One year ago, Melyssa, Michele, and Christine Kirn appeared to be branching in different directions. Melyssa was in Columbus doing design work for Victoria’s Secret. Christine worked as an architect for Architectural Group International in Covington. Michele was a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The sisters, who were raised in Ft. Wright, had careers, but they had always been very close; they loved working together. And when a side project making and selling wood signage and decorative objects began to grow legs, they ran with it. Melyssa and Christine left their full-time jobs and Michele cut hers back to two days per week in order to build Grainwell, which opened as a storefront gallery backed by office and workshop space in April on Pike Street in Covington’s redevelopment corridor.
Before then, the sisters operated out of a corner of their father’s auto body shop nearby, filling orders through their website and by word of mouth. When they rented their gallery/workshop space, the first thing they did was make their own office furniture and signs, the latter of which they automotive-painted a candy-like high-gloss white at their dad’s shop. “Then we had to make all of the products,” says Michele matter-of-factly. The new space may be stylish and modern-looking, but it’s DIY to the roots.
The process often begins with a piece of wood: What would it be good for? A framed map of Cincinnati? A holder for three air plants? Though many of their lumber pieces are purchased, the Kirns are also passionate upcyclers and reclamationists. Some of what they use is old barn wood—people might call and say, Hey, I’ve got a barn that’s falling down, take what you want. “We get the wood and then we think about what we’re going to do [with it]. The fun part is when we plane it down—you don’t really know what’s going to be underneath once you get rid of all the weathered [surface],” says Melyssa. They’ve even pulled over to the side of the road to check out a tree that’s been cut down, and recently they came into some oak barrel lids from Maker’s Mark bourbon.
“All three of us do the designing,” says Melyssa. “It starts with us discussing an idea, then we put it into the computer to design it up and get the graphics.” The next step, Christine explains, is a prototype. For signage, their woodshop is outfitted with a large laser-cutter. They have even collaborated on writing their signs, with each sister designing different letters.
By the time an object is sold, they’ve all literally had a hand on it. And these days it’s the company that’s branching out—to new products.