In a late 1800s house set in Fishtown, the simple life of Margaux and Walter Kent takes shape. The hardwood floors and hand-sanded furniture are warm to the touch and smell of the hands that crafted them. Strewn about are projects half started or nearly finished, others are just ideas or trinkets laying in wait to become whole again. It is said a carpenter’s home is never finished, and the home of Margaux and Walter Kent is no exception.
Using the skills learned from his father, the carpenter, Walter has adopted the trade as his own, creating useful items from unusual places. His wife persuaded him to make items she wanted. After returning from a tour of duty in Iraq in 2009, Walter acquiesced to a request of his wife: make tub caddy so she can write while taking a bath.
“Margaux loves writing in journals, and she also loves taking baths,” Walter said. “After I made her the tub caddy, she said ‘if I love it this much, someone else will too,’ and that was the beginning of Peg and Awl.”
For now, Peg and Awl in Fishtown is a manufacturing company that includes the services of both Margaux and Walter, Walter’s brother Sam, craftsman Andrew McGlennan and the Kents’ two young children, Soren and Silas. A backyard workshop, which Walter built himself, serves as the laboratory for the items they sell.
The Kents see the lack of authentic, homemade crafts not as a lost art, but as a calling to make what was old, new again.
“I had been making journals, I use leather from saddles or old couches to bind the pages together,” Margaux said. “Then I started making things with Walter.”
What they make can’t be found elsewhere unless, of course, you wish to make it yourself. In addition to the tub cabbies are organizers, chalk tablets, stools, candle blocks, spice racks, cutting trays, leather-bound journals, necklaces, rings, an iPad easel and a multitude of organizers and useful tools. The common feature beyond the individual charm is that all these things are created from reclaimed wood and found gems, some of which date back to the 1800s.
“The majority comes from fallen-down houses, houses that are being torn down or from water towers around Philly,” Walter said. “Those make for excellent outdoor items because they’ve withstood decades of weather.”
“None of what we use are new items,” Margaux said. “It’s all reclaimed, some of which from 100-year-old homes.”
Each individual item has its own personality and is handmade per request. The Kents do what they can to make the orders in batches, but other projects take more time and devotion. Every day Walter and Margaux have deadlines to meet and projects to complete. A custom-made table made of reclaimed oak from a broken-down hardware store in Ephrata, Pa., dating back to 1897 sells for $1,400 and takes three weeks to make. It is polished in natural tongue oil and can be disassembled using pegs that hold it in place.
“People buy our items from across the world,” Walter said. “We ship a lot of California, probably 50 percent of our business comes from there, and we’re actually going to begin selling some of our items out of a store in Australia.”
What began as dumpster diving for pieces of wood and other items has now become a whole new project. Finding wood thrown away simply could not keep up with the demand generated from their online store, but as they began growing in popularity, people started reaching out to them, offering up wood and items crucial to Peg and Awl’s construction process.
“I think the products we make have a certain lifestyle that goes along with them,” Walter said. “You may not write in journals, but Margaux makes book necklaces that you can wear instead.”
Sam Kent, Walter’s younger brother, was also trained by their father in the art of craftsmanship. He, along with Andrew McGlennan, help on the large orders and make sure Peg and Awl meet their quota.
“My dad was a carpenter, but I’ve learned so much more working here with my brother,” Sam said. “I’m at the point where I’m actually teaching others.”
Peg and Awl is more than just a business, it’s a family affair. From the weekly gathering adventures, to digging through the flea markets, to designing wares, to building and to selling, the family shares this time together. The joy of building together, working on their own time and making something that people not only want, but love, is what makes the story of Margaux and Walter so serene.
“Everything we make is designed for ourselves,” Margaux said. “That’s how we began this business, by making something we wanted, but it just so happens that other people want them too.”
Peg and Awl has hopes to expand their business to local sellers, but for now their items can be found exclusively on pegandawlbuilt.com.