and everyone would ask the same question: ‘Where did you get your furniture?’
AJ: At what point did you realize that you could turn it into a business?
ND: I launched The Carpentry Shop Co. with the support of my husband in February 2020. He said, ‘Natalie if you can design it. I will build it.’ I had been working in the federal government for the past ten years but figured out that I wasn’t content with what I was doing. Julian was running our first company, now known as TCSC Outdoors—a family-owned hardscaping contractor company in NYC specializing in custom carpentry. Together we decided that I would leave my secure and dependable job to build a company that I was passionate about. My last day of work was February 4, 2020. One month into launching the company, we were hit by the global pandemic. We took it as an opportunity to really buckle down and hone our craft. We spent days in our empty workshop building and designing tables with our girls. I listed the tables for sale on Etsy, and we made our first sales on that platform. Then through word of mouth, we were commissioned to do our first two big projects.
AJ: How do you define success for your creative business?
ND: Success at The Carpentry Shop Co. is tied to the level of happiness our furniture brings to our clients. The pieces we make are intended to enable and encourage connection. The joy we get when we see someone’s reaction to the finished piece is everything. It brings us so much pride that something we made is going into someone’s home.
AJ: Where do you find inspiration?
ND: I find inspiration everywhere. Sometimes it’s the wood that inspires me. Scouting lumber yards is one of my favorite things. Every piece of wood is unique, and I love giving the wood a second life. Our clients inspire me. I enjoy speaking with them and getting to understand their needs. Sometimes the smallest details become the most important aspects of the designs. Getting to know my clients is super important to me. Lastly, the world inspires me—the shapes and textures naturally found in nature. It can be images from a magazine or architecture. Paintings, sculptures and historical items have a special place in my heart.
AJ: What advice would you give to someone who wants to begin selling their art or creative product?
ND: The hardest thing for me was establishing its worth. It is hard to put a price tag on something that facilitates self-expression. If you are turning a passion into a business, understand that you have to put a monetary value to it. Some see the value and have no issue with the price. Others may comment on the cost. The key is not to race to the bottom. If you are making something that has expression and meaning, believe in your pricing structure. There is the perfect client out there for each piece.
AJ: What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
ND: I did not attend art school. I have a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Smeal College of Business at Penn State.
AJ: As creatives, we can be continuously creating and refining our art. How do you handle perfectionism?
ND: The beauty of what we do is that the wood is perfectly imperfect. We enhance the natural beauty that mother nature has provided. Our perfectionism comes into place with our techniques and execution of the project. We use high-quality, responsibly sourced materials. We are constantly learning and expanding our knowledge.
AJ: What’s something that surprised you about running a creative business?
ND: How quickly people want to put you in a box. They want your business to fit nicely under a label. Something that is familiar to them. They don’t always see your vision. Not all advice is good, and sometimes you have to trust your instincts.
AJ: Running a business brings joys and challenges. What advice would you give to someone about handling the highs and lows?
ND: Highs are great, but you really figure out what kind of business you are in the lows. The lows are the times we learn the most. We have to push back the temptation to run and really stand firm in what we are building. It’s in challenging times that we emerge stronger.
AJ: Has someone ever criticized your work? How did you handle it?
ND: People criticize our work all the time. The first thing I try to figure out is intent. If someone genuinely has feedback that will improve the quality of our work, I am all ears. I listen to their feedback and think about what they said over several days. Sometimes, I will bring it to my team so we can discuss and put a plan into action. But, then, there are the haters. These are people that love to hate. It doesn’t matter what it is. They like to find fault in the world. I don’t listen to their comments. I block them out. I try my best to remove negativity from my life in all aspects.
AJ: What’s a cause you are passionate about and why?
ND: We believe that our incredible planet provides us with endless wonder and countless possibilities. By living out one of our core values, we show respect for our planet by giving back however we can, whenever we can. For this reason, we have proudly partnered with One Tree Planted, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to global reforestation. To date, One Tree Planted has planted over 40 million new trees across 43 countries and counting! As “One-for-One” partners, one tree is planted for every TCSC product sold. Our year-to-date contribution equals 780 trees planted. You can learn more about the organization at onetreeplanted.org.
AJ: Can you share the name of a supplier or vendor that you use for your business that you just love—one that makes running a business a bit easier?
ND: One of the best things about owning your own business is you get to choose who you work with. We pride ourselves on working with other small businesses. Colectva provides comprehensive brand architecture and holistic business guidance for the busiest and most tenacious businesswomen. If you are serious about building a brand, founder Susana Cardona can help build and execute your brand strategy. DMG Hardwoods in York, ME is incredible. Walnut Road Harwoods in Lancaster, PA has some of the most amazing prices. Lenna Keshishian is an upcoming textile maker, and we feel privileged to be working with her. Laina Karavani is an amazing product photographer who shoots all our products. The people at Kait Design Studio are the geniuses behind our website. Our graphic designers are a husband-and-wife duo from Mexico City, and we feel honored to have worked with them. I could go on and on. When possible, we source and partner with small businesses.
AJ: And, of course, we have to ask you this: what brings you joy?
ND: My family brings me joy. They are the reason I create. They give me the room to be myself in all forms. I know my greatest achievement will be raising two incredible human beings. They are so proud of what we have achieved so far. Knowing that my husband and sisters are cheering me on is the most inspiring thing. My aunts, cousins and close friends were some of my first customers. My family believes in me and my dream to create furniture that encourages connection.
Thanks, Natalie. You can learn more about The Carpentry Shop Co. at www.thecarpentryshopco.com.
This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.