Couples meld unique businesses under one roof

TRAVERSE CITY – After spending years developing their crafts, master furniture maker Larry Hammond and metal worker Darin Fetter have brought their talents under one roof.

The artisans’ new combined facility, located at 225 East Sixteenth Street, provides a workshop where visitors are invited to observe the master tradesmen first-hand and browse the retail space which showcases the men’s hand-built designs.

Hammond’s Olive Creek Furniture and Fetter’s Thor’s Playground, both established by the craftsmen about four years ago, combined facilities in late summer. The two businesses remain independent, although they now work side-by-side.

Viewed as a logical and potent alliance by wives Kellie Hammond and Julie Fetter, the women formed a joint retail enterprise called Elbow Room in order to share marketing efforts. The new retail store occupies the front portion of the studio/shop. In addition to displaying the men’s original work, the 1,400 square-foot showroom sells a diverse collection of books, candles, seasonal items, home decor and accessories.

“The environment here is laid back,” said Kellie Hammond. “If a couple comes in together and the husband isn’t shopping, he can kick back in a comfortable chair and drink a cup of coffee or head back to the workshop to see what projects Larry and Darin are working on.”

The artisans find sharing space often also means sharing inspiration.

“It gives us access to each other’s tools, knowledge and ideas,” Fetter said.

Fetter’s refined rustic style defines the light fixtures, tables, fireplace doors and architectural elements he creates for the home. Hammond relies on his versatility to produce custom cabinetry and furnishings, and combines the use of traditional and modern construction methods.

“We are limited only by our imaginations. Customers really get excited when they see the sky is the limit,” Fetter said.

Fetter first became interested in metal-working as a boy helping out on his grandfather’s farm. He later studied metallurgical engineering at Northwestern Michigan College. During his metal-working career he has been employed on projects ranging from B-52 bomber hangers to precision components to underwater rigs. It was while working in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast that his keen interest in decorative wrought iron was awakened. Engaged by a New Orleans company, Fetter spent eight months learning the techniques for designing and constructing wrought iron handrails and gates. He then brought these influences and skills back home to Michigan, opening his Traverse City business, Thor’s Playground.

Shortly before Thor’s Playground came into being, Hammond had launched Olive Creek Furniture.

“I’ve been building furniture since before I knew what it was,” he said.

The self-taught furniture maker first sold Shaker and Mission style pieces he constructed in his spare time. Over the years, he developed the skills to allow him to tackle a variety of styles, including oriental, Queen Anne, and Duncan Fife. However, he especially enjoys projects which offer him the opportunity to express his own style and stretch his skills.

“Today’s technology makes it easier to build some things,” he said. “But some things are easier to build by hand and some details you can’t get with technology.”

Hammond had the opportunity to honor the craftsmen of an earlier era when he became involved with The Historic Lumber Project. Spearheaded by Lansing physician Graham Kelly in the late 90s, the project obtained permits to recover virgin hardwood logs from old mill sites in the Great Lakes, including West Bay. Hammond was one of a handful of artisans selected to transform the lumber, which dated back as far as 350 years, into a modern treasure.

Using red oak submerged for 150 years, Hammond recreated a turn-of-the-century drop-front secretary. The limited production piece created from lumber removed from the underwater graveyard is available only by special order.

Hammond said he doesn’t tire of living the life of a custom craftsman.

“Every time I build something, I want to build something else,” he said.

As for Fetter, he feels fortunate to have found his career niche.

“I think everyone is programmed with a skill,” he said. “Some people are just lucky enough to find out what they’re good at.” Reach Elbow Room by calling 946-6771. BN