It’s a common refrain spoken by teenagers across generations. “When I turn 18 I’m outta here.” Maybe this is a natural expression of some genetically programmed wanderlust. In many cultures “walkabouts” and “vision quests” are an integral part of a young man’s physical, mental and spiritual development. Or maybe this yearning is part of some evolutionary dispersal of the species. Whatever the reason, as he came to the end of his high school years, Devin Ulery put those very words into action and left Alleghany County.
Devin grew up in a woodworking shop. His father and mother, John and Penny, founded Designs in Wood in 1972 while living in San Diego, California. They specialized in decorative, scrollwork mirrors. As they traveled the art show circuit, they found themselves increasingly on the east coast. Relocating to be nearer their customers made sense, so the family moved to Asheville, NC where Devin was born.
After working a show in Union Grove, NC, John drove through Alleghany County with eyes peeled for an affordable farm and shop. He found a place to rent (which they later bought), and moved the family and Designs in Wood to Sparta.
Always with a keen appreciation for the customer, Designs in Wood added birdhouses and split wood houses to their product line. In the late 1990s, John noticed a growing interest in antique reproduction furniture. Designs in Wood once again adapted their products to take advantage of this growing market, specializing in custom farm tables.
Throughout all these changes, a young Devin helped out in the shop and traveled across the country with his family to art shows. Then came high school graduation. As promised, Devin left Alleghany County.
An interest in photography, specifically photojournalism, led him to Randolph Community College’s (RCC) near Asheboro, NC. From RCC, Devin went on to intern at newspapers in Boston, Massachusetts and Asheville, NC. He landed a job with the Asheville Citizen-Times in prepress where he prepared Associated Press photographs for publication. But a restlessness persisted. Leaving Asheville, he found his way to Colorado where became a self-proclaimed “ski bum.” When he ran out of money he came back home and helped out in the shop.
Once his coffers were refilled Devin struck out again. This time he landed in Berkeley, California. He worked there with renowned portrait photographer Christian Peacock and moonlighted as a handyman. When not working, he skied the slopes of Lake Tahoe.
As the restlessness subsided and the wanderlust waned, Devin found himself thinking of Alleghany County. He left California with just enough cash for the trip home. But, he had a brief, ski bum relapse traveling east when the slopes of Vail, Colorado beckoned. He regained his bearings and soon found himself back in Asheville – broke, out of gas and still three hours from home. A friend loaned Devin enough money for a tank of gas. He rolled back into Alleghany with empty pockets.
Sometime later, while at a music festival in Union Grove, Devin was introduced to his future wife, Anna – a photographer, by Sparta native Brian Swank (of the band Big Daddy Love). Devin and Anna married and settled down in Boone. Devin came back into the family business with a renewed energy.
Now, Devin takes a lead role in the shop. In yet another iteration, Designs in Wood transitioned in name to Carolina Farm Table. Internet sales account for approximately 50% of their current sales. The name change made it easier for customers to find the shop in Sparta when using Internet search engines. Shows in Brimfield, Massachusetts and Roundtop, Texas continue to expose Carolina Farm Table to those interested in antique reproduction furniture.
When asked how he accounts for their success, Devin describes a seemingly simple formula. They keep the company versatile and adaptable – all employees can fill virtually any role in the shop. They monitor their competitors’ product lines and price points. Social media sites such as Pinterest give them insight into trends. Most of all they listen closely to their customers.
This has led to Devin and Anna’s newest venture.
Both continue to work as photographers and often shoot weddings. They saw a need for casual, whimsical photos. This observation led to Boone Photo Booth. In their 8×8 foot “photo booth” guests can have an old-time experience with the immediate gratification of high quality, printed photographs. They have found it to be the perfect addition to a wedding, prom, family reunion, company picnic, or school field day.
Versatility, adaptability, quality work, an eye for innovation, and a strong work ethic are the keys to success for any business. Coupled with lessons learned in Massachusetts, California, Colorado and stops in-between, these qualities have led to success for Carolina Farm Table and Devin Ulery. The boy who once declared “I’m out of here” became the man who now says, “I’m back.”
To learn more about Carolina Farm Table, visit http://carolinafarmtable.com. Or you can follow them on Facebook, Pinterest, and their blog. For tours and visits, please call 336-372-8995 for an appointment.