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Somewhere in Philadelphia, time moves differently. The past and present blur at Peg and Awl, where Margaux and Walter Kent have made a world of their own that's firmly rooted in place. These makers reclaim found, discarded, and forgotten objects, transforming them into pieces both novel and nostalgic. Their most recent, a new Reclaimed Wood Spice Cubby, was designed just for us—and is perfect for holding mason jars packed with pantry essentials. We spoke with Margaux and Walter about the origins of Peg and Awl, their creative process, and the inner workings of their own kitchen.
How did Peg and Awl come about?
Walter: Peg and Awl started because of the persistence and vision of Margaux and the hesitation and faith of me. From the first day we met, Margaux and I have been making things together.
In 2007, we both had recently moved to Fishtown, a neighborhood of Philadelphia. Margaux was a photographer and bookbinder, I a portrait painter and woodworker; I invited her over to talk art and she invited me over to make books. Within a week we were making art, going on photo trips together, and working on her studio (which soon turned into our studio). With out knowing it we were creating the foundations of Peg and Awl. After the birth of our first boy Søren, a wedding adventure in Iceland, a year long separation (I went on a tour in Iraq with the Army), and my return, we were finally ready to start a business together.
Margaux had had several businesses before and was ready to dive right in, making stuff together and selling it, but I was a little more apprehensive. We had no plan, no goals, and no vision, just the desire to make things—useful things—with our hands and share them with the rest of the world. We started in our house, opened an Etsy shop, and when to local craft shows. The Peg and Awl team grew quickly and by 2012, after nearly bursting our house with the weight of materials, makers, and ideas, we decided to move the business elsewhere.
Peg and Awl’s new and current home is in the Atlas Casket Factory, a building that still boasts a conveyor belt, a trolley track and traces of the making that occurred for decades. Here, histories overlap as Peg and Awl gathers new life with new makers, new personalities, and new hands. Time clocks once again resound throughout building. Ghosts linger and invisible hands shake the visible. We are makers. In Philadelphia. Still.
What made you decide to build a spice rack?
Walter: The inspiration behind this spice rack, as is with most of our products, stemmed from a need. We had just finished working on our kitchen and we needed something that we loved to house our spices, something to keep them tidy and off of the counter. We used walnut sourced from trees felled by storms such as Super Storm Sandy. The design is simple and useful and champions the beauty of the wood. We finished the rack with a tung oil and citrus solvent mixture. It's all natural, chemical-free, food safe, and enriches the wood's grain, giving it a dark, warm cozy look.
What is your kitchen like? How does it compare to your work space?
Walter: Our kitchen is the start of how we would like to live our lives; the creative process is often chaotic and our kitchen is an attempt to marry that chaos with order. It's a balance of creating a place for things and creating systems, but also setting the stage for the mystery of making. We are by no means cooks, but we end up spending most of our time at home in the kitchen. It is the place that is most like our workshop, a room that is living and breathing.
What inspires you?
Margaux: Both Walter and I have a fervor for history, though we each unearth our passions in different ways. I love the romantic imaginings of what once was and the effects time and stories have on materials and objects. Though not military-minded, I am an invader (mostly of abandoned houses and the past).
Walter, home-schooled by his history-aficionado mother and apprentice to his carpenter father, was a soldier in the American Army. There he learned how to do things effectively and simply, though his practical nature does not preclude his immense creativity. Walter’s pragmatism, my own dreamy tendencies, and our shared curiosity combine to create Peg and Awl. With our two boys as constant companions, we find inspiration in them as much as we do in the past, taking notes and creating new objects to delight younger beings. Peg and Awl is not just for big people.
What's something about Peg & Awl that we may not know?
Walter: The name Peg and Awl comes from an old folk song about shoe making, about the industrialization of the shoe-making process. It is a song of both lamenting and rejoicing, as the hand workers are replaced by machines. They sing "hand me down my Peg and Awl," yet they rejoice that they no longer have to toil away at the same mindless, repetitive motions. We see the benefit and beauty of both modern technologies and the pride and fulfillment of creating things with our hands.
We have been able to grow a business where we use both and can offer our creations to the world, and we hope to continue making and giving others (those on our team and those who use our treasures) the enjoyment that we have found.