When Laura McNelly started woodworking in 2011, she did not know that she was actually beginning the process of building a booming business: McNelly Farmhouse Love.
“I started because I was really inspired by Pottery Barn, and I couldn’t afford it,” says McNelly with a laugh. “I was newly married, had a new house, and so I found some plans online, and I built a table. Then, after I did a couple more pieces, friends and family started asking me to make stuff for them.”
At the time, McNelly was going to school for biotechnology and biochemistry.
“Then I had my first little one, who is now 10,” she says. “I was working shift work in the middle of the night, and I had already been building pieces. I was just tired of being away from him. I decided I wanted to be home more, so I kind of tested the waters and started my business. After it took off, I just completely switched gears. It has been crazy.”
McNelly says she has an approximate four- to five-month waitlist for her custom woodworking creations, which range from tables and bed frames to hutches and media stands and more – all created out of her home in Alton.
“Anytime I want to try a new piece or a new design, I always try it out in our home first to see how I like it,” McNelly says. “For example, if it’s a table, I want to know what is the most comfortable with the chair situation – how many chairs are going to fit, is it comfortable, is something in the way of your legs, is there anything I need to tweak. Then I just kind of switch it up as I go.”
McNelly is a self-taught woodworker (with a few classes officially up her sleeve).
“I just kind of dove in and went for it,” McNelly says. “I found Ana White’s website [of HGTV’s show Saving Alaska]. I started using her plans and learned as I went. With woodworking, you can watch a million tutorials, but you will never learn to become good at it unless you’re doing trial and error and you’re learning from your mistakes. A lot of people think you just throw together a bunch of wood, but there is so much preparation that goes into it before you can even use the wood.”
For her pieces, McNelly prides herself in using realwood from area lumber yards.
“You have to go through a million pieces before you find a piece that is good, so I literally hand-pick every piece of wood that is used in all of my pieces,” she says. “I’ve done this since my kids were little and strapped to my back in a baby carrier.”
In addition to furniture, McNelly creates one-of-a-kind wall art.
“That’s my biggest passion, and that’s something that has kind of taken off, too,” McNelly says. “It’s creative. Doing custom orders, you get in the routine of building the same thing over and over, so with the wall art, it gave me the creative outlet that I really needed.”
In the future, McNelly hopes to launch a line that combines her wall art with her furniture.
“I want to bring the texture and design from the wall art and put it in my furniture,” McNelly says. “I have a few things drawn up, and that is my plan, to work some of that in. It’s going to be a little more edgy than the farmhouse look. I’m hoping it will turn out as good as I have planned.”
And although McNelly requires orders picked up from her home at present, it doesn’t mean McNelly furniture calls only the American heartland home.
“I have had people from all over the United States drive to pick up orders,” she says. “It’s crazy that people will drive two days to pick something up, but they do. I’ve made over 1,000 pieces. It is very accomplishing to make something from scratch. It’s a good feeling.”
McNelly Farmhouse Love, 314-779-7649, mcnellyfarmhouselove.com