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Boone-born entrepreneurs sell West Virginia in L.A.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The market for authentic West Virginia products is big business in Los Angeles these days. Young entrepreneurs Kristan Cunningham and Scott Jarrell, both originally from Boone County, found out for themselves when they launched their new store, Hammer and Spear.

Cunningham, a regular on HGTV's "Design on a Dime" show, said the name of the store indicates both who they are and what they do. "Hammer" is her nickname, and "Spear" is a play on the meaning of Jarrell's last name.

She said she and Jarrell design, build, hunt and curate their goods. The store's tagline is "builders and hunters of lovely goods."

"We've been referred to as the new general store," said Cunningham. "We carry everything from a $6,000 set of Karl Springer gold-leaf chairs to Ordinary Evelyn's Apple Butter."

"Apple butter is nonexistent in California," said Jarrell. "No one here even knows what that is."

Originally the couple planned to do tastings of Ordinary Evelyn's apple and pumpkin butters -- two West Virginia products they carry in their store -- but they haven't needed to.

"People come in, see the 'Made in West Virginia' sticker and they are curious," Cunningham said.

The other featured West Virginia product flying off their shelves is Allegheny Treenware, a line of kitchen goods created by Sue and Stan Jennings.

Cunningham and Jarrell have been customers of the Jenningses for years. According to Cunningham, Allegheny Treenware embodies one of the mantras of their lives.

"You don't need to live with expensive things, necessarily, but the things that you interact with and truly take part of your life every day, the things you touch and love and truly play into your everyday life? That is where you should spend your money," she said.

Allegheny Treenware includes such things as spoons, cutting boards, toast tweezers, coffee scoops and oven jacks. Clever and beautifully made, the items are both aesthetically pleasing and highly functional.

"When we were very poor, and even when we did very well, these were the things that when we went home, even when we couldn't afford much, we could afford these things, and we could afford to live with beautiful things. That is why it is so important to have that line in our shop," Cunningham said.

Couples starting out in their first home may not be able to afford several thousand dollars for a sofa or coffee table, but they can still live with these little luxuries. That is what Cunningham and Jarrell strive to offer.

Hammer and Spear crosses the barrier from exclusive showroom to a residential experience.

"The experience of our shop is to walk in and be inspired. It feels very residential and homey with a fireplace in the middle. It offers a definite vibe," Cunningham said.

She said it is all about context. In fact, the couple almost chose to name the shop "Context." They believe people need to be able to see something in context so they can visualize how the piece will work in their space.

The couple strive to make their shop a preview of what the average person can re-create in their own home with just a little imagination. As an example, they point to a display that involves a Carl Springer coffee table -- sleek and sexy, low and modern with an '80s feel. On top of the table is a rustic tobacco basket with a coil of old industrial rope inside. The duo say it is that eclectic mix that people respond to.

The shop holds something for everyone, even the shopping husband. The fireplace is flanked by the most comfortable chair, a coffee table sporting vintage Playboy magazines and a refrigerator stocked with beer to pacify even most shopping-averse husbands, turning them into repeat customers.

Cunningham and Jarrell refuse to label themselves by a specific type of style or merchandise.

"We're not modernists, traditionalists or transitionalists. We have an amazing love for every period and every style," she said.

They found the key to mixing all of these pieces and time periods together was to operate on a limited color pallet. This allows the elements to blend and speak for themselves.

"If we love something, we want to be able to put in the shop," Cunningham said. "By not limiting ourselves to a look or a price point, as long as we love it and it is truly in keeping with our standards of quality, we put it in.

"It doesn't have to be expensive, and it doesn't have to be a name piece; it just has to be something we think is beautiful or was beautifully made. It is about the craftsmanship."

The drive for quality craftsmanship leads the couple to search for the best finds all over the country. One of their favorite places to hunt is still West Virginia.

Before they opened the shop, over time, the couple had amassed loads of Boy Scout pieces from the 1920s and '30s.

"We have a couple really good sources for those things," said Cunningham.

Since the Boy Scout Jamboree is now located in West Virginia, home has become the prime hunting location. Hammer and Spear carries authentic Boy Scout packs, walking sticks and other bits of memorabilia.

"To be honest, hipsters love that aesthetic." Cunningham said, noting that anything camp-themed, outdoorsy or Pendleton-feeling flies off the shelves.

The popularity of the West Virginia-made and West Virginia-found items has surprised Cunningham and Jarrell. The couple are now planning trips back East every few months to satisfy the demand. They hope to make one huge trip soon, covering most of the East and traveling back to California through the Southwest, collecting items for the store along the way.

"We like to shop all of America, and for the most part, carry American-made or American-found products," Cunningham said.

Reach Autumn Hopkins at autumn.hopkins@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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