By Karen Billing
A lot of labor and a lot of love have gone into Keary and Justin Cheney’s custom-made furniture business, Grace & Salt. The newest artisans in Flower Hill’s Row Collective in Del Mar, the husband-and-wife team didn’t want to be just another furniture company — they wanted to have a heart and a message.
“Life happens around the table,” Keary said, recalling joyful times of her childhood, with her family gathered around the table, or engaging in meaningful conversations with her husband. “The dining table is a sanctuary, a place where you share life and feel connected with each other.”
More than just furniture, they hope to bring connection back into customers’ homes, something they feel has become a little lost in today’s plugged-in, fast-paced lifestyle.
“We want to create that space. We want those good conversations around the table, because that’s where the memories happen,” Justin said.
The name of their shop even borrows from a Bible verse from Colossians: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Sleek and modern Grace & Salt tables are made of pecan wood or thick reclaimed wood on hairpin legs, and each of the tabletops’ finishes has its own character. The reclaimed lumber is sourced from Temecula, and the hardwoods and exotic woods come from a lumberyard in San Marcos. A welder in Escondido does all their custom leg work.
Justin said he wanted their shop to be more fun than just picking a table from a photo lineup — he loved the idea of customers building their own tables. Customers create their own tables, from the wood to the edge finishes, choosing what size they would like, opting for coffee tables, dining tables, desks or end tables.
Turn-around time is typically one to two weeks. While they will ship lighter pieces, the heavier pieces are local pick-up only. The pair actually prefer when people come into the shop to pick up their furniture — they love to see who the pieces end up with.
Justin and Keary have been married for 4 1/2 years after meeting at San Diego Christian College, secretly chatting on their computers in the back of government class. Justin used to be a police officer and Keary worked as a wedding photographer.
Keary didn’t find out about Justin’s creativity and his gift for furniture-making until they moved into a bigger place and had room for him to build some pieces for their home.
Keary said it was one of those “How did I not know this about you?” moments.
Justin said it wasn’t a lack of knowing he had the talent, he just didn’t have the right tools. Every time he tried to tackle a project, the cost would triple because he didn’t own the right tools to complete it. Over the years, he has now collected all the tools required to finish any job.
“He’s so crafty and can build anything,” said Keary, noting that his creativity, when paired with his meticulous nature, can produce some beautiful things.
Grace & Salt shares a space in Flower Hill’s Row Collective with Rais Case and Mr. B’s Luminaries. Grace & Salt’s furniture fits in perfectly among the textiles and the calming scent of artisan candles.
The Cheneys were familiar with the Row Collective, having built all of the shelving and furniture in Rais Case and Mr. B’s previous location.
“I feel like all three brands have meshed together very well,” Keary said.
“We’re not competing, we’re just three stores that complement each other,” Justin said.
As shoppers will quickly notice, there are many hints of Africa in Grace & Salt — they sell African prints and T-shirts, and wood-burned maps of the country. And around Keary’s neck gleams a necklace with the outline of the continent.
The African touch relates to the fact that the Cheneys have started the process of adopting a Ugandan child.
The couple had been in Uganda in March 2013 for three weeks doing service work and photography, hoping to inspire awareness.
“We saw really big needs,” Keary said of their work at a babies home, the term used for orphanages.
Adoption had always been something special to both of them — Justin has four nieces and nephews who were adopted, three from Ethiopia and one domestically. After experiencing what they did at a Uganda babies home, the couple had an intense desire to show love and be a family to an orphan. They started the serious (and costly) process of adoption in fall 2013.
As the wait times have extended for the adoption process, the Cheneys have decided to “just go.”
In 2015, they plan to move to Uganda for three years to help teach people a variety of trades that can help lead to sustainable jobs and income for their families. As Keary said, many Ugandans are forced to give up their children to the babies homes in the hopes they will be given a life that as parents they are unable to provide. If the Cheneys are able to help create jobs and income, they can keep more children with their families, Keary said.
“I didn’t want to affect the life of just one child,” Justin said. “We wanted to go affect change on a grander scale.”
Added Keary, “We’re excited to be a part of orphan care in a big way. It’s what our hearts really long for.”
The Cheneys have already established a good relationship with the babies home they plan to adopt from, and plan to travel to the country in January to figure out some logistics of what their life will be like there. They will have to foster a child in Uganda for three years until they can immigrate back to the U.S. The couple said if they found another child who would be a good fit for their family, they would be willing to extend their stay in Africa.
All money raised through their fundraising prints and T-shirts of Africa will go toward the adoption and their move. And anyone who shops in Grace & Salt is really helping to support their larger mission.
As Keary said, when they are in Africa, they will be relying on the community they will have hopefully built back home in San Diego.
“Knowing we have that support makes it so much easier; it makes us feel loved,” Keary said.
In the year before the move, Grace & Salt will continue crafting tables and building conversations.
“We hope to learn more things, build more things and continue to raise awareness for orphan care,” Justin said.
They’ve got all the tools they need.
The store is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon-5 p.m. Sundays. To view furniture, visit