In our Featured Shop series, we shine a light on a standout shop from Etsy’s talented seller community, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at their process and story. Today, we’re sitting down with celebrated sellers Peg and Awl for a conversation that’s been (literally) 10 years in the making. Enjoy!
From packable paint palettes for rambling artists to desk caddies for rustic decorators to waxed canvas totes that double as diaper bags for new dads, husband-and-wife team Margaux and Walter Kent have been crafting instant classics in their storied shop, Peg and Awl, for more than a decade. Bringing together an appreciation for all things “olde” and a knack for knowing how to create timeless treasures from repurposed wood, leather, metal, and more, this duo has also had the fortune of falling into the perfect formula for success: following their creative bliss. “We make things that we want for ourselves, and if they seem like something other people would like, we figure out how to make them,” Margaux says.
That openness and playful outlook has led the creative couple to explore—and put their own old-timey spin on—items across a range of categories over the last 11 years, including small trinkets like bookbinding kits and botanical jewelry; home decor mainstays like tub caddies and serving trays; and even art supplies inspired by their passion for painting and drawing. Today, their shop is a haven for like-minded tinkerers (we’re looking at you, dads, doodlers, and DIY dabblers!) who love to keep their hands occupied and their homes smartly outfitted.
How did Peg and Awl start?
I joined Etsy in 2007 (before I met Walter) with my company, The Black Spot Books, which was just me selling jewelry, photographs, and journals. Walter knows woodworking, so after we got married in 2009, we merged our skills together. That’s where Peg and Awl started—the foundation was things we were making for our home. We lived in Philadelphia, so we were making kitchen and bathroom products that could expand small spaces. Our business started in our house; eventually we moved to the Atlas Casket Factory where we worked for two years and really grew. Then we bought the building where we are now, though I actually work from home (we have a studio here, too).
What products from your shop have been hits from the very beginning?
The bath caddy is one our first designs, and it’s still one of our bestsellers. When we first made it, there was nothing else like it out there, and I had been wanting one for years. I remember finding two splintery 2x4s and putting them across my tub to read and draw on; when I moved to a house with a claw foot tub, I scoured the internet for an upgrade, but could only find what looked like metal drying racks for dishes. I’d abandoned hope, but then I met Walter and he fulfilled my wish! That was the first example of us making something because there wasn’t anything else in the world that seemed to fit. Making it really kicked off our business.
We move in waves of what our personal interests and experiences are. After making home goods like our bath caddy and desk caddy, we moved into bags because we needed a diaper bag for our boys. (We actually made our tote as a diaper bag, and that’s the bag that Walter carries the most!) Then in 2016, I went to a picture book workshop and got the idea for the Sendak artist roll, which makes it easy to make art while moving around. That was one of those products where we weren’t sure how it would fit into what we do; I remember launching it thinking we’d probably sell 10 by the end of the year, but then we sold 10 within an hour on that first day. It’s been one of our top sellers ever since, along with the Scout box, which holds all the necessary supplies for a day of plein air painting. Again, we thought it would be such a small group of people who would be interested in it, but we can’t make them fast enough.
How has your approach to eco-conscious design evolved as you’ve grown?
When we first started, Walter and I would dumpster dive to collect old-growth wood from nearby construction sites. We also used reclaimed leather for our journals and bag straps. But once our business started growing, we found these materials were harder to get in bulk. So, we started searching for consistent, sustainable sources, which took us everywhere from flea markets to England and back to our local community. Today, we work with a vegetable tannery in Pennsylvania to get our leather, and for wood, we work with a local company that has a sustainable forest down South. Going from mostly reclaimed to mostly sustainable new materials has cleaned up our initial ‘look,’ but in the end, if we’ve done it right, everything we make will have been broken in, and show signs of use and adventure over years.
Can you share some memorable customer stories from your last decade in business?
One woman found our brand through a journal I made out of reclaimed leather. We talk all the time on Instagram, and she has so much of our stuff; we’ve actually met in real life, too. One day, she told me the story of how she found us through this journal for her son, and I remembered that I happened to have a piece of that leather left. (It’s hard to part with these materials, so I’d been saving it.) After she told me that story, I made her son a second journal out of that same leather. That was after eight years of us talking, meeting, and sharing stories.
Another memorable moment is one day when Walter was outside the art store where we get a lot of our supplies. He was feeling kind of down, and just kind of having this existential moment like, ‘Why are we doing this?,’ and then this woman walked by with one of our tote bags, and he was like, ‘That’s why we do it.’ I think believing so deeply in what we make, and then seeing it on somebody else and knowing that feeling is also felt elsewhere—it keeps us going.
How has selling on Etsy impacted how you run your business over the years?
Our experience with Etsy has been fantastic for a multitude of reasons. We started out with no money, just collecting stuff off the streets, so all we had to invest was 20 cents in our listings and some time. Another thing about Etsy is people have a different sensibility here—an understanding of the reality of real human beings making things with our hands. I don’t want to get too cheesy, but it’s a place for humanness. I think it’s that simple.
What’s next for you?
I really want to keep making art. I just illustrated Lemony Snicket’s new book, which is coming out in August, and I’ve been taking writing classes, too. I love book formats, so I think working with my journals and sketchbooks, at least personally, is something that I really want to do, and Walter just wants to get out and paint more. We recently got a camper and we want to go out and explore America, and go on homeschooling adventures with our boys, drawing and painting our way across the country. As far as our brand goes, we’re working on an experimental color jewelry line. Doing some kind of workshop or educational component is really top of mind right now, too.
Photographs by Peg and Awl unless otherwise noted.