Ervin Ellis and his brother Willie used the tools they learned in school and in the family to build up a home construction business based in Castlewood , Va. When the economy hit a recession and tore down the new home building market, the brothers built themselves back up using those same tools in another arena.
It was 2008 and the two Russell County men had been getting steady work in helping build new homes in different locations in Southwest Virginia . “Work was good and it was helping pay the bills, and then the housing market just went south, and we knew we had to regroup,” Ervin said.
They decided to try their hand at making the items that go in the house and give them a rustic look. They did that by going around to old barns that were in disrepair or on the ground and reclaiming all of the wood they could and even the rusty tin slabs off the roof.
“We try to craft something that looks like it came from the old time. It gives it character,” Ervin Ellis said. “So we gave the furniture business a try. We knew there was still a market for that type of old-time furniture; almost antique looking, so we said ‘that is the route we will take.’ Some of it came off old cabins; some of it off of old buildings. Its starts out new and we make it look old. They like it with some age on it.”
Their family had worked in the industry and had made things for their own homes, and Ellis said that is where they picked up on some of the traits they needed to make things like pie safes and cabinets.
“That came off the top of a barn,” Ellis said, pointing to a piece of tin on a pie safe that has hand-punched patterns on it. “We want to give people that sense of where the furniture came from, so the wood comes straight out of the Appalachian Mountains . That lets them take a piece of our region wherever they go.”
An advertising budget is limited on a small business account like the one at Ellis Brothers Builders, so the two have latched on to the social media network, using Facebook as a primary billboard for their products. They also try and get vendor space at area festivals that specifically focus on the traditions of the region, like Trail Days in Damascus and the Highlands Festival in Abingdon.
“We decided that we wanted to stay in business as wood workers, but opportunities didn’t present themselves right away. But it’s funny that we had to look into the past to kind of get a handle of where we wanted to go in the future, and making new furniture that looks antique has fit,” he said.
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