Natalie and Tim Hamm married as teenagers — Natalie was 17 and Tim 19 — with a baby son and another on the way. They had little to call their own, but from a shared love of furniture restoration they have since constructed a business, built a national following and designed a way of life in their North Mississippi community.
Natalie and her siblings grew up surrounded by creativity. Their mother, an artist, kept a studio in their Oxford home.
“As kids, we went to art shows and spent a lot of time in the art department at Ole Miss while my mom went back to school for her degree in painting,” said Natalie’s older sister, Rebekah Flake, herself a working artist based in Philadelphia, Pa. “To us, being an artist was a completely normal path, and we accepted having a space for creativity as a fact of life.”
Natalie, now 29, remembers other influential art and design-related ventures involving their mother.
“Growing up, I spent my summers helping her teach community art lessons,” she said. “My parents built their home when I was 10. I remember spending a lot of time looking through all the house plan books and coming up with different layouts.”
But 31-year-old Tim, a Water Valley native, had a very different introduction into the world of design.
“In high school, I found an old dresser in a barn behind our house,” he said. “I refinished it and, after that, I began building a couple other pieces for my room.”
Tim quickly developed a love for rehabbing and constructing furniture, a hobby that came in especially handy after he married Natalie while attending Ole Miss as a full-time student.
“There was no money to furnish our home,” Natalie said. “Instead of gifts, Tim would build furniture pieces for me.”
In this fashion, Tim honed his woodworking skills while also working at PakMail, a shipping company, and pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.
“Mr. Bill, our former landlord and also an engineer, had a huge influence on me,” Tim said. “He tutored me throughout college, taught me how to build and, most importantly, encouraged us as young parents. He led by example.”
Then, around the time the couple had their third son, a local antique mall called Sugar Magnolia opened on University Avenue in Oxford.
“Tim thought it would be a great idea to sell things we found and refinished or built as a way to get through college,” Natalie said. “I thought he was crazy but quickly realized we both loved it. With my love for painting and design and Tim’s love for building, we learned to work together.”
It wasn’t long before the couple was making significant money selling “Hammmade” furniture in their booth at Sugar Magnolia.
“Every weekend we would go to yard sales, estate sales and auctions as a family. Our favorite thing to find was antique furniture that had almost fallen apart,” Natalie said. “We also love reclaiming wood from houses that are falling apart or being torn down. We began building swing beds and porch swings for the booth.”
And the community responded.
“Oxford was the perfect place for them to launch because their first clients were local, so they could also give them feedback on what worked and what didn’t,” Flake said. “Oxford has a certain magic about it in the way it is profoundly ‘Mississippi’ and yet makes room for new people from around the world. Trends can come and go in Oxford, which is both invigorating and intimidating.”
By the time Tim graduated from Ole Miss in 2011, the swing bed trend was still going strong — the Hamms were on to something. The following year, the couple purchased 70 acres of land just outside of Oxford on which to build a workshop “in hopes that we could begin shipping and open an online store,” said Natalie, who had their fourth child, a daughter, that year. “We decided that building and spending time with the family is truly what we both love.”
Hammmade Furniture began selling swing beds online not long after the completion of the Denmark, Miss., workshop. Natalie’s sister, Flake, stepped in to help run the website while Tim lent his shipping knowledge to fulfill orders that soon came in from all over the country.
Then, in 2014, Natalie and Tim broke ground on a farmhouse that they had dreamed about since they married. In a fashion similar to their furniture-making, the Hamms used reclaimed materials from dilapidated churches, industrial buildings and old houses to build a 3,000 square-foot home on the same acreage as their shop.
“I decided to document the process through Instagram as a way to connect with our customers and this great community that has always encouraged us,” Natalie said.
With her skillful shots of the house, as well as their latest furniture projects made to fill the home, it wasn’t long before the Instagram account began to catch the attention of interior decorators and bloggers across the country.
“The response has been so great,” Natalie said. “It’s encouraged us to do more than we even thought possible.”
Three years later, the Instagram account has more than 70,000 followers and even inspired Country Living magazine to include an eight-page spread about the Hamms’ home in the June 2017 issue.
“Tim and Natalie are magicians,” Flake said. “They transform any challenge into an inspiration when they put their talents together. They also understand that you can adapt your lifestyle to support your dream, and your dream will end up supporting your lifestyle.”
Today, the couple continues to sell Mississippi-made swings and other products — including original paintings by Natalie — online and in their booth at Sugar Magnolia.
“Thankfully, the swings have kept us so busy, but we both agree it’s time to add other products that we love,” said Natalie. “I jokingly tell Tim our garden hasn’t been featured — it’s time to get going!”
Now that all four of their children will be in school, the Hamms also hope for the opportunity to design more homes in the future.
“We love Mississippi — especially the history and architecture,” Natalie said. “So many of our designs are inspired by architecture from old homes in our area. Our daily drives throughout the countryside inspire landscape paintings. And in our community of Denmark, we’ll have older men stop by and tell stories about growing up here, exploring the country, hunting and fishing. We love that our boys will one day be able to do the same.”
Flake credits Hammmade’s success to that authenticity.
“They are becoming a national inspiration because they are very grounded in their work ethic and their mission, and they embrace both the handmade aesthetic and the social media connectivity,” Flake said. “Hammmade is not a gimmick that was dreamed up as a business venture. It was a business that was literally built by hand by staying true to a vision for their craft and for their family. They just followed their instincts and put in the work.”
But for the Hamms, who started with nothing, it always has been a support system that has kept them going.
“We are inspired by others. Not every day has been easy, but when we are encouraged by others it gives us hope,” Natalie said. “We love the history in the wood we find. It’s always so gratifying to know something was almost lost but we’ve given it a second chance.”