Local Resident Stephanie Kelley Takes a Nontraditional Career Path
Writer / Megan Arszman
Photographer / Amy Payne
Steph Kelley has never been a traditionalist, given her career path and her overall way of thinking. In fact, one might say she tends to go against the grain.
This is why she named her business AgainstTheGrain Woodworking, as it describes how she and her husband Shawn have chosen to live their lives. As a woman who owns her own business in a field that is typically male dominated, she’s doing it in her own way and thriving.
“My husband and I like to do things a little different, so I wanted my business to showcase that,” she says.
It all started with having to rebuild a deck at their Noblesville home. After gathering a few price estimates that seemed rather expensive, Steph told her husband it was a project they could do on their own. However, they had no tools. With the help of her parents, who came in from Pennsylvania, the family rebuilt the deck in one weekend. That lit a spark for Steph.
“One night I was on Pinterest and saw farm tables, and I thought they looked pretty interesting,” she says.
Shawn purchased what Steph calls the best gift ever – a miter saw. A little while later, he returned home to find a farm table built in their garage. With the help of YouTube videos, internet research, and trial and error, Steph taught herself woodworking. Now, that single miter saw is joined with saws of every type imaginable filling up their garage, which has been transformed into Steph’s woodshop.
In 2019 Steph discovered live-edge woodworking, where the natural edge of the wood is incorporated into the design of a piece of furniture or other wooden item. An offshoot of live-edge woodworking is the process of adding epoxy resin to the natural holes and cracks in wood to add a splash of color. When this process is completed on a large scale (typically between two slabs), the end result is known as a river table. This is one of Steph’s favorite things to do.
“The farm tables were fun for a couple of years, but the live-edge inspires me,” she says. “Every piece that I make is unique, even if I’m using the same slab for multiple projects. The inconsistencies and characteristics of each piece just draw me in. I can’t talk about it without smiling. It’s just so cool to me.”
Steph can create just about any type of table with live-edge wood, from coffee and dining tables and end tables, and even desks, charcuterie boards, bar tops and wall art.
Each handcrafted piece is made to order and finished with products that highlight the natural grain of the wood while keeping them food-safe, waterproof and durable. Depending on size and other variables, coffee tables can take three to five weeks, and river tables can take six to eight weeks.
“The majority of my clients come to me with an idea and that’s where the design process starts,” Steph says. “We review every single detail of their custom piece to bring their vision to life, which they get to watch along the way. In some cases, the end result varies slightly from their initial idea because it transforms into something they couldn’t even imagine and they are thrilled with the final product.
“At the end of the day, no two people are alike,” she adds. “Their furniture shouldn’t be either. My goal is to allow everyone to incorporate their own kind of edge into their furniture to express their style and personality.”