Kelly Cameron puts in 12-hour days in his woodworking shop, a cavernous space in Clinton off Cultus Bay Road.
The long labor is worth it for the British Columbia native and co-owner of Turnco Wood Goods, which has seen rapid growth in the past 12 months operating on South Whidbey. He estimated that 70 percent of the business’ earnings come from the wood goods side of the business, which also makes architectural pieces such as parts for lamps or cabinets and even replicated wood columns and balusters for a clock tower in Heppner, Ore.
This time last year, the husband-and-wife company that produces a handful of wooden wares for the home, including spatulas, mason jar lids, carafe stoppers and lamps, had its products in only three stores. Today, it’s in 23 brick-and-mortar shops from Saskatchewan to Maine and New York to Hong Kong, plus two online stores.
When Cameron and his wife Janae decided to leave Vancouver, British Columbia, for South Whidbey, they expected a change of pace in their lives. The great unknown was how their business would fare, and, for a while, it was a struggle.
“A big reason we moved here was lifestyle,” Kelly Cameron said.
“We knew we’d move and we knew our business would change,” Janae Cameron added. “We didn’t know if it would take off.”
Indeed it has. A key turning point for the Camerons was being featured in Food 52, a New York-based food and cooking website. From there, other stores contacted the Camerons on the East Coast, further enhancing their profile in the home ware industry.
Locally, business picked up in recent months. A pair of shops in Langley now sell their products, which Janae Cameron said is a good sign of things to come for their business in the Puget Sound area.
“We worked a lot harder to find a store on Whidbey than Hong Kong,” Kelly Cameron said, referring to the Chinese store Pyaar Home, which contacted the Camerons about including their goods in the shop.
Now they are considering hiring help if orders keep coming in at a similar pace as the past four months. Janae also spends several hours a day in the shop on the lathe turning lids and stoppers.
The Camerons have their ideal setup. They work where they live, and live where they work. Fewer than 100 feet from their shop is their home, where they’re able to stay close to their 4-year-old and 2-year-old children during the day. Janae Cameron noted the perks of having dad eat breakfast and, when he has the time, lunch, with the family.
It’s been years since the husband and wife of nearly seven years have spent much time apart. The last time they spent more than a day away from each other was a two-day visit Janae Cameron took to see her mother. Other than that, it’s a near–24-hour-a-day relationship.
“We’re very different,” she said. “Even our tastes are different.”
When they’re in the shop, each gets to retreat to their own world. Kelly Cameron described himself as having a modern aesthetic with an eye for Scandinavian design, while Janae Cameron said she’s more nostalgic. In their shop, Kelly pointed to the lamps he created as an example of his style, whereas an old camper trailer parked inside was more to Janae’s liking.
Then there’s the environment. For a pair of woodworkers, they hardly could have picked a more suitable location than their wooded acreage in Clinton that has a multitude of wood, some of which they have used in their goods, such as a cherry tree that fell during the heavy snowfall and strong winds earlier this month.
Outside of their shop are several milled planks of elm and black locust being dried for use in the coming year as the Camerons expand their business to small furniture, such as coffee tables, stools and dining tables.
Little wood goes to waste at the Clinton shop. Shavings and sawdust are used for bedding for their goat, Lydia, who behaves like a dog by following people around their property awaiting head scratching. Odds and ends are turned into whatever inspiration strikes the Camerons, including small cookie rolling pins, different shapes for couch legs and kindling. They’re looking into a wood pellet compressor to turn some of their sawdust and shavings into fuel for wood-burning stoves, for which Kelly Cameron said they could produce enough for two homes every year.
The Camerons geek out over wood types. Madrona is their muse these days for its local ties — it only grows in coastal areas, from British Columbia to Northern California — and variety of color. But they also feature lots of walnut for its consistent dark chocolate color and look and cherry for some of the less rugged uses, such as muddlers.
“I feel like cherry is the all-American wood,” Janae Cameron said.
A lot of hard work went into their success, matched only by the labor put into each handcrafted piece. That’s why the oft-stoic, soft-spoken Kelly Cameron said he relishes when someone appreciates one of his works.
“Some people get excited, and it’s neat to see,” he said.
“I like being in demand.”